| Jr. Feature |

Area of Interest

Let’s visit some of the world’s most famous and successful business districts

Community is important. Being together with like-minded people is a powerful thing. Early on, some savvy business people realized that community is important for business too, so they established industry centers. Imagine that — dozens of competitors all working together in one area! Turns out, this is great for business.

Where the Money Is

Manhattan, New York, is home to some of the world’s most important business districts. First, let’s head to Lower Manhattan, also known as the finance district.

Can you guess what kind of businesses make their home here? You got it! Banks from all over the world have offices or headquarters here. Other financial companies, like brokerage firms and insurance companies, are also located here. The New York Stock Exchange is here too.

At the heart of the area is one of the most well-known streets in the world: Wall Street. This is a smallish street (by Manhattan standards) that got its name from the wall that the Dutch settlers (who settled the land in 1624 and called it New Amsterdam) built to protect themselves from pirate attacks and the British. (The British purchased New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664 and renamed it New York.)

In 1711, the city of New York chose the area of Wall Street to be the location of the city’s slave market. The slave trade was super important in those days, and slave traders became very wealthy. This was the start of Wall Street’s significance as a financial center, as eventually slaves weren’t the only things being traded on Wall Street. By the end of the century, New York traders wanted to compete with stock traders in Philadelphia. Back then, Philly was the real financial center of America, but the New Yorkers were determined to change that.

In 1792, 24 stock traders met under a sycamore tree (also known as a buttonwood) at 68 Wall Street and signed the Buttonwood Agreement, in which they agreed to trade only with each other. Soon after, they established the New York Stock and Exchange Board. Traders began to flock to New York City instead of Philly, and Wall Street became America’s center of commerce.

Done Deal

Let’s head north to Midtown Manhattan , right near the Rockefeller Center. There are more than 2,600 companies doing business on this city block, and virtually all of them are in the diamond, precious gems, and jewelry business. This area is known as the “diamond district.”

Manhattan’s diamond district is nearly as old as its financial district, and today it’s the world’s largest region of diamond and jewelry exchange. The diamond district was originally established in 1795 on Maiden Lane, which is in downtown Manhattan, near Wall Street. But as the area became more expensive, diamond dealers needed somewhere more affordable to run their businesses. Some contractors built buildings on 47th Street that were specifically designed to interest the jewelers and diamond dealers. Collectively, the diamond dealers agreed to move uptown, and in 1925, the Diamond District on 47th Street was established.

After World War II, many European Jews set up shop on 47th Street. These immigrants, who had lost their families and homes and could barely speak a word of English, had an edge over the other dealers: They had connections with dealers in the important diamond exchanges of Antwerp and Tel Aviv. “Jewish geography” is always a fun pastime (“Are you related to the Schwartzes from Queens?”), but in the diamond business, where nothing is more important than trust, knowing the people you’re doing business with is vital.

And so, 47th Street was turned into a little shtetl of its own, where Yiddish slang and old-world ways of doing business reigned supreme. Two Jewish dealers making a trade would shake hands and say “Mazel un brocheh” to finalize the deal. No complicated contracts were needed — after all, this was family! Deals were even finalized right in the middle of the street!

Today, the most important phrase on 47th Street, and maybe even in diamond exchanges around the world, is “mazel.” (Perhaps the original phrase was shortened to accommodate non-Jewish dealers who couldn’t pronounce brocheh so easily.) When “mazel” is declared over a handshake, everyone knows it’s a done deal.

A Stitch in Time

A few blocks south of the diamond district, between Sixth and Ninth Avenues, lies the garment district (also called the fashion district). As you can imagine, the area is full of fashion designers, clothing stores, and fabric stores.

The garment district was founded in 1919 as a snobby solution to a problem. The streets in this district were the worst kind of slums. The squalor and filth were too much for the rich residents of nearby Fifth Avenue to handle. The slum was growing out of control, and the snooty millionaires were terrified that it would spill over into their glitzy neighborhood.

Another problem was threatening the glamor of Fifth Avenue — the growing garment industry. From the sweatshops on the Lower East Side to the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on Greene Street, the garment industry was booming. The owners of the various garment businesses wanted to be close to the upscale shops on Fifth Avenue, and they moved their loft factories closer and closer to the fancy mansions.

The powerful Fifth Avenue Association realized they could kill two birds with one stone. By creating zoning laws and using boycotts, the Association forced the garment industry to move into the area where the slums were. No more slums, and no more danger of Fifth Avenue being invaded by garment workers.

Like the diamond industry, the garment industry was full of Jewish immigrants. In fact, between 1899 and 1910, New York City’s’s garment industry employed about 50 percent of the city’s Jewish males. Most of the Jewish immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Back in the shtetl, Jews were not allowed to own land. Those who could afford to, rented from the poritz (landowner). But most Jews lived in the city, where many of them made a parnassah in the textile and garment industries. After arriving in the goldeneh medineh, they set up sweatshops (a factory in the clothing industry where workers worked long hours for little pay) in the Lower East Side. After the creation of the garment district, they moved their businesses there.

