There are many hidden gems to be discovered on the side streets of Manhattan, but the beginning of my walk on 61st might trump any that I have had thus far. For it was here that I was suddenly convinced that I had stepped into a time portal. Nestled between the skyscrapers that perch along the East River is a stone house dating back to the eighteenth century with a glorious garden (even in the middle of winter) tucked behind it. "Eighteenth Century" may be a bit misleading, since the building, which was built as a carriage house to go with a central mansion, was constructed in 1799. Originally named the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, as this is where she and her husband owned the land on which it was built, it was turned into a "day hotel" in 1826. This was a popular kind of institution that possibly resembled a country club more than an inn. With the rise of the middle class, centers for leisure were popping up all over the island. The city proper mainly existed below 14th Street, causing 61st to be considered a vacation getaway. Though the Mount Vernon Hotel is the only day hotel left standing, at one point in time there were numerous similar ones dotting both rivers. In 1833, the building returned to being a private residence. During the following century, it changed hands multiple times, once even being used as a soup kitchen, until it officially opened as a museum in 1939 in the capable hands of the Colonial Dames of America. To this day, their overall mission continues to be to preserve and teach America's history. The Museum also hosts guests and events of many different kinds: One of their largest affairs is Washington's Birthday Ball, but they also host pie-making workshops, school programs (which are often booked solid for three months at a time), and public events in the auditorium next door.
Tucked between a Swiss and an Italian restaurant, Scent Elate brings Eastern spirituality to the neighborhood. With the doors swung open, the aromas were an enticing trail that led me into this tiny boutique packed with an array of incense, candles, soaps, oils and lotions. Scent Elate also has books on meditation and yoga scattered among crystals, jewelry, chimes and hanging ornaments. In fact, it might just be "the" place to go when searching for sticks of incense - not only is there a vast selection, but Mo, the owner, makes a special effort to find the perfect scent to enhance each individual customer's environment.
Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves. Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item, " said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla. Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.
Maison 10, an exciting and innovative gallery and boutique project from the minds of co-founders Tom Blackie, Henri Myers, and Carsten Klein, opened in June 2016. For the trio of founders, ten is the magic number, as the space operates in ten-week cycles, each centered on ten featured works by a particular artist, alongside ten different product categories, each with ten carefully selected items. Customers can also choose one of ten different charities to which ten percent of the proceeds of their purchase will be donated. Maison 10 combines the founders’ shared love of art, culture, and philanthropy. Despite its bare bones appearance, the storefront is bound to catch the pedestrian eye, or perhaps first their nose with sage burning out front. When Manhattan Sideways stopped by, the wall on the side of the building featured a striped mural, which we learned is repainted every ten weeks by the newest featured artist. The shop is minimally decorated with white display tables showcasing a colorful array of products. It is clear that the room is meant to be rearranged every ten weeks, and that the items on display speak for themselves. The window display rotates even more frequently, changing daily at four pm. “It’s all about engaging with customers. We like to keep it fresh, and the opposite of formulaic, ” Tom remarked with a laugh. The only constant presence in the store is the large statue of a gorilla sitting in the back corner, overseeing the boutique. The founders’ wide range of backgrounds and experiences give Maison 10 the worldly quality it effortlessly seems to possess. Henri, who is originally from New York but has spent quality time in Los Angeles, has spent most of his professional career working in fashion marketing and branding development, attending trade shows, and cultivating a keen sense of taste. Tom, who hails from Scotland, cut his teeth working in the London non-profit sector, learning the intricacies of how charitable institutions operate. Carsten, who is of German origin, is the visual thinker of the group, working mostly in typography, packaging, interior and web design. The three have each made New York their home and describe their shop as “a mixture of all our worlds put together. ” By combining their skills of curation, altruism, and design, these men have created a space dedicated to ethical consumerism. So, why ten? In addition to being a good number for design and numerology, ten has a nostalgic connection for the team. “When all three of us were teens, growing up in our different cities, we were music freaks, and we would run to the record stores every week to keep track of the top ten charts, ” Henri recalled. Similarly, the diverse selection of gifts, fine art, and lifestyle items ranging from candles and books to handmade jewelry appears to be the best of the best. “With only ten categories and ten products, we’ve already pre-selected the best items, and they all have a story, ” Henri noted as he moved between a fruit bowl made from copper and walnuts to a bag made from authentic Japanese satin. “It mostly comes down to personal taste. These are the things we love and feel should be on everyone’s radar. It’s about introducing the customer to an experience one on one. We want to bring back shopping. ” Henri mentioned how important it is that Maison 10 offers products at a wide range of prices, so as not to alienate any potential customers, “We wanted to make it so that you could come in and find a $15 book, a $600 bag, or even a $7, 000 piece of art. ”Nine out of the ten charitable organizations to which the men donate remain fixed throughout the year. The tenth changes with the cycle and is chosen by the designer. The fixed charities are mostly found through personal connections thanks to Tom’s work experience in the non-profit world, and thus are largely New York- and London-based. The impressive list contains local favorites like Housing Works, which is dedicated to fighting the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS, and SAGE, which supports LGBT elderly nationwide. There are also world humanitarian causes including Orange Babies, an Amsterdam-based organization that advocates for HIV positive pregnant women throughout Africa. The Manhattan Sideways team visited right around the first anniversary of Maison 10's opening, and Tom was pleased to report that the business was doing well after its first year. “It keeps getting busier and busier; people love the concept and we’ve definitely gained some super fans who come in every two or three days. " The founders told us that many people who live in the vicinity come in on a regular basis to introduce the shop to their friends. The men are thrilled that they are on their way to becoming a "strong community" - "We believe in our project and we believe that it’s good for the street too. ” They have already collaborated with their neighbors, such as Yeohlee Teng, whose work was featured during a cycle. The team is also working directly with designers on future products, including an original fragrance by Henri himself. Events are a regular part of Maison 10's cyclical process, with launch and closing parties every ten weeks that boast several hundred guests over the course of the night. Additionally, the shop hosts “Friday Night Live” which features five of the designers and five display islands organized by category. These provide an opportunity for customers to interact with the artist or designer, adding a personal touch to the consumer experience. At each of these events, Tom, Henri, and Carsten can be seen in their signature black jumpsuits.
