While walking along 55th Street, a bright pink and white awning caught my attention. The entrance beneath the canopy was marked with a sign that said “A La Mode” with the 'A's and 'O' stacked like ice cream scoops. Inside was a cute handmade ice cream shop that could be the setting of an Eloise story. Catering to those with nut and dairy allergies, A La Mode is also a quaint, yet spacious boutique that sells children’s clothes, shoes, and toys. Additionally, the ice cream store hosts storytelling and seasonal arts and crafts events throughout the year. “We just always loved the space and so we decided to finally buy it and make A La Mode! ” said Sandy Roth, the California children’s clothing designer who founded A La Mode in 2015. The A La Mode team is also composed of her husband Marc and friend Marie Ann, both of whom are equally devoted to the business and love the work they do. The handmade, nut-free ice cream is created by Marc, who trained at the Ice Cream university in Switzerland. The Manhattan Sideways Team was given a chance to sample a few of his innovative flavors, including bubble gum and vanilla pretzel crunch. There are also always three dairy-free flavors available: chocolate, vanilla, and a rotating third flavor. A la Mode has various ice cream sizes, including a little three-inch scoop for $1. 50 that is perfect for toddlers. “It’s great to experiment with the flavors. When seasons come around we try to change it up, ” Marc told me, adding, “Right now Salted Caramel is one of our big sellers. ” A La Mode also distributes its ice cream to local ice cream stores and supermarkets. The family friendly location and the nearby schools have given A La Mode a lot of successful business, to the point where no advertisement was needed. Their events during after-school hours include music events in collaboration with ABC Do-Re-Me!, a program that provides music classes that kids and parents can both enjoy. Sandy has become a recognizable neighborhood face, to the point where young children see her on the street and say, "That's the ice cream girl! " “We have a lot of after-school rush, and its great because they can also see that we also do events and not just ice cream, ” she pointed out. She hopes that A La Mode will eventually expand, maybe even to California, where she still spends time working. “I will be living in Texas soon, ” says Marie Ann, “But I will be still involved. Maybe we can open a location there too! ” Their future plans look bright and cheery, just like their store.
“The store is so important and a big part of the community. We didn’t want to lose it, ” explained Yelena Ferrer, who owns Jane’s Exchange together with her husband, Rodney, and Jane, the daughter of the shop’s founder. Eva Dorsey, a single mom-to-be, was seeking a consignment store for young mothers and children that was closer to her East Village home. Unable to find one, she took it upon herself to open Jane’s Exchange — named after her daughter — on Avenue A and East 7th. She sold her concept door to door, drumming up excitement from other moms at local daycares, parks, and schools. Over the years, it became a neighborhood fixture, offering maternity and kids’ clothing, baby gear, and toys “from books to bicycles. ”In 2018, Yelena and Rodney, parents to four children and frequent visitors to the store, learned that Eva was struggling to keep Jane’s Exchange open. They felt compelled to save the beloved business and became its new owners. When the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hit and Eva chose to fully retire, Jane Dorsey joined the store as the third partner. Today, Jane’s Exchange continues to be a whimsical space where everyone can stop by and browse its selection of specialty toys, check the donation bin, or read one’s child a story in the cozy library. “We created a place that people are always welcome to walk into with their family. ”
Deborah Koenigsberger had no plans to start a non-profit. As the owner of Noir et Blanc, an upscale, French-themed, women’s clothing boutique on West 23rd Street, she had enough on her plate. On her way to work every day, she would cross Madison Square Park and encounter the same young homeless woman and her three-year-old daughter sleeping there. Deb learned that the woman had faced abuse in the shelter system and had decided to “take her chances outside. ” Over time, she would bring them food, until suddenly, they were gone. Deb was so impacted by the experience, combined with the words of a Stevie Wonder song, “Take the Time Out, ” that she felt compelled to “help homeless mothers and their children reimagine their lives. ” Even though that young woman physically left, Deb says, “She motivates me every day to keep going. ” Thus, Hearts of Gold (HoG) was born with a mission of enabling homeless mothers and their children to “reclaim their lives, transition out of the shelter system, and become self-sufficient. ” In 2010, Deb opened the thrifty HoG on West 25th Street. A year later, she moved Noir et Blanc to a retail space a few doors down. The beautifully curated resale shop sells vintage, new, and gently used clothing for men and women, as well as small decor items, bric-a-brac, and home goods that are “consignment quality at thrift prices. ” In Deb’s words, “If I wouldn’t buy it and wear it, I’m not selling it. ”The mothers in need who work at the thrifty HoG earn a living wage, acquire job skills, and undergo training through HoG’s Earn As You Learn Program. All net proceeds from sales at the shop pay the moms and fund programs and services that support the women and children. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, while everyone was sheltering at home, Deb never stopped. She worked every day to fundraise, purchase, and deliver essential health supplies, food, and other necessities to the moms and kids in the shelters. Over the course of 2020, Deb distributed more than 2, 000 meals and emergency care packages, proving her dedication to her non-profit’s overarching goal: “HoG exists to make these women’s and children’s lives the best they can be and to help them retake control over their own stories. ”
