By the numbers: Grappling with the Garment District

As de Blasio pushes to open the district to development, a look at the ‘fabric’ of a shrinking industry in a prime Manhattan neighborhood

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From the May issue: The Garment District was once the heart of Manhattan’s colorfully named Tenderloin red-light district, but since the early 20th century it’s been home to the city’s fashion manufacturing industry. The area — bounded roughly by Seventh and Ninth avenues and West 35th and 42nd streets — is something of a vestige of the past, with workers toiling away on sewing machines and stretching fabrics in nondescript buildings. It has largely survived the last three decades through the help of a long line of mayors, starting with Ed Koch, who in 1987 created the Special Garment Center District to preserve manufacturing space. But faced with rising rents, technology and globalization, the industry’s footprint has massively shrunk in the area. Garment firms have fled to cheaper neighborhoods — most notably Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, which has emerged as a miniature garment hub. Now Mayor Bill de Blasio is looking to relocate the holdouts and hoping to lift zoning restrictions on the district in a move that would open 20 blocks of prime Midtown to development. Whether he can pull it off remains to be seen. Critics argue that the city should continue protecting the neighborhood so it doesn’t go the way of the antique sewing machine.