Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar, " at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping. " They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed... and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them. " And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
Since 1947, Steinlauf and Stoller has been devoted to selling sewing notions. I stopped in and spoke with Dan Stoller, the grandson of the founder, who explained that as the years passed, the store's reputation and the charisma of the Stoller family kept the business afloat as the garment district around it largely struggled. Today, this store continues to sell the merchandise it has been peddling for over sixty years: thread, scissors, shoulder pads, bra cups, anything needed to make clothes other than fabric. The old-school approach is evident the minute I walked in the door. Equally apparent: the influential presence of Nancy, a wildly popular figure in the area who puts on snaps, grommets, rivets, and the like. Signs in the front window advertise her presence and the limits on times when folks can utilize her services. I was puzzled at first, but I quickly understood why: she is an amazing human being. From the first word we shared, she was familiar, benevolent and kind. Nancy began work in the garment district in the late 1960s and has been at Steinlauf & Stoller for sixteen years. She has perfected her craft beyond many others. Her longevity gives her some perspective on the changing times, and she chatted with me about the garment district as she sewed on snaps. The changes have disturbed her (as they have many, presumably): "I've never seen so many vacancies as in the past few years. " Those vacancies, of course, are quickly filled by "banks and restaurants, " and the district is losing a bit of its flavor. "It's dying out, it's scary to me, " she reported, alongside tales of friends out of work whose jobs have flown elsewhere for the long winter. Of course, change happens, but it is poignant to see a fashion district lifer so affected. I must encourage others to find something that needs Nancy's attention, and come chat with this lovely personage.
I could not resist getting caught up in Clare's enthusiasm as this Manhattan Sideways team member spotted Mood Fabrics, a second floor shop on 37th Street. Having never watched "Project Runway", I was clueless about this business, but eager to share in her excitement as we ascended in the elevator. Walking the aisles with her, I decided that there was no one more appropriate to do a write up than this adorable college student from California: When I visited Manhattan with my mom a number of years ago, the hit TV show, "Project Runway", was our latest obsession, and we made visiting Mood a high priority on our to do list. Project Runway is a reality show for aspiring designers to compete for the chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. The series uses Mood as its source for all the fabrics and materials the designers need to create pieces for the various challenges over the course of the competition. My mom and I eagerly explored the countless aisles of Mood, admiring the gorgeous colored fabrics and vast assortment of buttons and ribbons. We certainly stood out as tourists among the many knowledgeable people strolling the floors asking for "ten yards of this" and "eight yards of that, " but we made an attempt to blend in by buying a yard of what we thought was the prettiest ribbon in the store. We also could not resist buying a T-shirt printed with Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn's famous phrase "Thank you, Mood, " and I am guilty of taking a photo with Swatch the dog, who has many guest appearances on the show. Visiting the store again a few years later, I still had just as much fun getting lost in the maze of roll after roll of fabric stacked up to the ceiling. Watching fashionable design students measure out just the right amount of material made me wish I could make lovely clothes to show off on the runways at New York Fashion Week! My second time around at Mood, I was also thrilled to learn a bit of the history behind the famous fabric store. Much more than just a business whose popularity expanded outside of the fashion world with the airing of Project Runway, Mood Designer Fabrics began with designer Jack Sauma in 1991. He grew up in Lebanon and Sweden, and moved his family to New York, opening Mood originally as a fabric wholesaler. It was not until 1993 that Mood started to do retail sales, and once it did business grew so quickly that by 2001, they had to move into their current space of 40, 000 square feet. Mood has another location in Los Angeles, however the Manhattan location remains the flagship of the business, drawing a constant flow of customers - from students in fashion school to designers, to people who simply love to sew. Currently, Mr. Sauma's two sons oversee Mood and its online retail site. I could not help picturing the Project Runway competitors running frantically up and down the stairs of Mood in search of the perfect material as I wandered through the store, and I felt compelled to imitate Tim Gunn as we headed towards the elevators with a wave and an approving "Thank you, Mood! "