There were so many Jews in the Garment District that in 1933 they established the Millinery Center Synagogue, which became the minyan factory of the neighborhood. Although it’s not nearly as busy now as it was back then, the shul is still active today.


NYC’s Garment District may be the perfect destination for a pre-wedding shopping spree, but over in London, England, there’s a fashion district that’s just as fascinating.

If you ever come across a well-heeled gentleman wearing a three-piece suit, chances are that he purchased it on Savile Row. Located in the upscale neighborhood of Mayfair, near the glamorous fashion hubs of Bond Street and the Burlington Arcade, lies a quaint English street with historical townhouses and old-fashioned street lamps.

In the late 17th century, Savile Row became home to senior members of the military. The officers required experienced tailors to sew their uniforms. Slowly but surely, tailors from around the country trickled in to Savile Row to service their wealthy, military clients. The tailors of Savile Row earned their reputations by making uniforms, but it wasn’t long before the officers requested informal wear too.

During the 19thand 20th centuries, when Britain was expanding her empire across the globe, Savile Row tailors were kept very busy. One of the tailors, Henry Poole, employed more than 300 tailors. He was asked by King Edward VII to create a short evening coat for informal dinners, and so the dinner jacket was born.

King Edward is by no means the only historical figure to get his bespoke suits on Savile Row. Napoleon III, Winston Churchill, and Prince Charles have all been Savile Row customers.

Fleet Street

Let’s leave the fashionable side of town and head toward a more industrial part of London.

For centuries, Fleet Street was synonymous with anything related to publishing. In the 1500s, the German printing pioneer, Wynkyn de Worde, set up his publishing house on Shoe Lane, just a stone’s throw away from Fleet Street, and this was the beginning of Fleet Street’s association with the written word. From 1748 until 1759, Dr. Samuel Johnson lived at 17 Gough Square off Fleet Street. It was here that he compiled the first comprehensive English dictionary. By this time, daily newspapers were a big thing in England. Guess where most of them were published? That’s right — on Fleet Street.

During the 1880s, the “penny press” became popular. This was the nickname given to newspapers because they had become so cheap, they only cost a penny. All the major UK newspapers and publishing companies had their HQs on Fleet Street, and that’s how it remained for decades.

But all good things come to an end. In 1986, Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International (a publisher of several major newspapers) decided that it was impossible to make a profit on Fleet Street because the print unions were too strong. He did the unthinkable and moved his company away. This was the beginning of the end for Fleet Street, as one by one the other major newspapers left too.

Today, only a handful of small publishing houses are based at Fleet Street. But the iconic name is still used as a collective noun for the British press.

Drawn to the Holy City

Nestled in the hills of the Galilea, the picturesque city of Tzfas sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. They come to the center of Kabbalah, where famous Kabbalists like the Arizal and Rav Shlomo Alkabetz lived, for the breathtaking views and to explore the ancient cobblestone streets of the Old City.

The Old City of Tzfas, renowned for the sky-blue doors and window frames common on homes there, is steeped in mystery and mysticism. It’s no wonder that Jewish artists from far and wide are drawn to Tzfas.

The city’s famous Artists’ Quarter is lined with galleries that sell every form of art, like paintings, tapestries, sculptures, jewelry, and glasswork. Already in the 1940s the Artists’ Quarter was home to several Jewish artists. The government quickly realized its potential and decided to make it official in order to develop the city and encourage growth. The government offered artists a house and gallery if they would live in Tzfas for a minimum of 180 days a year. That was more than enough for Israel’s artists, many of whom were penniless immigrants. Until today, Tzfas is the ultimate destination for the Jewish art lover.


As the name suggests, “Chinatown” refers to a neighborhood where the population is mostly Chinese. There are Chinatowns on virtually every continent — even Asia, where China is! In fact, there is a Chinatown in every major city in the world. Stepping into these neighborhoods is to find yourself in an entirely new world.

San Francisco claims to have the world’s oldest Chinatown. So does Melbourne. In fact, the world’s true oldest Chinatown is in Manila, Philippines. Also known as Binondo, this Chinatown was established in the 1590s by the Spanish who ruled the city. There was a large community of Chinese migrants in Manila, and the Spanish wanted to keep an eye on them.

San Francisco’s Chinatown was established in 1848 after the arrival of three Chinese immigrants. The 1800s were a tough time for the Chinese in San Francisco. They weren’t allowed to become naturalized US citizens, own property, vote, or marry non-Chinese. But that didn’t stop them from coming. Today, the city’s Chinatown is 150 years old and going strong. It draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge.

New York’s Chinatown along Canal Street in Manhattan may be famous for its fake designer bags and apparel, but North America’s most Asian city is in Vancouver, Canada. There are so many ethnic Chinese people living in the city that locals call it “Hongcouver in Chinada.”


Wow, what a trip! These major hubs of industry, commerce, and community have been fascinating to explore. I know what you’re thinking — where’s the candy district?


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 904)

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