I am no stranger to the east end of Chelsea, 6th Avenue in the West 20s. This is smack in the middle of what used to be called Ladies’ Mile, when huge Beaux Arts buildings bulging with clothing and housewares clustered along the 6th Avenue El, which was razed in the late 1930s. The stores moved out, leaving the emporia as huge hulks that filled with storage, wholesalers and small offices.
I first worked in the area in 1981 when I was employed in a small textbook printer on 5th Avenue and 20th Street. I returned in 1988 when I was toiling at a small type shop on West 29th that printed material in every language, including Russian (I typeset and proofread, letter by letter, every language except the material printed with Cyrillic). I came back again from 2000-2004 when I was slaving in the bullpen at the World’s Biggest Store at 7th and West 34th. I’m quite familiar with the area’s evolution.
Here’s a NYC Municipal Archives photo of the Ehrich Building at 6th Avenue and West 22nd. It’s been renovated and now has upscale shops and eateries on the ground floor, and I have bought a suit at Burlington Coat Factory on the second floor. With the demise of Penn Station’s K Mart, Burlington may become my go to spot for shirts, pants and underwear.
If you look carefully, you can see several wholesale shoe stores on the ground floor. In the 1970s and early 1980s — and I don’t know how many years before this — this was NYC’s shoe wholesaling capital.
The Ehrich Building is notable for its collection of mosaic and terra-cotta K’s that you can see on 6th Avenue as well as West 22nd and 23rd Streets. Ehrich doesn’t begin with K, so what gives? This dates to the era when the building was purchased by Chicago merchants J.L. Kesner Company in 1911, who hired architects Taylor and Levi to add all the letter K’s. You can see them on this FNY page.