“America is a great country and you can make it if you work hard. As immigrants we come and work and work and work to make money, and send money back home. I’m glad we’re here.”
–ATINUKE AKINWUNMI, NIGERIA | STATEN ISLAND
As a child, Atinuke Akinwunmi helped her grandmother, who defied social convention as a business owner. Together, they smoked fish and packed it into a canoe. Atinuke’s grandmother would then travel alone for days, selling in neighboring towns. Atinuke was reminded of her grandmother’s tenacity when she started her own business after arriving in New York City.
By moving from wholesale to consumer purchases online, Atinuke was able to keep her business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. PurH2O also regularly supports their community, donating water to food pantries across New York and New Jersey and the Staten Island Red Cross.
Lower East Side clothing storefront. Photo by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., Tenement Museum collection
During the mid-20th century, many Lower East Side clothing vendors adapted to the changing neighborhood and economy by straddling the line between retail and wholesale business. They realized they could offer bargain merchandise to diverse customers by adapting and building upon a longstanding commercial tradition in the neighborhood.
Clothing being sold on benches in Seward Park, Lower East Side. Photo by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., Tenement Museum Collection
Lower East Side clothing store. Photo by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., Tenement Museum collection