Gentrification, a process that took SoHo the better part of two decades, hit the Lower East Side with all the speed and subtlety of a neutron bomb. Orchard Street’s fabric-swatch and cheap-suit emporiums have been replaced by mod hair salons and “members only” techno bars. Clinton Street, once crowded with squabbling, semi-violent drug dealers, is now home to 71 Clinton Fresh Food, where it’s impossible to get a table. As a result, real-estate prices in the area have doubled in the past five years—not just for swanky lofts but also for crumbling tenements with bathtubs in the kitchen. As one recent emigrant to Brooklyn puts it, “I lived in lower Manhattan for ten years while I went to college and waitressed. Now that I make a good salary, enough money to buy a house elsewhere, I can’t afford even the tiniest Lower East Side apartment.”
STREET LIFE: The punk-bohos who invaded a dozen years ago have been succeeded by professionals who can’t quite afford SoHo or TriBeCa and are following the edgy designers and cafés east. The cognitive dissonance can be striking. Asks one landlord: “A guy making that much money, what does he want to live on Suffolk Street for?” Jacob Goldman at LoHo Realty describes them as “people who don’t want to be called yuppies but are yuppies anyway.”
CREATURE COMFORTS: You don’t move here for the good schools but for the nightlife at rec-room-themed bars, French bistros, and clubs like Tonic and the Mercury Lounge. Still, there’s a dearth of dry cleaners and supermarkets.
TIPPING POINT: Some say a 1997 New York Times feature that touted the neighborhood as “the new bohemia” was the Lower East Side’s watershed moment. But with shopping complexes, hotels, and luxury high-rises all currently proposed for areas along Delancey and East Houston, it may be that the crowning symbol of the Lower East Side’s rebirth is yet to come.
WHAT’S NEW: Four years ago, the tenants at the Grand Street Co-ops voted themselves shareholders, removed the price caps, and are now able to sell their apartments at market rates—potentially making over 4,500 units available. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, developers have created luxury lofts from plumbing-supply houses like the Davis & Warshaw building or piled them atop storefronts that still wholesale fake fur jackets, like 130 Orchard Street.
PROGNOSIS: Some see the transformation as inevitable. As Douglas Elliman’s Andy Gerringer says, “We’ve seen it in Chelsea, we’ve seen it in SoHo, and now it’s the Lower East Side.” Of course, young people newly slackerized by the dot-com bust may not be so willing, or able, to pay these prices anymore.
Click here for the full list of neighborhoods.