Civil War New York City was the center of the North's commercial life. As we are interested in dry goods --- fabric--- we can look at Fredericka Wiesener Mandelbaum (1825-1894) who ran a thriving fabric business south of Houston Street on the Lower East Side in a neighborhood then called Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany.
Fredericka was born in Hesse-Kassel, a German principality. As a Jew she and her family undoubtedly were affected by their outsider status.
Fredericka married German Wolf Israel Mandelbaum. In 1848, the Year of Revolutions when political instability encouraged thousands of German immigrants to the United States, the Mandelbaums arrived in New York City and like thousands of Germans settled into the Lower East side.
The Mandelbaums earned a living as street peddlers but worked their way up to establishing a store, which flourished.
and extended into two adjacent houses on Clinton.
“I keep a dry goods store, and have for twenty years past. I buy and sell dry goods as other dry goods people do. I have never knowingly bought stolen goods. Neither did my son Julius. I have never stolen anything in my life. I feel that these charges are brought against me for spite. I have never bribed the police, nor had their protection."
And she got plenty of press.
It's hard to view the Mandelbaum dry goods business beyond the sensationalism, but it does give one insight into how wartime fabric shortages can inspire innovation in the dry goods business.
Read an account of Fredericka's life here:
George W Willing's book has much about Frederica as crime boss: