Canal Street is a major street in New York City, crossing lower Manhattan to join New Jersey in the west (via the Holland Tunnel I-78) to Brooklyn in the east (via the Manhattan Bridge). It forms the main spine of Chinatown, and separates it from Little Italy. It also forms the northern boundary of the Tribeca neighborhood and the southern boundary of SoHo.
Canal Street takes its name from an actual canal that was dug in the early 19th century to drain the contaminated and disease-ridden Collect Pond into the Hudson River. The pond was filled in 1811, and Canal Street was completed in 1820 following the angled path the canal had. The elimination of Collect Pond actually made the surrounding land even marshier, as the area had many natural springs that now had nowhere to drain. The historic townhouses and newer tenements that had been built along Canal Street quickly fell into disrepair, and the eastern stretch of Canal Street came within the ambit of the notorious Five Points slum as property values and living conditions plummeted.
Early in the 20th century, the jewelry trade centered on the corner of Canal and Bowery, but moved in mid century to the modern Diamond District on 47th Street. In the 1920s the Citizens Savings Bank built a magnficent domed headquarters at the Bowery, facing the Manhattan Bridge plaza which remains a local landmark. The portion of Canal Street around 6th Avenue was New York's principal market for electronics parts for some quarter century after the closing of Radio Row.
Today, Canal Street is a bustling commercial district, crowded with low-rent (compared to other Manhattan real estate) open storefronts, and street vendors to the west; banks and jewelry shops to the east. Tourists as well as locals pack the Canal Street sidewalks every day to frequent the open-air food stalls and bare-bones stores selling items such as perfume, purses, hardware, and industrial plastics at very low prices. Many of these goods are grey market imports and many notoriously counterfeit, with fake trademarked brand names on electronics, clothing and personal accessories (including the fake Rolex watches that have become a Manhattan cliché). Illegally produced CDs and DVDs are very common, and offered for sale on the Canal Street sidewalks in makeshift stands and suitcases or simply laid out on bedsheets, often before they are even officially released in stores or the theater. Widespread sale of these counterfeit goods persists along Canal Street and in its hidden back rooms despite frequent police raids.