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
When I visited Tip Top Shoes in the summer of 2015, the store was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary. Danny Wasserman proudly showed me the most recent edition of Footwear News, which was essentially dedicated to Tip Top. There were messages from countless sponsors in the shoe world, congratulating the Wasserman family for their longevity. Sitting down with Danny and his children, Lester and Margot, who are in charge of West NYC and Tip Top Kids respectively was an absolute pleasure. Having grown up just a block away, Lester and Margot were immersed in the business even as toddlers. In high school, both began working at the store with their dad. Lester was immediately drawn into the world of shoes, learning as much as he could with the ultimate goal of opening his own sneaker shop, West NYC, a few doors down. Lester explained to me that Tip Top already sold sporty designer men's shoes, but that he expanded this concept into a trendier store in 2007. Margot, on the other hand, knew that she wanted to work in retail, but began her career with Ralph Lauren. She stayed there through the dot-com revolution and then returned to work for her father. Included in the copy of Footwear News was a picture of how the store looked decades ago. Display cases took up the first few feet on either side of the door. Danny's grandfather originally opened the store after coming to the United States from Israel. He chose to buy the little shoe shop, which had been uptown in Riverdale, from an elderly German couple. The family then moved the store to 72nd Street. "Things were very different, " Danny explained to me. "People were less affluent, there were fewer options, and every shoe in the store was in the window. " He told me that at one point there were two black shoes and two brown shoes for men, and that was what customers had to choose from. Expanding on the neighborhood's history, Danny said that the street was frequented by pimps. "We had white boots with fur at the time that we couldn't keep in stock. "Later, the store was expanded both forward (eliminating the window displays) and back. Today, Tip Top continues to have a loyal following, many from the next generation of shoppers. Having walked so many streets in Manhattan, Tip Top has been a wonderful reminder to me that the old world concept of customer service, with a warm staff who have been working with the Wassermans for years, still exists. This thinking was solidified when I asked the family why they never considered expanding to another location. The response from Danny simply stated that they never wanted to spread themselves too thin. "The reason for our success is because we're all here. "It was really touching to see how strong the glue is that holds the Wasserman family together. I was not surprised when I learned that Lester, Margot and their parents live in the same building, a block over on 72nd Street - but on different floors. Yes, Tip Top has been an incredible success story in the world of mom and pop stores, but not everyone has had the great fortune of such a beautiful family relationship. When I expressed this sentiment to Danny, he replied, "Everyone says how fortunate I am to have my kids, and they're right. " He then went on to say with a warm smile, "I mean, my son chooses to work with me six days a week. " Lester shook his head in agreement and responded, "And I am lucky to have the best possible teacher to educate me. "
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! "
Walking into Shop Untitled, which features exquisite clothing, chunky crystal necklaces, fierce leather boots, and gloves galore, is like walking into a fashion wonderland. Along the walls there are long black coats with leather spines, a full body piece that looks like something a ninja might wear, and effortlessly hip hooded shirts. “We don’t buy safe things, ” Kevin Kelly said to me, “They end up on the sales rack. We do risky things. They’ll sell the first day. ”Manhattan Sideways had the chance to sit down and talk with Kevin and Gapu Suri who have been partners in the shop since 1983. Kevin informed us that the store was originally located across the street until 2009, when it moved to its current location. After relocating, people thought they were the new kids on the block. “New Yorkers don’t turn around, ” Kevin jokingly said, but then explained that he and Gapu chose to stay in the neighborhood because of their loyal clientele. Young women who shopped here years ago are now mothers who bring their daughters to browse in this haven of chic clothes. As we perused the wares, we learned that Shop Untitled is a place that changes with the times, keeping up to date on all the newest trends - because it has always been for young people. Its racks are filled with the lines of up-and-coming designers. Gapu and Kevin do not carry the same things as other boutiques: they mostly feature smaller designers who prefer to be in a finely curated shop. They are proud that a number of the designers that they represent choose to work exclusively with Shop Untitled. “Customers like being surprised that they’ve never heard of