The "Great East Side" that you read so much about in the papers, begins just a little East of the Municipal Building and extends from about Chatham Square and the Bowery, north to 14th Street and east to the river in the downtown section. This is where the "seething masses" live.
To those ethnologically inclined, a stroll through these congested neighborhoods is no doubt interesting, but for the average sightseer there is nothing beyond endless crowds, more crowds, and still more crowds. For the greater part they are Italians intermixed with Russian Jews, Chinese, Greeks, Swedes, Turks, Hunks, Bulgars, Austrians, Serbs, Armenians, Slays and Irish. These make up the "East Side" of the novelist.
Open air pushcarts and kindred sights are much in evidence. It is, of course, interesting to see bits of ancient Europe so completely transplanted into a modern, up-to-the-minute city as New York, and the quaint customs and the still quainter garments affected by the more orthodox of these aliens has a certain amount of interest.
In this part of the city largely lives the species known as Garment Workers. It is only natural, therefore, that cloaks, suits, dresses and hats originally designed for more aristocratic quarters should here appear in cheap imitations. Division Street does quite a business in cloaks and suits and—(tell it not in Gath)—the customers do not all reside in the East Side.
Millinery Row is on Clinton Street, and extends from Houston to Grand Street. The millinery shops here are as thick as berries on a bush. There are as many as sixteen stores on a single block, and so close to each other that it seems like a continuous show window. It also appears as if all the ladies' headgear had been called in convention.
All the shops are styled either "French" or "Artistic." The show windows are fitted out to imitate the Fifth Avenue shops—parquet flooring, hats cocked at a coquettish angle on carved stands, ivory-tinted backgrounds, a blinding radiance of electric lights. They look very impressive to the shop girl.
The priestesses who preside at these temples of style are saleswomen of a very shrewd and "talky" type. They flatter the looks of the customer. They have little exclamations of admiration and gestures of wonderment to deceive the unwary buyer. Their sales talk is a constant repetition of "French imported, "chic," "charming," "it fits you beautiful," "awful nice" and other words to beguile the uncertain in their choice.
In the matter of fixing a price, these saleswomen, under the subtle tuition of the proprietress, become adepts at "gouging." They will ask you two and three times the normal value of the hat in the hopes of netting a "sucker," and sometimes succeed. But those who are accustomed to the wolfish greed of these milliners drive a hard bargain, cutting the price asked in half or one-third. The saleswoman, will then commence a song of honeyed pleadings and try to wheedle a dollar or more from the obdurate purchaser.
The wise, little buyer, however, presents a stony stubbornness to all her persuasions, and just as she makes up her mind to leave, the saleswoman capitulates, after a last-minute-make-believe conference with the owner.
The remainder of "Millinery Row" is mainly taken up with stores catering to feminine needs in other departments—corsetieres, dressmakers, booteries, glove stores, toilette supplies, "wedding-dresses-to-hire" establishments—in short, an elongated Vanity Fair.
Every evening the East Side girl promenades with the throngs up and down Millinery Row, indulging in an orgy of window shopping, just like her sister on Fifth Avenue.
The Colonel's lady and Judith O'Grady Are sisters under the skin.
The open air markets are by long odds the most picturesque feature of the street scenes. They are scattered everywhere—the spaces under the Williamsburg Bridge being particularly active. Certain sections are also known for "bargains."