New York Marketplace Embraces Its Immigrant Past

By Jon Hurdle

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By inviting local businesses, the Market Line in Essex Crossing seeks to evoke the teeming environment of the Lower East Side in the 19th century.

Michael Petrovitch is planning to sell Puerto Rican food at a new market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side close to where he was born, and he couldn’t be more excited.

Mr. Petrovitch has agreed to take 310 square feet of space at the Market Line, a marketplace of global foods that is expected to open in June as part of Essex Crossing, a $1.6 billion mixed-use development at Essex and Delancey Streets.

He and his daughter Lillian will be serving roast pork sandwiches, plantains and other Puerto Rican specialties alongside Chinese fishmongers, German sausage makers and other vendors that have been selected for the quality of their food and the size of their locally based businesses.

“When Market Line saw my request to be a vendor, they immediately jumped on board with me,” said Mr. Petrovitch, 54, who works in the music industry. “I’m opening up a business in the neighborhood where I have lived for 50-plus years, and I feel that I’m very lucky.”

Vendors like Mr. Petrovitch are essential to plans by the developer, Delancey Street Associates, to create a market populated by small, local businesses rather than chains or franchises. The project seeks to evoke the teeming environment of immigrants and pushcarts that characterized the Lower East Side starting in the 19th century.

“It’s really just an evolution,” said Rohan Mehra, principal of the Prusik Group, one of the partners on the project. “We’re not trying to do something new here, we’re just trying to reflect what has been, transitioning through history.”

At 1.65 million square feet, Essex Crossing is one of the largest developments in the city. After tenements on the site were razed in 1967, it sat empty for decades while city officials, community representatives, developers and lawmakers fought over its future.

In 2013, plans were finally announced for a development that would include a mix of commercial space, luxury condominiums and affordable housing. Other features include a senior center, a museum, a public park, a bowling alley and a multiplex.

Delancey Street Associates is an alliance that three builders — Taconic Investment Partners, L&M Development Partners and BFC Partners — formed to build the commercial and residential properties. Goldman Sachs and the Prusik Group are also partners in the Essex Crossing project.

Three months before the market’s planned opening, 25 of the 30 vendor slots in the first phase of a larger plan have been taken. Almost 80 percent are owned by women, minorities or first-generation immigrants, consistent with the developers’ aims.

The developers have attracted small businesses to the marketplace in part by providing services like trash collection, air-conditioning and shared bathrooms without charging separately for any of them, cutting tenants’ costs and allowing them to focus on their food and their customers.

The services have allowed entrepreneurs like Mr. Petrovitch to open a business in a city where start-up costs can be prohibitive.

Mr. Petrovitch said he could not have afforded to open a regular retail space in Manhattan. He briefly considered a site on Houston Street where he would have paid $150,000 upfront for a five-year lease, and would then have had to pay to renovate the space.