Once upon a time, partners Nicki and Lisa were just a couple of ladies who loved to travel. As their roster of overseas adventures grew, they noticed that each time they visited the far-flung corners of the earth they returned with a host of goodies that had caught their collective eye. An idea was born, and they founded Domus as a home-goods focused store with a global inventory. The attitude here, according to Nicki, is that "if we like something, and we think other people might like it, we do it. " That makes for a flexible and open approach, which over the years has led to spillover past the home-goods genre into arts and crafts, toys and knick-knacks of all sorts.
One might think that they are walking into an upscale souvenir shop when first entering the Theatre Circle, as it is filled with I Love NY tee shirts, mugs, and other trinkets. Upon closer examination, however, there is a treasure trove of memorabilia waiting for the theater enthusiast. Back in 1978, the owners of this Broadway institution began peddling theater-related merchandise outside the nearby theaters on 44th. The business grew, and they were able to move into a space at One Shubert Alley, and later opened up this second shop in the 1990s. We stopped in and spoke with Craig, a self-proclaimed "great guy and general manager, " and were immediately struck by his passion for everything theatrical. He quickly ushered us into the back room where he proudly announced that it holds roughly ten thousand scripts of Broadway shows come and gone, as well as playbills, posters, music and so much more.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products. ”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J. V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S. J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay. Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill. ” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze. Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower, ” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright. ”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space. The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort. ”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low, ” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here. ”
Walking around Creel and Gow, I marveled at the rare but not endangered species preserved in lifelike taxidermies, each having died of natural causes. One of my favorites was the vulturine guinea fowl, a large black bird with subtle touches of blue and purple feathers, and I found myself staring at the set of skull-shaped billiard balls for more than a few moments. The heart of this unique shop started in 1996 with silver-plated Ruzetti and Gow seashells. Italian-imported, the shells were strongly demanded as elegant, nostalgic glorifications of Mother Nature. In 2012, the boutique was rebranded under partners Jamie Creel, an avid collector, and Christopher Gow, a sculptural specialist, to be devoted entirely to rare and exotic nature-related finds. The co-owners' favorite part of the business is traveling around the world in pursuit of extraordinary objects. "We look for the weird and wonderful, " Jamie explained. A malachite set of obelisks, customarily gifted for university graduates, was sourced from Congo, a classical lapis lazuli box from Afghanistan, and coral pieces from dead reefs in the Solomon Islands. "We supply gifts for people who are difficult to buy for, " Christopher commented. A fully preserved zebra stands proudly in the back, a glass case conceals a deconstructed lobster and, perhaps the oldest item in the shop, a fossil of sea urchins comes from the Mesozoic era. "We have everything, " he added. If it fits the category of mineral, plant or animal, they certainly do.
