Close-Up on the Fashion District

Despite its glamorous name, the Fashion District, a/k/a the Garment District, is a gritty section of midtown roping in one of Manhattan's seediest strips—Eighth Avenue below the Port Authority bus terminal. That may explain why artists are attracted here. And while garment manufacturing continues to move overseas due to cheap labor, the design, showroom, and wholesaling end of the industry remains lucrative. "Oscar De La Renta, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Liz Claiborne, Nicole Miller," rattles off Gerald Scupp, Deputy Director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District. "You name 'em. They're here." On Seventh Avenue, a/k/a "Fashion Avenue," you'll find a vibrant mix of New Yorkers, many donning the latest trends as they dart roving clothing racks. Call it the working-class Soho.

POPULATION: Historically, the garment industry has had a strong Italian and Jewish presence, which the Garment Center Congregation (205 West 40th Street) attests to. Today, workers are now more likely to hail from the Dominican Republic and China.

BOUNDARIES: Roughly 42nd Street to the north, Fifth Avenue to the east, 34th Street to the south, and Ninth Avenue to the west

TRANSPORTATION: Sixteen subway lines service the neighborhood, not to mention Amtrak, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and the Path.

AVERAGE PRICE TO RENT: According to Yuval Greenblatt, Vice President of Douglas Elliman, residences are concentrated west of Eighth Avenue, with luxury towers springing up between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Rental properties are the most prevalent housing. Studios run from $1700 to $2000; one-bedrooms, $2500 to $3000; two-bedrooms, $3600 to $4500.

AVERAGE PRICE TO BUY: Most co-ops are loft conversions that rarely hit the market, explains Greenblatt. One-bedroom co-ops run from $300,000 to $400,000; two-bedroom co-ops, $700,000 and up; two-bedroom condos, $875,000 and up.

LANDMARKS: The only permanent landmark dedicated to American fashion, the Fashion Walk of Fame celebrates such designers as Betsy Johnson and Willi Smith with a series of bronze plaques on the east side of Seventh Avenue between 41st and 35th streets. Other monuments of note: The enormous needle threading a button at the Fashion Center Business Improvement District's Information Kiosk at Seventh Avenue and 39th Street, and the life-size statue of Ralph Kramden in his bus driver's uniform outside Port Authority at Eighth Avenue and 40th Street. Imposing Corinthian columns grace the landmark Greenwich Bank Building at 1356 Broadway (now the Haier Building) and the General Post Office at 421 Eighth Avenue, which will house the new Penn Station.

SHOPS: Macy's Herald Square (151 West 34th Street), the largest department store in the world, spans two avenues and two buildings along the neighborhood's southern edge. Designer showrooms at the 24-story Bridal Building (1385 Broadway) sell mostly to the trade but do outfit brides-to-be. Side streets teem with wholesale stores, with different blocks representing different specialties: 38th Street is lined with trimming, zipper, and fabric shops, while 37th Street specializes in evening wear. But some establishments have seen better days: A hand-scrawled sign advertising a "Business Sucks Sale" hangs outside one Eighth Avenue tourist shop.

ARTS: As manufacturing declines, loft-style factory spaces continue to vacate: Alternative theater groups now calling the district home include the Zipper Theater (336 West 36th Street), Abingdon Theater Company (312 West 36th Street), and Where Eagles Dare Theater (347 West 36th Street). "There's probably nine theaters in a two-block vicinity," says Zipper Theater owner Andrew McTiernan, fingering affordable rents and soaring, column-free spaces. ART/New York also subleases its cavernous space at 520 Eighth Avenue to theater and non-profit arts groups.

COMMUNITY ISSUES: The city's planned rezoning of "Far West Midtown"—a 59-block area that includes part of the Fashion District—would extend the 7 subway line and build a new stadium. Such development schemes have met staunch resistance by community groups, who contend it’s a massive land grab to benefit big business. Others argue that the eight or so residential buildings the plan allows for in or near the Fashion District would spur new business in a stagnant area.

RESTAURANTS: To nosh New Yawk-style, grab a hot pastrami on rye and cel-ray soda at Ben's Kosher Deli (209 West 38th Street) or the "recession special" (two hot dogs and a drink for $2.45) at Gray's Papaya (539 Eighth Avenue). Finer fare can be found on neighboring Ninth Avenue, including artistically rendered confections at the Cupcake Café (522 Ninth Avenue) and the well-priced plat du jour at Market Café (496 Ninth Avenue).

BARS: For beer and peanuts, try the sketched-out Wakamba Cocktail Lounge (543 Eighth Avenue), a fave with off-duty cops and students from the nearby Parsons School of Design Fashion Education Center (560 Seventh Avenue). Fashionistas and their friends prefer the $900 magnums of Cristal at Lobby (330 West 38th Street).

GREEN SPACES: Office workers eat lunch and chat on cell phones on the concrete steps of Golda Meier Square (Broadway and 39th Street); leafier refuge can be had at Herald Square (35th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue).

EVENTS: Ben's Kosher Deli hosts an annual Matzoh Ball Eating Contest for charity (bensdeli.net). And the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade tromps down Broadway to 34th Street every November (macysparade.com).

CRIME STATS: The Midtown South Precinct serves the Garment District and some outlying areas. As of October 19, it reported three murders, down three from last year; 16 rapes, up 10; 303 robberies, down 77; 659 burglaries, up 32; and 227 felonious assaults, down 24.

 
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