MERCER STREET, SoHo

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Mer’ • cer [Middle English, from Old French mercier, trader, frommerz, merchandise, from Latin merx, merc-, merchandise.] A dealer in textiles, especially silks.

Soho’s Mercer Street, which runs for 12 blocks from Canal St. north to East 8th just west of Broadway, was actually named for Revolutionary War general Hugh Mercer (as was New Jersey’s Mercer County, seat of its capital, Trenton) as well as counties in 5 other states. The word’s derivation makes sense in Soho, however, as first clothing wholesalers and then pricey retailers have set up shop in the area.
I walked Mercer Street in December 2007, just as the sun was at its lowest arc, producing interesting shadowplay on its cast iron buildings.
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47 Mercer was constructed
 by prolific cast iron builder Joseph Dunn in 1872. Note the decorative quoins at right: they were missing when this building was pictured in Gayle/Gillon’s Cast-Iron Architecture in New York in 1975. They were put back as part of a recent restoration. In the 70s the building was owned and occupied by Decter Wool Stock. Across the street was formerly the back end of Lord and Taylor’s Broadway store.


I’m unaware of the origin
of this building on the SW corner of Broome and Mercer, but I know it would have been likely razed if the Lower Manhattan Expressway, or Lo-Max, were built as was planned in the Swingin’ Sixties. Remember, NIMBYs stopped that project, and they aren’t wrong every time.
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I enjoyed this 3-story brick building, just north of Broome, in green paint and its white lintels, arched transom, white door and 6-over-6 windows so much in the slanting light, I shot it twice. One of the few buildings on Mercer that’s not massive and cast iron. A NYC reality-check: Though Soho has become chicer than chic, bars are still required on the ground floor.
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Some reminders of Soho’s recent past and fading present, as far as yarn and dry goods wholesalers are concerned.
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Photographed December, 2007; page completed March 3, 2008.





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