Millennium Art of Harlem
116th Street is filled with chains, be it Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS or 7-Eleven, but quietly tucked away in a tiny space, amidst all of the other shops, I stumbled upon a colorful gallery filled with unique pieces of jewelry, art and glass. Although everything inside the space is beautiful, it was the owners of Millennium, Betram and Judith Romeo, that drew me in and kept me there for quite some time.
Betram came to New York at the age twelve from Trinidad while Judith arrived with her family a year later from Jamaica. They both landed in Brooklyn and met through their brothers, who had become friends. “We grew up together, and then it became more,” Betram beamed. He had gone to school to learn computer engineering, but one day, they decided that it would be fun to open a boutique and sell the pieces of jewelry that Judith had been creating. That was seventeen years ago, in 1999, and they are still enjoying every minute of being in business together.
Betram was quite proud to point out the stunning earrings and broaches that his wife had made. The “Mother Earth” collection was embellished with numerous stones – one more attractive than the next. It was Judith who chimed in at this point and said to me, “We take pride and are passionate in what we do.” She then continued on telling me that “We always go the extra mile for our customers and they’ve been coming back for years.”
There is no doubt that Betram and Judith are a fixture in the neighborhood. The door was swung open on the day that I visited in the fall of 2016, and not a person went by without calling in to say “hello.” When I commented on this to Betram, he responded, “Yes, we are always watching out for each other.”
The two said that they have been adding “different elements” as the years go on, changing up the inventory, but keeping true to selling jewelry, artwork and glass. In addition to Judith’s artwork, the couple has a stunning selection of hand blown Venetian glass from their years of traveling to Italy. “We have loved traveling, my wife still enjoys creating, and we both adore meeting new people and spending time with those that we already know.”
Since they do not travel as much as they used to, they now recruit their friends to bring interesting pieces back from their trips to inspire them. They have loyal customers, but in order to keep them around, they need to “have something different to offer them.”
As our conversation went on, I learned that Betram and Judith are inspired by current events. An example that they shared was when the Metropolitan Museum of New York had an exhibit on American designers influenced by Asian elements, they “played around” with Asian designs. And lately, that “something different” is pressing the essence of leaves and botanicals into silks and other materials using heat and pressure. It makes an extraordinary leaf pattern for scarves and fabrics. I marveled at the oak tree pieces with leaves from Massachusetts. Judith shared that when a couple brought back leaves from Australia, she created an Australian-themed selection.
The shop represents several local artists and others throughout the States, as well as having a nice collection of art from Africa. When I inquired about their clientele, Betram spoke warmly of the local community, but also mentioned the busses that travel to 116th Street each day taking tourists to the outdoor Malcolm Shabass Harlem Market next door, “and then they inevitably stop into our shop.”
When I asked Betram if after all of these years it was still fun, he immediately replied, “I still love every aspect of the business,” and then smiled and said, “We grew up together and we are always together, and we like it this way.”