Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight. Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste. " I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable. " Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk, " but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter, " Lori proudly stated. Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it. " They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass. John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer. " He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it. "
Before opening Illumé, an extraordinary boutique specializing in custom made lamps and lampshades, owner Ronald Scinto had an antique shop in Connecticut. While speaking with him one day, I discovered how he entered into this unique business. Ronald explained that he had been selling many antique lamps with missing shades, or old lamps that were in need of some repair and found that he had nowhere to refer his customers to have them fixed. Ultimately, it dawned on him that he had found an unfilled niche in the market, and decided to open his own shop. Today, his Manhattan store continues to sell and repair lamps; however, it is also a gallery filled with every shape and size fixture and shade. This is a man who has taken the art of light to another level and promises to exceed the expectations of his customers. When I inquired about some of the types of lamps he has created over the years, Ronald's prompt response was "Anything at all. I can make you into a lamp if you stand still long enough. "
Claude-Noelle Toly came to the United States in 1982 after having received her master's degree in political science. Her original goal was to improve her English, but she could not help but fall in love with Manhattan. "Much to my mother's disappointment, I became a waitress in a tiny restaurant in the Village, ” Claude-Noelle confided. It was there, one day, that she met William Nuckel. They became fast friends and together shared a dream of traveling to the South of France on a regular basis to purchase items for a French shop. Shortly afterwards, a tiny little corner space in the West Village became available... that was also affordable. In 1987, they agreed that it was the perfect location and decided to give it a try. Built in the 1800s with three levels, the building is a perfect fit for the charming French boutique that houses antiques and collectibles. From traditional pottery and earthenware to folk art and colorful crystal chandeliers, everything about the shop is enchanting - and this includes the delightful partners. Over the years, during their trips abroad, the two have discovered many talented artisans who constantly remind Claude-Noelle of French farmers. She explained that "they are in their own little world working and producing special pieces, having very little communication with the outside world. " But, she continued, "They absolutely appreciate the fact that there is a shop in Manhattan that is selling their work. " I then learned that there is nowhere else in the States that carries their pottery. For that matter, the only other place in the world that does so is in France. In addition to the new pottery for which Le Fanion is known, the store also has a limited collection of both pottery and furniture that date back to the early and mid-1700s, alongside a larger number of items from the nineteenth century. When I revisited Claude-Noelle in 2016, she was still gushing about her longevity in the West Village and how she continues to love every minute of being on her special, quiet corner. She disclosed that there are two wonderful aspects of owning Le Fanion - traveling to the south of France several times a year, where she and William are able to interact with so many fascinating people "who have unexploited lifestyles, " and returning with new inventory to share with their customers. Claude-Noelle added that she finds it "kind of funny to think that we are a genuine organic store - we only sell wood and clay. " Who knew that they were so ahead of their time in the 1980s? "Today, everyone either tries or pretends to be organic... but we were doing it before many others, " Claude Noelle commented. After a pause, she said, "Wow, thirty years later, and we are still here - How can that be? " Claude-Noelle answered her own question: "What we sell attracts people who appreciate the quality and the stories behind the pieces. And, it continues to always be a nice moment. "
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests a theory in which, to become an expert in any particular area, one must first accumulate 10, 000 working hours in that specific field. Naturally, it is faster to achieve expert status when focusing on only one topic. This concept must have crossed the minds of the Just Bulbs store owners in the early 2000s, when despite selling lighting fixtures for over forty years, the owners decided to focus exclusively on "just bulbs. " The idea for the shop originated with David’s grandfather, who started by selling light bulbs door-to-door during World War II. He later opened a brick-and-mortar shop that was taken over by David's mother. David is now the third generation to run the store, having left behind a career in management consulting in St. Louis to devote himself to the family business in the 1980s. Since then, his expertise in the field has only grown, along with his vast inventory. Today, the entire staff is an expert in their field, claiming to have over 30, 000 bulbs in the store. With shelves and bins piled high with colorful bulbs in dozens of shapes and sizes and creative varieties of string lights hanging overhead, the shop is most likely going to be able to accommodate almost anyone's needs. And, if somehow amidst the impressive stock they do not have what someone is looking for, they proudly boasted to me that anything a customer requests when it comes to a light bulb, they can produce. The crew at Just Bulbs has no problem making custom pieces and even dispatching for consultations, deliveries, and installation.