A Look Back at Manhattan’s Radio Row

A view shows “Radio Row” in Manhattan in 1936. Signs line storefronts. An elevated subway station is seen in the background.
A view of “Radio Row” in 1936. Photo by Berenice Abbott, courtesy of the New York Public Library Collection.

Decades before the World Trade Center was built, the lower Manhattan neighborhood once known as Radio Row bustled with commercial activity. As recounted by Tribeca Tribune, it was home to restaurants, flower shops, hardware stores and bookstores, as well as the roughly 400 radio, television and hi-fi stores that inspired the district’s name.

As the radio industry grew throughout the 1920s, ham radio hobbyists and other customers flocked to the area from hundreds of miles away in search of hard-to-find items. By the 1950s, the assorted mom-and-pop stores comprised a multi-million dollar national and international electronics market.

The merchants supported the initial proposal for an international trade center, as its location along the East River near the current South Street Seaport promised to bring more business to Radio Row. But when plans for the World Trade Center were moved to the west, Radio Row faced destruction. Despite protests and planned legal action, the merchants were unable to defend their domain.

The Port Authority offered each affected business $3,000 to relocate. Some moved, but most went out of business. By 1966 nearly all had closed their doors in anticipation of the twin towers.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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