“I really want families to play together. That’s my goal in the store, ” said Christina Clark, who has been wowing parents, grandparents, and, most importantly, children for decades with her wonderland of toys and games. Christina worked in a toy store as a young mother and realized she had found her calling. She opened Kidding Around on Bleecker Street, followed by several other locations. Today, it is the 15th Street shop that has survived throughout the years. “I love going to work every day, so it was a good choice for me. ”In the shop’s beginnings, its selection of toys and games leaned toward the traditional — “no batteries, no remote controls, and everything that just uses your imagination. ” Over the years, however, Christina chose to grow with the times and introduce more modern, automated items into her inventory. Her own children later helped her bring new options into the store. Today, Christina feels lucky to work with her daughter, Kasey Coyle, who uses her background in applied behavioral analysis to stock plenty of books and toys for younger children and those with special needs. Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina found that her clientele went back to the basics — the demand for puzzles and classic board games was revived. “I hope that trend continues, ” she said earnestly. “I hope that people remember how much fun they had playing games with their family so it brings us together and off our devices. ”
Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store, ” Ken remarked. Rothman's closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11, 000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day. ” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan. ” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible. ” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city, ” Jim said. Despite Rothman's more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living. ”
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors' Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actors' Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret, " she says, "but we don't need to be. " To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage, " just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society. " She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors' Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue. " People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
“My only connection to chess is through my son, ” confessed Noah Chasin, the unlikely leader of the Marshall Chess Club. Grandmaster Frank Marshall, a native New Yorker and longstanding U. S. Chess Champion, established the club as a haven for chess buffs. It relocated several times, beginning at Keens Steakhouse — featured in the first Walking Manhattan Sideways book — until it finally found its home on 10th Street in 1931. Perhaps the most famous chess club in the world, every champion has played a game here over the past century. “It’s essentially an obligation for all of the top players at some point. ” This is also where the illustrious Bobby Fischer rose to prominence. Fittingly, parts of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer were later filmed on the Marshall’s premises. Though some might be intimidated by the Marshall’s storied reputation, Noah emphasized that the atmosphere is more welcoming than one might expect. The club’s regular tournaments are typically a fifty-fifty split between its members and those who simply possess a love for the pastime. Noah’s own son started visiting the Marshall when he was only eight years old and has since spent years attending some of the largest competitions around the globe, including the Philadelphia World Open. Though certainly no chess disciple himself, Noah was a devoted father, and as his son participated in workshops, camps, and matches at the Marshall, Noah was recruited to represent the parents of other scholastic members on the club’s board. In 2016, he became the president and is now “neck-deep in the chess world, which I never could have imagined before. ” He is delighted to see players old and young, from New York and abroad, find their way to the Marshall. Better yet, he relishes the second-hand thrill of witnessing opponents face off over one of the club’s elegant boards. “It’s not the trajectory I would have imagined as a parent, but it’s been such a spectacular one. ”
Holographic Studios is, in the words of its owner Jason Sapan, “a conundrum. ” Walking by the East 26th Street store, one would never realize they are passing a house of holograms that has been there for decades. What is a hologram? “It’s sort of like a muffin pan, ” Jason explained. “Although what we are pouring in isn’t batter, but light, and it is taking the shape down to the size of a light wave, which is half of a millionth of a meter across — that’s our pixel. So a hologram is not only three dimensional, but incredibly powerful in the data it is recording. ” Jason’s career began as a child. His dad “designed the displays of technology for the phone system, ” and when AT& T built the pavilion at the World’s Fair, he helped solder some of the wires. “I had lasers in my house from the early 1960s. I grew up with holograms, never thinking it would become my life’s work. ” During the summer of 1968, Jason had his first paid job showing off his own holograms, and then made the decision to go professional in 1975. His original upstairs space was in Chelsea, but after a few years, he realized that a streetfront connection would be beneficial and made the move to his present location. Every year Jason tries to evolve “a little bit. ” Rather than doing the same things over and over, he changes with the marketplace. “People are interested in different things, and it is incumbent upon me to recognize where the trend is going and to play to that. ” Clients have included Andy Warhol, Bill Clinton, Isaac Asimov, the New York City Ballet, Mayor Ed Koch, sheiks, and countless other celebrities, as well as many Fortune 500 companies. Jason certainly had the clientele and ability to have grown into the corporate world, but when asked why he never chose to “go big, ” his immediate response was, “I would lose the relationships that I have developed over the years. I am a big business, just in a small space. I love this lifestyle. ”
"In a family business, everybody works, " Robyn Pocker announced when I first met her. She went on to tell me that her first job as a little girl was making paperclip chains in her family's framing establishment. Over the years, she was promoted through the ranks, learning to wrap packages with bakery string, how to please customers, and simply to absorb advice from her parents, until she became a full employee, fresh out of college. Robyn went on to say that she feels "very rooted on 63rd Street. " Asking her to transport me back in time, as I knew that the Pocker's had been in this area for generations, Robyn spoke of when the Lexington Avenue subway was being constructed and the city wanted to get rid of the building where her grandparents had begun their business. Many important clients, however, including Mrs. Rockefeller, wrote to City Hall declaring that they should not drive J. Pocker out of its home. Although they did have to move just around the corner onto the side street, the company has been able to remain on the Upper East Side since 1929. Not only that, but the business has expanded, opening multiple locations in Connecticut and Westchester County, including a 10, 000 square foot factory in Mamaroneck. Robyn proudly stated that despite the expansion, J. Pocker is still the "friendly neighborhood framer. " When I asked Robyn where she pulls her inspiration for the variety of frames that they construct, she spoke of her travels abroad and told me that they send scouts to museums to take pictures of certain historic styles so that they can be replicated. Robyn has also been known to wander into the antique stores in London to find unique pieces to mimic. Along with period framing, using classic Spanish, Dutch, and tortoise-shell frames, the company effortlessly steps forward in time and has framed flat-screen TVs and a photograph of an eighty foot whale. One of the main reasons why Robyn believes J. Pocker has successfully remained in business through the years is that they treat every item to be framed like a priceless piece of art, and every client with the same care and precision.