someone, ” Kevin said, adding that it makes them feel unique in a sea of familiar brands. Talking with Kevin and Gapu was a wonderful experience. They have strong convictions and take great pride in being a launching pad for new designers. “We love what we do – we wake up and love doing it, ” Gapu exclaimed with a big smile on his face. Together, they run the store like a well-oiled machine. Gapu, who moved from India to go the Fashion Institute of Technology, said that he travels to Paris about four times a year to do the buying for the store. He does “tons and tons of research” to seek out new and fashion-forward designers. Kevin has not had any formal training in design, but definitely, as he says, has a “flair for it. ” Decked out in cool, architectural clothing, their aesthetic is evident. The Manhattan Sideways team gave Kevin the impossible task of picking just three designers to highlight. He landed on two edgy, eco-conscious artists: Barbara I Gongini, who makes sure her fabrics and pieces are sustainably attained, and Demobaza with an “end of the world, beginning of the next world” vibe. To round it out, Kevin mentioned the House of Malakai, a company that makes very special face masks that caught the eye of Madonna herself. Rihanna even flew Malakai to New York for the Met ball. Gapu and Kevin have a lot of interaction with the music, film, TV, and theater crowd. Recently, a designer had work featured in The Hunger Games movies after a buyer for the film came by the store. The two men place a heavy emphasis on seeking out new talent. Gapu told us that he is always on the hunt for designers that are “raw and fresh. ” These talented men and women enter into a strong legacy: Shop Untitled carried John Galliano’s and Alexander McQueen’s work straight out of school. In ending our conversation, Gapu announced emphatically that the clothing and accessories that Shop Untitled carries must have “a soul behind the creation. ”
Though he has only been in the business since 2000, Phil LaDuca has made himself a Broadway institution with his revolutionary shoes. Having been a dancer himself for over twenty years, Phil was acutely aware of the complaints and discomforts that plagued his fellow hoofers when it came to footwear. The biggest issue, he had noticed, was that most dance shoes were not flexible. It was, therefore, difficult for dancers to point their toes and create a long, sought-after line with their leg. Tired of suffering and seeing others enduring similar frustration, LaDuca got to work designing a better shoe. He came up with the idea to make the shank of his shoes out of elastic gussets that gave them the necessary flexibility for a perfect point. He then found artisan cobblers in Italy who brought his vision to life in supple leather, and opened up his shop in 2001. The long list of clients at LaDuca includes entire casts on Broadway, the Rockettes, royalty and pop stars. The day we were there, the staff was getting Katy Perry's set of shoes ready for her world tour. Phil LaDuca's fame and craftsmanship surpasses all creative and international boundaries producing custom shoes for dancers and non-dancers alike. More importantly, he has created shoes that have raised the status quo for character shoes and that have provided thousands of dancers with more comfortable and reliable footwear.
Trash and Vaudeville is actually two stores – Vaudeville, full of colorful, ornamented clothing pieces, is a more kitsch environment, while Trash “is one of the seminal punk and goth stores of NYC. ” Founded in 1975 by Ray Goodman, Trash and Vaudeville began adorning Rockers, Mods, Punks, Goths, and Rockabillies – “everyday working class heroes who just wanted to walk and dress on the wild side. ” Today, the store continues to cater to a similar audience, dressing rock stars, such as Lady Gaga, counter culturists, as well as the average New Yorker and tourist. Besides the bright colors, feather boas, and rubber dresses, the store’s character is derived from the people working here – most notably, Jimmy Webb. He is the epitome of rock n’ roll and an era gone by - wearing tight pants that hug his body, a leather studded vest, metal bracelets that coil up his arm, and a shag haircut that shields his eyes. Jimmy's tough appearance is marked with the gentlest of souls. He tells us that he loves Iggy Pop, that he wants to be a “little piece of a great big thing happening, ” but most importantly that he loves this store. In fact he is completely devoted to it. As he bops from left to right, Jimmy cannot help but charm every visitor... and he treats each of them with the utmost kindness, whether it be a star who walks in, a music lover, or someone who is simply exploring - like us. While the store is aesthetically memorable, Jimmy makes it much more noteworthy. A few years after our interview with Jimmy, Trash and Vaudeville moved from its longstanding home on St Marks to a location on 7th Street. However, the spirit, punk vibe, and killer style (not to mention Jimmy! ) followed the store. We have left up our photographs of the St. Marks store as an homage to the location that started it all. Can't get enough? See more of our interview with Jimmy here.