Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
“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. ”
Gary Scheiner, the owner of Gentlemen's Resale, is supremely proud of being in business for over twenty years. He began his shop in 1992 with help from his mother-in-law, Myrna Skoller, who owned Designer Resale next door (which has since become Designer Revival). At the time, Gary was working in construction after receiving a teaching degree during a time when no teaching positions were available. As is still the case, there were not many men's consignment stores. Gary explained to us that many shops sold men's clothing, but rarely exclusively and usually only a few racks at a time. His mother-in-law gave him what men's items she had and Gary was pleased to find that he soon had a loyal band of customers - from tourists to recent graduates who needed interview outfits. Today, close to twenty-five years later, he still attracts a wide range of individuals. On the day that I visited, Gary informed me that he had just had a customer who sought him out after getting off a plane from his native Australia. "Someone visited me from the other side of the planet, " Gary said in disbelief. As for what he credits his success to, he has always had spotlessly ethical policies. "You can't survive twenty-three years if you're not honest, " he said when I visited in 2015. He also thanks the neighborhood, pointing out that there are many gentlemen who have excellent taste in clothes who live in the area and that they often need to give things away for the sake of storage. He is continuously pleased with the clothes that he receives. For example, he showed us a Berlutti overcoat made of baby llama worth about $10, 000-$15, 000, and went on to say that he has a storeroom full of high priced items. It also helps that Gary has a good eye. "I know clothes, " he admitted. I believe, however, that it is Gary's warm and friendly relationship with his customers that plays an important role in his success. He has a very strong mailing list and makes a point of being on a first name basis with people who come by more than once or twice. Gary also has a reasonable consignment system, which probably explains why many men return. He holds onto items for ninety days and splits all earnings fifty-fifty with the provider. There is a clearly marked color-coded tier for how the price of an item drops each month. Clothes must arrive dry-cleaned and Gary tries to keep his stock current (within two to three years), though he has been known to take one or two vintage pieces in very special circumstances. I was most impressed with how well organized the space is, with easily viewable racks. It is clear that Gary takes pride in his work. "We get consignments every day, " he said, and joked that some loyal customers will not tell friends that Gentlemen's Resale exists, for fear of shopping competition. When I asked Gary if he still loved the business after so many years, he replied in true New York fashion, "It's tough work. I don't know if I love it, " and then paused before confirming, "Yeah, I love it! "
With shops in over a dozen states, Buffalo is known throughout the country for carrying both "new and recycled fashion. " We found the East Village location to be bright and spacious, and on the day that we were here, there were a number of friendly staff willing to chat and to share the history of Buffalo. Back in the 1970's Kerstin Block opened her first exchange shop in Arizona and as she continued to open up additional stores around the country, she was able to stay true to her original desire to provide quality clothing on consignment. The staff went on to say that the majority of their stock in New York is "bought locally and sold cheaply. "
This traditional consignment shop was initially begun by a woman named Ina who set out to open her own business after working in a showroom featuring high-end designers. After many years of collecting a variety of fashionable clothing that she never wore, Ina decided that it was time to begin selling the pieces to others. Initially, she did this out of her apartment. One day, her friends came to her and offered to help her to open her own shop. Ina's store became a reality in 1993 in SoHo. Today, Ina’s son, Milo, is in charge of the family business. Men and women alike will have no trouble finding contemporary, glamorous, avant-garde, business and street-trendy fashions in any of their four locations in Manhattan. Milo continues to follow in his mother's footsteps, offering top-notch designer clothing and accessories.
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.
After my lively conversation with Gary Scheiner next door at Gentlemen's Resale, who got his start at Designer Revival thanks to the original owner - his mother-in-law - I was eager to pay a visit to the upscale women's consignment shop. I was met by Tiffany Keriakos, who took over as owner in the spring of 2015, despite having no experience in the consignment/fashion world. Coming from a beauty marketing background, Tiffany chose to begin her new career after having her first child. "I've always wanted to have my own store, " she said with a broad smile. Tiffany clearly has a great deal of respect for Myrna Skoller, the woman who began the shop as "Designer Resale" in the early nineties. Myrna was considered a pioneer in a neighborhood that is now filled with consignment stores. She wrote a book, published in 2013, about her experience, titled "Miracle on 81st Street: Designer Resale - A Girl's Dream. " Tiffany, who shopped at the store for many years before taking over, described Myrna as a "spunky, sexy seventy-four-year-old" and gushed about her role in the resale community. Tiffany has kept most of Myrna's tried and true consignment policies. Like Myrna, she continues to carry a combination of high end and casual garments. Tiffany, however, has plans to make some significant changes to the boutique. Along with tweaking the name to make it sound a little more hip, she is renovating the enormous, 4, 000 square foot space so that each room features one type of clothing (coats, tops, shoes, etc. ). She wants people to be able to find things easily and have a good time simply walking around. "It's cozier than your average store, " she said, adding, "The experience of walking in is enjoyable here. " Tiffany has also shifted the rooms around, turning the old office into a photo studio. In warmer months, she looks forward to using the small garden in the back for events. Because of the size of her store and the significant amount of storage space, Tiffany welcomes items from every season all year round. When I asked what she felt her target audience to be, Tiffany replied "anyone from twenty-one to eighty, " covering recent college graduates who need work clothes to women on a pension who still like to go shopping. Her stock changes almost daily. She informed me that everything, including the Chanel bag I was ogling, has been verified by an authenticator. "It's accessible luxury, " Tiffany said, adding, "It's a glamorous treasure hunt. "