Bourdieu Off-Broadway: Managing Distinction on a Shopping Block in the East Village



The economic and social vitality of East Ninth Street, in the East Village of Lower Manhattan, testifies to the area's long-standing reputation for cutting-edge culture and the street's astounding high density of unusual stores. Like a regional industrial district, the block between First and Second Avenues works as a specialized agglomeration of small producers, who are dependent on both supportive local suppliers and populations and customers from abroad, and who are linked in networks of mutually beneficial relations. This concentration succeeds not only because of the aesthetic distinction managed by store and building owners, but also because of the cultural diversity sought by a local yet cosmopolitan clientele, the material diversity of the old buildings, and the sociability of old and new residents. Far from destroying a community by commercial gentrification, East Ninth Street suggests that a retail concentration of designer stores may be a territory of innovation in the urban economy, producing both a marketable and a sociable neighborhood node.