Although the Jewish Museum has their own extraordinary gift shop, right next door there is Celebrations. Opened in 1997, this is a store where customers can peruse a collection of high quality Judaica and select mezuzzahs, kiddish cups, dreidels, and many other sacred items. Having purchased many wedding, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and other special occasion items here, I was quite familiar with this amazing place. Spending time with Carol Ullman and Stacey Zaleski, two lovely women who run the shop, made my appreciation for the exquisite selection that much greater. Celebrations recognizes the work of artists from other countries as well as from right here in the city. Sage Reynolds is a New York artist whose hand-made designs sit next to a glass case that displays silver objects from Israel. Included in the collection were a few items made from stainless steel metal lace, which Carol accurately described as, “Very pretty and very unusual. ” The selection runs from traditional, such as tallit made on a hand loom by Israeli women, to colorful and modern, like a large orange seder plate. The two women explained that there are no specific guidelines for the Judaica that Celebrations sells, except that it is "Good quality, good level of design, and clear function. ”Included in their innovative inventory are colorful glasses to break at a Jewish wedding ceremony and historic ketubahs from the museum’s exhibits, with the text removed. “This is a go-to place for couples to come, ” Stacey said, to which Carol added, “Sunday is always a busy ketubah day. ”Ketubahs are not the only items in Celebrations that imitate pieces from the Jewish Museum. There are also reproductions of silver pieces from the museum’s collection, which have proven popular with the shop's customers. As for more modern designers, Alessi is always a big seller. There are also some stunning pieces from Ludwig Wolpert, who is considered the “father of modern Judaica” and who had a workshop in the Jewish Museum in the middle of the twentieth century. In the central case I discovered “Forgotten Judaica, ” a company based in Rhode Island that creates folk art-inspired items decorated with squirrels and other common animals. Possibly the most touching collection that the two women pointed out were the mezuzahs from Mi Polin, which translates to “From Poland. ” They are the only Polish Judaica designers that Stacey is aware of, and each of their pieces is steeped in history. This company locates mezuzahs from houses that were destroyed during World War II and then creates bronze casts of them. Each one has an address on the side, explaining where it was found. When a customer purchases one of these, they receive a story explaining its origin. “A lot of the pieces in here have a story, whether they’re one-of-a-kind or handmade or artisan, " Stacey shared. And Celebrations allows customers to take the time to explore, examine, and hear the stories behind each work of art. “It’s an intimate place to shop, ” Stacey pointed out, noting that the pace of the Judaica store is a lot slower than that of the main museum gift shop. With its personal attention to shoppers and willingness to create custom items, Celebrations has become a favorite location for generations of families. As Stacey said, “We create long-lasting friendships with customers. It’s a family affair. ”
Laughing, Grace Kang told me that when she was first getting started and running operations out of her apartment, her doorman handed her a box and commented, “Olives aren’t pink! ” She went on to explain the name, which, like many aspects of Pink Olive, is inspired by her niece, who has quite the imagination. Being that her niece loved pink and Grace was partial to both pink and green, Grace chose to name the business after those two colors. However, she did not want to name her store “Pink Green, ” so she decided on “Pink Olive, ” which suggests that in the fanciful world of the store, pink olive trees grow. Though Grace is originally from the West Coast, she considers New York to be the place where she grew up professionally. Her experience as a buyer at Bloomingdales, Saks, and Barney’s helped shape her skill set and her career. “I’m very Cali at heart, but New York is my home, ” she told me. Her customers see Pink Olive as a New York-centric business, and after speaking with her, it was clear that the city featured prominently both in her original development of her gift store idea and its current identity. When Grace first started looking for a space for her whimsical gift shop, she contemplated numerous locations, but one day, her mentor suggested that she should “go into an area that you have a personal connection with. ” Grace admitted, “The East Village always felt like home to me, ” and so immediately following her meeting, she decided to take a stroll in the neighborhood, spotted a For Rent sign on 9th Street, and started the ball rolling at an alarming pace. In 2007, Pink Olive was given a home. Grace’s business has evolved since its inception - it began primarily as a store for babies, and then expanded to include more gifts for every age. In the years since she opened, she has noticed that there are more and more new babies named Olive. At the same time as Pink Olive's opening, two Japanese girls started Atsuyo et Akiko. Grace began carrying their “Je t’aime NY” onesies, which continue to be a top seller for New York babies. Some of the other items that Grace cannot keep in stock are the New York metro card rattles made by Estella. She pointed out that the items are “a no-brainer, but unique. ” Pink Olive is where people now come for tasteful New York-themed gifts for every age range. Additionally, there are clever cards, scented candles, and chic accessories, among many other delightfully whimsical items. When I asked Grace how working as a buyer for the women’s departments of more corporate companies helped her in opening Pink Olive, she said that buying for women’s fashion is very different from buying for a gift store, but that she is glad to have had the experience. In fashion, everything is far more fast-paced, since lines are seasonal. Grace said it was very much like the mantra about succeeding in New York: “If you can survive the fashion world, you can survive anywhere in the buying world. ” But Grace is very happy to have followed her more personal passion by entering the gift business. She considers her time at Pink Olive extremely rewarding, since she can be a part of the special moments in people’s lives, whether it is a birthday, a new baby, sending snail mail to an old friend, or redecorating an apartment. And Grace feels that special moments are not few and far between: “I truly believe that everyday there’s a reason to celebrate. ”
We love browsing around this eclectic gift shop whenever we are on 9th. It is clear that Urte Tylaite, the very sweet owner has a keen eye for a clean, minimalist aesthetic and a slant toward natural and organic shapes. Here one can find unique home goods, such as delicate glass-blown vases and ceramics crafted by local and international artists. We are particularly fond, however, of Urte's tasteful selection of jewelry. There is also a small collection of paper goods that includes books, notebooks, prints, and postcards. On one visit to Still House, we were delighted to meet Urte's mom who confirmed for us the careful consideration that her daughter puts into choosing the artists and craftspeople whose work is on display. It is apparent to us that it is "passion, not investment" that makes this store as special as it is.