After over forty years of being the iconic toy store on Amsterdam Avenue, West Side Kids has moved into a space right around the corner allowing it to join our illustrious group of side street businesses. It’s wonderful to see the family friendly business is staying within the neighborhood that is sadly now full of chain stores. Along with the move comes a rebrand for the charming shop to a more modern brand identity but inside the shop are still the many familiar shelves of goodies. Now owned by Jennifer Bergman, the West Side Kids was founded by her mother, Alice, in 1981. “Every toy is chosen for its educational value, ” explained Jennifer. Not only are educational toys available but fun kits to make treats and explore whimsical hobbies are equally front and center. As you walk around the store seasonal items like pool floats can be found near seaside and pool play accessories. A table with chairs for pintsize patrons sits close to books about famous women icons – singers, politicians and lawyers. Various items to ease the transition back to school also stand out to shoppers of various age groups. Whether you’re looking for a small toy, a statement shirt or a pair of fun socks, the helpful staff is ready to assist you or leave you to wander around the comprehensive selection of reasonably priced items and find things on your own. One of the standouts of the shop is the fact they are inclusive in their offerings; from dolls with assistive chairs to storybooks focusing on people of different backgrounds. West Side Kids continues to be toy experts for children of all ages.
With Dinosaur Hill a few doors down and Pink Olive a block away, 9th Street is one of the few streets in New York that caters to children. An. Me is a quirky and stylish boutique for newborns up through kids size 12. The store also carries unique toys and accessories for small shoppers and their families. Their fun, creative clothes include shirts that feature both the cartoon front and back of animals, articles with big patchwork pockets, and tiny handkerchiefs made of organic materials. The clever toys that line the walls capture an identical sense of whimsy, and will delight kids and parents alike.
There are very few items that the husband and wife team, Carlisle and Daphne, have not monogrammed at some point in their shop. Filled to the brim with hats, robes, sweaters, lunch boxes, and even stuffed animals and piggy banks, Monogram Cottage has a plethora of clothing and other gifts that are begging to have initials or names put on them. The pair, originally from Jamaica, can add lettering to a variety of materials, including plastic. Their creative juices appear to always be flowing, especially when they monogrammed hospital slippers to bring to patients. Though the Cottage functions mainly as a gift shop, Carlisle was quick to tell me that he and his wife are always happy to monogram pieces that people bring to him. In addition, they create custom designs and fonts for their customers. Going down to the basement with Carlisle, where most of the stock is kept, I was surprised to learn how high-tech the monogramming art is: Carlisle creates a design using a specific computer program that converts the lettering into a stitching pattern. That pattern is then sent upstairs to Daphne’s computer next to her sewing machine, where she sews the design onto the chosen item. Apparently, it was Daphne who piqued his interested in monogramming – she was trained to do this through her former job, ultimately allowing the couple to enthusiastically open up Monogram Cottage outside of Manhattan, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. From the moment they opened their store in 2004, the pair had many New York City clients, ultimately causing them to decide to open another shop in Manhattan. Their first one, in 2013, was on 78th Street, but two years later they were forced to move (the building was being demolished), thus landing them on 76th. Today, they are content to focus their energy solely on the Upper East Side, having given up their Dobbs Ferry location. In the basement, in addition to shelves full of labeled gift items and Carlisle’s massive computer, there is a small cot. Carlisle told me that the bed is a very important part of the business. Sometimes, Daphne has so much work to complete that she is at her sewing machine long into the night and has to have a place to lie down for a little bit. Sure enough, during my visit, Daphne was sewing the entire time. The couple works hard to earn the second half of their store’s name: “Best Personalized Gifts. ”
Down a few steps on West 4th Street there is a shop where mother and daughter have teamed up to run an outstanding secondhand maternity and children's clothing boutique. Included in their selections are numerous pieces by a variety of designers, and one-of-a-kind hats made by Myrle, the mom/grandma. Having owned and run a children's bookstore with my mom, and raising my daughter there, I can completely appreciate the love and devotion that these women have to their business. How special it is to have three generations sharing a dream together.