How Business Gets Done In New York's Cutthroat Diamond District

diamond district

Photo: Eric Goldschein

The Diamond District, on 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan, is one of the driving forces behind New York City’s economy.This single block of more than 4,000 businesses brings in $24 billion a year, based on sales recorded by the 47th Street Business Improvement District. That’s as much as McDonald’s generates in global sales in the same amount of time, says Michael Grumet, executive director of the 47th Street Business Improvement District.

The district emerged in the 1920s when downtown jewellers looking to escape the high rents of the Financial District relocated to Midtown. Today diamonds are the state’s #1 export, and over 90% of the country’s diamonds move through New York City.

To see how this cutthroat industry really works, we trekked up to 47th Street and checked out the district ourselves.

The district employs 22,300 workers, and another 10,000 if you include indirect employees

The Fifth Avenue side of the district has fewer solicitors and diamond hawkers. Its jewellers also pay higher rents

On the 6th Avenue side, there are more flashing lights and solicitors looking to pull you inside

In fact, hawkers standing outside their stores is one of the biggest problems still facing 47th Street, says Grumet of the 47th Street Business Improvement District

To compete with stores selling similar merchandise, retailers work to make their presentation as flashy and eye-catching as possible

One method for getting customers? Have an attractive woman or trust-worthy-looking old man stare at you through the window

Upstairs, diamond manufacturers work at cutting and polishing the imported rough diamonds, which are sold to retailers below

Seen here is a diamond cutter at Diamex, Inc. Today, the majority of the stones come from Canada. Many of the smaller diamonds come from India as well.

Some stores deal mostly in exotic or unique jewellery and non-monetary gold to carve out their own market

Alongside retail stores are diamond exchanges, where tons of independent sellers share space

Diamond factories don't need much space to cut and polish, which is a huge money-saver in an area with high rents

47th Street caters to almost every demographic, with a range of items and prices

There are still ways for the district to improve, including increased security and helping to bring jobs back to New York

New York's restaurant industry also has a staggering economic impact

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