When I asked Alex Harsley if he knew who owned the 1968 Dodge Dart parked outside his gallery, his response was “that is mine…I purchased it in 1974, and have enjoyed it ever since…my car is all about the good times. ” Complete with a penguin in the driver’s seat and an owl in the navigator seat, it certainly reflects the creative and historic atmosphere of the 4th Street Photo Gallery right behind it. Alex opened his gallery in 1973 and describes it as a “museum of the past. ” Although certainly showcasing past techniques, scenes and individuals through its extensive collection, Alex has always been one step ahead of the curve throughout his long career in photography and videography. Alex developed his photography skills by playing around with the different techniques he had created as well as by learning from his mistakes. His career as a professional photographer began in 1959 when he got a job with a New York Attorney’s Office. After being drafted into the army, Alex was able to become a supervisor in the photography department at Color Lab due to his knowledge of photo chemicals and his ability to be “very good at getting weird kind of situations that no one knew anything about. ” In the 1970s, Alex began to focus deeply on experimenting with the photo chemical process. He became interested both in increasing his understanding and in spreading his knowledge to other photographers. He was able to open an art organization with the help of other artists that he was working with at the time, which he used as a platform for research, collaboration and teaching. His organization, 4th Street Photo, is as much a community as it is a gallery. Since 1971, Alex has offered his space as a showcase for photographers of all backgrounds, as well as a meeting place where ideas are exchanged, portfolios are reviewed and new friends are made. It has been instrumental in giving distinguished photographers their first significant New York City solo exhibits. Throughout his career, Alex has done an immense amount of work freelancing in both photography and video, collaborating with other artists on projects, and even producing video that would be displayed in the Whitney. He has also had the incredible good fortune of having spent time photographing both John Coltrane at the Apollo Theater and Muhammad Ali when he was a young fighter. However, in the early 2000s, Alex realized that he was doing very little of his own work and decided to return to his own collection to begin the process of printing. He eventually produced around “2, 000 or 3, 000” of his own prints, many of which are displayed or stored in his gallery.
What could be wrong with sitting in a classic barber shop chair and having a beer - or two - while getting a quality hair cut by personable and talented barbers? According to my son, absolutely nothing. This is his go to place. And that is just for day time fun. Come by in the evening, as we have done on several occasions, and walk through the sliding doors of the barber shop (that closes at 9: 00pm), and stroll through into a living room atmosphere with cozy chairs and small alcoves to sip your well-concocted drinks. Bottom line is that this is a terrific find at any hour of the day.
