Clayton’s Corner: Essex Street Crack Busts in the 1990s [PHOTOS]

Posted on: December 30th, 2019 at 5:00 am by

In this next installment of Clayton’s Corner, Lower East Side documentarian Clayton Patterson exhumes the drug-heavy history of Essex Street in the 1990s.

The bodega at the end of my block (179 Essex Street) was a cocaine store. One of the owners was murdered in Washington Heights. As locals, we were regular customers. Never bought coke there. But, here on the Lower East Side, most of the bodegas sold some kind of illegal product. Was just the life in the neighborhood.

The owners of the building were two Orthodox Jews from Grand Street. They owned a number of buildings in the nieghborhood. After the drug bust at 179 Essex, I was able to follow them around the neighborhood.

Both were true characters, and I photographed their pursuits.

Documenting this period made me thankful I left the Soho art world filled with pettyness, ego, malicious gossip, and connected me to the realness of the street and the people. I was comfortably able to go deep underground. I loved the vibrancy and have been blessed to be a part of these different worlds.

Four Brothers Bodega was also right around the corner from where I lived (110 Stanton Street). This image is a coke bust. One interesting detail from the shot is the kid on rollerblades the cop is leading off the block is the son of the then-head of Hell Raiser, a brand of heroin sold on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton. In elementary school, the boy was caught with a gun in his bookbag.

A drug addict was busted on my block by the “TNT” cop crew. This team used to organize in the former parking lot at East Houston (currently, The Ludlow luxury rentals) on Tuesdays and Thursdays (“Tactical Narcotics Team”). When the officers screamed, Elsa and I would run after them and document the impending drug bust. Exciting times. Most cops hated this, but was a part of the program.

Here is a hooker cooking up some crack in an Essex Street apartment. She had been part of Shadow Artist Richard Hambleton’s group.

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