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Market Days

Cabbages and Kings

By Robert H. Neuman

The open-air pushcart markets of New York will soon be extinct, according to Markets Commissioner Masciarelli. As a part of Mayor Wagner's economy drive, curbside vending, which costs the City more than it brings in, is to be eliminated.

To anyone who has elbowed through the early morning on Mott St., this crisis signals the end of one of New York's most colorful institutions. On Hester and Thompson Streets, Belmont Avenue and Prospect Place the cries of hawkers competed with the horns of frustrated motorists, tomatoes and fishtails decorated the curbs, and the hand-scale reign undisputed. In the hot days of July ices-and-syrup went at a nickel a cup to kids tossing a Spaulding above heads too busy to notice them, and in December the chestnut men huddled in doorways while their cookers sent up thin jets of steam into the frenzied air.

A remnant of the Old World, the pushchart markets grew in the eighties and nineties, brought over by Poles, Russians, Chinese, Italians and Spaniards. Mott and Pearl Streets, Blake Avenue and Union Street became national boundaries; here was Warsaw, there Naples, and Shanghai was only two blocks from Kiev. The only border guards were streetlights, but international travel was infrequent.

In this world, a loud voice was a woman's greatest asset. She had to shout down her neighbors, truckdrivers, vendors, her children, and the incessant roar of an impatient city. Her life was plagued by overripe oranges, burned bread, and defective scales.

But there were quiet times. When the sun began to set the boxes would be closed and the stalls shut, the smoky air filled with the smell of stew and then the kids owned the streets. Dirty-faced hombres argued with scrawny paisanos, and miniature Buddhas contemplated life from their front stoops.

Now, along with the Third Avenue "El" and Lincoln Square, this world is to yield to progress. But it will take longer to vanquish the hurdy-gurdy spirit of the pushcart markets, Robert Moses notwithstanding.

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