Peter Glassman was the kind of child who would move books back into their rightful places while browsing bookstores. Hooked on reading before the second grade, by age twelve he had “read his parents’ home dry. ” Pegged as a bookworm by his friends and family, for his Bar Mitzvah he received over a dozen bookstore gift certificates. Aged fourteen, he applied for a position at a local bookshop but was turned away for being too young. A year later, he was finally able to land a job at a different bookstore, quickly becoming the buyer for its science fiction section. After spending just a year at Brown University, Peter moved to New York and began taking acting lessons. One day, his acting coach said, “If you're going to be an actor, it should be the only thing in life that makes you happy. If anything else in life brings you more joy, then you should do that. ” It was at this moment that Peter realized, “Books are my greatest joy. ”Soon after this epiphany, Peter began collecting antiquarian books, acquiring enough stock to sell. Originally, he thought he would rent space in a basement and have a mail-order business, but then he discovered a humble 200-square-foot location at 444 Hudson Street. With the help of a few friends, Peter cleaned it up, built some book-cases, and went to a wholesale book company to fill the last four shelves with a selection of his favorite titles, including The Cricket in Times Square, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Snowy Day, and Where the Wild Things Are. The fervent reader was only twenty years old when he opened Books of Wonder. In 1982, Books of Wonder opened a second store nearby, tripling in size. Stocked with mostly new books, he also offered a selection of old and rare titles. In 1986, he relocated to an even larger space on 18th Street and Seventh Avenue after he learned that Barney's was opening a “fancy” store nearby. He believed that this would attract more families to the neighborhood. He was correct. Peter soon decided that it was not necessary to pay avenue prices. Instead, he could open on a side street. In 1996, Books of Wonder settled on 18th Street, where he hosted readings by J. K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, and every other larger-than-life name in children's literature. In 2017, Peter enriched the Upper West Side with his second location on West 84th Street. Of the many attractions at Books of Wonder, Peter is most known for his selection of The Wizard of Oz. He was mesmerized as a preteen when he first devoured L. Frank Baum’s series, and it was a copy of The Magic of Oz spotted at the Strand bookstore — with its beautiful colored plates — that inspired him to restore the series to its former glory. Together with Harper Collins, he printed all fifteen Oz books with their original illustrations under Books of Wonder Classics, something never done before. For some forty years, Books of Wonder has been a space where many children have become avid readers, and Peter is always touched when parents remind him that his store also turned them into devoted readers a generation before.
A wonderful story of dance lay in our wake on West 55th Street, and how exciting for the Manhattan Sideways team to be able to enter inside and have a firsthand experience. The studio is named after Mr. Alvin Ailey, who began his immersion in dance while in high school in California where he went on to study with Lester Horton. In a style that later came to be known as the Horton technique, rooted in Native American Folk Dance elements and the idea of building strength by using the whole body, Mr. Ailey thrived. After moving to New York in 1954 while in his early twenties, Ailey danced on Broadway in "House of Flowers, " while continuing to study modern dance as well as ballet. In 1958, Ailey founded his own dance company made up of seven dancers. Their first performance was at the 92nd Street Y. Completely redefining dance in America, the Alvin Ailey company, initially comprised solely of African-Americans, sought to interpret and express their experiences through a style based as much in spirituality, soul, and social commentary as it was in technique and innovative movement. Ailey's most prominent work with this group, entitled "Revelations, " quickly established them as the one of the most creative set of dancers in the country. Ailey went on to choreograph works for the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet. He received numerous honors and awards, as he became recognized internationally, and in 1969, Ailey took his devotion to dance and the African-American experience to a new level by founding the Ailey School. Although Ailey died in 1989 while only in his fifties, the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation continues his legacy and serves as the "umbrella organization. " Though Alvin died while only in his fifties, the institution continues his legacy of “using the arts for activism, ” said Sarita Allen. Taken under Alvin’s wing as a scholarship student in the 1970s, Sarita is now a longtime instructor at the Ailey Extension. “He was a champion of integration. Even more than his choreography, he demonstrated how people could dance together. They could be beautiful and harmonious, ” Sarita said. Sarita had the privilege of working closely with Alvin, and he personally selected her to join his company. “It was so vibrant compared to the classical ballet world. People of so many different colors and nationalities were given the opportunity to perform. ” This had an enduring impact on Sarita and countless others who were inspired by this portrayal of the grace, elegance, and power of the Black body. With Alvin’s unwavering support, Sarita was able to take a sabbatical from the company to embark on separate projects and work with Judith Jamison — an-other one of Alvin’s protégés who then succeeded him as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. In 1988, Alvin asked Sarita to return and help mentor the next generation of dancers, enabling her to spend the last year of Alvin’s life teaching alongside him. “It wasn’t that long that we knew one another, but it was very rich. He was an extraordinary man. ” Today, not only is Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater the home for members of its company and school to rehearse and take classes, but they have an Extension Program that allows for anyone at any level of expertise to take a class taught by one of Ailey's incredible teachers. The stunning views of the surrounding area from the upper floors of the building serve as quite the backdrop for the dancing that takes place within. There are a wide range of classes offered including Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, Latin Jazz Fusion, Horton, Zumba, Samba and Afro-Brazilian. The Ailey Arts in Education and Community Programs works to offer the gift of dance to schools, communities, and the world. In addition, there is the Ailey Camp, a summer program that teaches dance to inner-city children in middle school, as well as Ailey Dance Kids, which emphasizes teamwork, self-discipline and creativity with school-aged children and teens. Together, the Extension program and the Education and Community programs serve to bring Ailey's core belief to life: that dance is for everyone, and it has the power to use "the beauty and humanity of the African-American heritage and other cultures to unite people of all races, ages and backgrounds.
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.