The Lower East Side is now the fastest growing gallery district in NYC, with 131 galleries up from 89 in Q1 2012. This news about the LES is good and not-so-good:

  • good, because galleries can find ground floor space for about what they were paying for upper floor space in West Chelsea (from which many have moved) and
  • good, because new galleries that are underfunded but with big vision can get a start in a ground floor space, and can survive longer than 5 years if they keep overhead low, and marketing, buzz and standards high. As they say, “ça fait un bail.”

but also not-so-good:

  • not-so-good because the spaces are small (under 1,000 SF) and usually long and narrow due to the nature of the tenement buildings that give the LES it’s character,
  • not-so-good because the amount of wall space and the ceiling heights are generally small, restricting the size and numbers of works shown,
  • not-so-good because, while prices down here were never as “cheap” as previous districts were before galleries moved in, the galleries are still subject to the same progressively destructive price increases, ironically brought on because they’re here, that drove galleries out of SoHo, the East Village, now West Chelsea, and every other district that galleries have occupied over the past 210 years for that matter.
  • not-so-good… well “Leave it alone, Jake, it’s Chinatown” could definitely apply to the LES (having nothing to do with the real Chinatown next door). With 77 blocks to navigate and sub-divided by several wide thoroughfares with heavy vehicular traffic into smaller gallery habitats, individual Landlords who can be somewhat quirky, and practically indecipherable pedestrian traffic patterns of questionable collector quality, the LES largely remains a destination and an often confounding one for visitors unfamiliar with it. Critical Mass, the clustering of galleries, is important here, most apparent on Orchard south of Broome and north of Rivington, along the Bowery-Eldridge strip from Grand Street north, and more recently on Norfolk between Dulancey and Rivington. The LES BID is doing its best to promote the area.

In many ways, this could conspire to make the LES an economic cul-de-sac for galleries, making West Chelsea both more attractive in a few years, and worth fighting to keep as a semi-permanent home for galleries now.

On the other hand, galleries may do well and stay a few more decades. After all, they’ve been down here for almost 30 years already in varying numbers, which is about as long as SoHo stuck it out as a major gallery district.

But, here are where the LES galleries are now:


Average asking rents are all over the place and not so cheap (the mean is lower than West Chelsea, but when the far East of Essex spaces are factored out, areas where galleries generally have not done well, it is somewhat higher for ground-floor space):


Contact Earl if you want to know more.