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Arts And Culture

Everything You Need To Know About “Dimes Square”

Dimes Square in New York City
Noam Galai/Getty Images

Dimes Square: It’s the most talked-about patch of land in New York City since Bushwick, prompting gawking thinkpieces, serious appraisals, and dismissive snorts from respectable publications ranging from The Cut to The New York Times to The Baffler. Regardless of how people may judge its scene and its inhabitants, it seems as though no local media outlet within a five-foot radius can help themselves from cataloging and analyzing the goings-on of the hot new neighborhood.

I’ve lived in New York for over five years, but I found I understood shockingly little about the Dimes Square scene whenever it became a topic of conversation. While some may have let that slide, accepting that 27 is maybe a good age to stop trying to keep up with every little twist and turn of the zeitgeist, I am a journalist, and therefore my job is to learn and to consequently educate the public. So on Wednesday night, I took the Q train to Dimes Square (the conductor even announced it by name!) for the first time, immersing myself in its people and its atmosphere. I bring you now my findings from this strange and singular place.

Culture

Photo by the author

Centered around the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway, the culture of Dimes Square is equal parts suffocating and invigorating. The newfound popularity of this area shows in the throngs of people that seemingly come from all over the world to pack its streets, many of them doing little but trying to soak in all the action. A newcomer to Dimes Square must either surrender themselves to the crowd or risk an anxiety attack. The most established of its citizens, however, are easily distinguished by their cutting-edge fashion , and these folks are more than happy to take photos with excited visitors. The most famous of all these characters, “The Red Scare,” is pictured above.

The customs of Dimes Square may seem unusual at first. They include posing for selfies, asking groups of strangers “Do you guys like comedy?”, and standing still right after getting off an escalator. But any culture shock initially experienced upon stepping into Dimes Square can disappear in a burst of excitement when one happens upon one of the area’s idiosyncratic street performances. In this ritual, Dimes Squaresians touch their toes for an extended period of time while others showcase their acrobatic skills. Robin Thicke’s hit single “Blurred Lines”—the unofficial theme song of Dimes Square—accompanies them in this endeavor.

Fashion

Photo by the author

Dimes Square doubles as a kind of one-stop shop for all of your clothing needs, including such items as shirts and pants. Recognizable retailers like Gap and Old Navy, in their ongoing bid to attract the young and the hip, have already plopped down storefronts in this rapidly developing area, but more specialized spots with enchanting names also exist to serve the needs of the neighborhood. If you’re having a bad hair day, you can stop at “Lids” for a hat. If the sun is getting in your eyes, you can pop into “Sunglass Hut” for some sunglasses. And if you step into a puddle while wearing socks, you can replace them at “Foot Locker.” Accessories are big in this scene.

The hottest article in Dimes Square, however, is most easily found in the brightly lit outposts with names like “#1 NYC Gifts.” This is a white short-sleeved t-shirt with a heart on it, and the letters I, N and Y surrounding the design. It’s unclear what this means—it must be some shibboleth of the scenesters—but get your hands on one of those, and you’ll look like you’ve been living in Dimes Square all your life.

Art

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Dimes Square is the epicenter of Manhattan’s up-and-coming art scene, and the dominant medium here is musical theater, as evinced by the literal dozens of productions you can catch in and around the area. On a nightly basis, crowds line up out the door to see one of its world-class shows. The most popular of these include Hamilton, a work honoring the life of three-time NBA all-star Richard Hamilton; Come From Away, which retells the famous trade that sent Richard Hamilton from the Wizards to the Pistons; and Chicago, about Richard Hamilton’s two seasons spent playing for the Bulls at the end of his career.

Other modes of art in Dimes Square have a distinctly Warholian feel, as vendors set up on the sidewalk to hock items depicting icons like Harry Styles, Marilyn Monroe, and Batman. Some of this pop art comes in the form of straightforward photographs, but the old exaggerated style known as caricature is also alive and well here. Marrying the classic with the avant-garde: that’s Dimes Square for you!

Fun fact: Dimes Square got its name from the nearby former offices of The New York Dimes, which I understand was a zine.

Food

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The food scene in Dimes Square is, in a word, bombastic. Everywhere you look, bright lights beckon you toward a different irresistible snack, some of which may be familiar and some of which seem to step directly out of a child’s dream. There are homey establishments like Olive Garden and Applebee’s, the comfort food of McDonald’s and Taco Bell, and the convenience of vendors selling hot dogs and pretzels. But gaze deeper into Dimes Square and you will find dining experiences at their most extreme. There is a restaurant filled to the brim with guitars autographed by rock stars, the Willy Wonka madness of a glaze waterfall in an entire store devoted solely to Krispy Kreme donuts, and the terrifyingly imposing tubes of M&Ms on the walls of a temple that worships the bite-sized candy.

The Sbarro in Dimes Square was closed.

Religion

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Those who have written about Dimes Square before me have observed that part of Dimes Square’s specific character comes from the scene’s desire to embrace old-school religious morality, which stands in contrast to previous New York City countercultures. Those convictions will be obvious to anyone who sets foot in Dimes Square, and while it’s Catholicism that seems to get the most play in the media coverage, there is a place for all kinds of religions in this scene. The Church of Scientology has a significant presence in Dimes Square, as seen in the picture above, and everywhere I looked I saw billboards for The Book of Mormon. I also encountered a man on the corner with a shirt advertising various Bible verses. “Be wise and repent,” his sign said, in all caps. “The time is fulfilled. The end is at hand.”

Overall Vibes

The nonstop competition for attention may get tiring, but Dimes Square makes perfect sense as the hip new scene of New York because it unerringly provides a jolt of maximalist adrenaline, of pushing boundaries, and that feeling that rushes through you when you’re standing in a place like nowhere else in America. If he had known, Frank Sinatra would have sung, If I can make it in Dimes Square, I’ll make it anywhere.

The consumerist hustle and bustle may not be for everyone, but it is consistently and thoroughly what it is: dazzling, overwhelming, and desperate to sell you something, anything as it pushes you through its streets. While some profiles have portrayed it to be cold or cliquey, I found a kind of inclusivity in its capitalist indifference. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; if you have enough money, you’ll be welcome in Dimes Square.

In fact, I had such a good time while I was in the square, they should call it “Quarters Square.”