"It keeps me sane," Barbara Riering, the co-owner of Rita's Needlepoint, said, referring to the craft that has now become her job. She told me that her grandmother taught her how to do needlepoint when she was nine years old and that she has stuck with it ever since. Originally a lawyer, she came to Rita's Needlepoint first as a customer before leaving law in 1989 and then as Rita's partner in 2005. She says that she often tells lawyer friends who are still deep in their stressful careers, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel," a time when they can do what she did and leave their high stress career and follow a passion. Many of the women in the shop are retired and work with Barbara part time.
As for Rita, who quietly sat painting a belt in the back room, she got her start working in tapestry in France. She came to New York in 1968 and opened her store in 1976. Barbara believes that Rita's Needlepoint might be one of the oldest needlepoint shops in the country.
Exploring the space, I discovered both needlepoint tools and patterns. Along with spools of every color thread imaginable, I saw hand-painted designs for a variety of items, including belts, eyeglass covers, and handbags. There were Christmas items on display, which I learned are out all year round, because people often only work on one big holiday project each year. Barbara told me that some of the most popular items are the little ornaments. She explained that while they try to do as many custom projects as they are able, demand often overwhelms them. After all, the needlepoint community is a reasonably large one and Rita's is a destination for this tight-knit world. Barbara said that people come to the store from as far away as Japan and Morocco, sometimes straight from the airport.
There are also customers who are native New Yorkers and "who have grown up with Rita," she said. She referenced a woman who occasionally helps out in the store, Jennifer. She has been with Rita since 1974 and used the store as a creative outlet when she was working in the world of finance. "People come here and decide to spend part of the day with us, so we make sure they are happy they did so," Barbara shared, adding, "It's stress reduction to all!"
When I asked Howard Nowes, the owner of Art for Eternity, what the oldest piece in his gallery was, he led me over to a Mesopotamian statue dating back 3500 years. It was pure white and had a circular design on top like eyes, signifying that it was meant to represent the All Seeing God. I never would have expected to find such an antique, ancient and steeped in history, in a small shop on a side street, but Howie's store was filled with such items. He took me around his shop, pointing out pieces from Southeast Asia, Europe, and South America. I learned that Howie had taken a "grand tour" of the world after graduating from Skidmore with a Fine Arts degree and had fallen in love with the ancient antiques that he discovered. He considers himself lucky that he entered the antiquities business when he did, since issues of patrimony have now come to the forefront of cultural-political discourse and UNESCO has started cracking down on removing antiquities from their original homes.Howie began working in a gallery with other dealers downtown. After establishing himself there, he set off on his own. In addition to experience in the antiques market, he has also spent time on digs, unearthing the antiquities himself. He told me that his business was struggling until the late 1990s when the internet offered him new ways to reach out to collectors and find interested customers. He was one of the first dealers to be featured on the Sotheby's website.Being on a side street has helped Howie in unexpected ways. Neighbors will often think of him when they have pieces they want to sell. For example, Howie told me that one local came in with an African mask that his aunt left to him in her will. The man explained that he frequently walks by Art for Eternity, and so Howie was the first person he thought of when the mask fell into his hands. Walk-ins, however, are rare. As Howie joked, not many people step out to "pick up a gallon of milk and an African mask.""The world of antiquities is fascinating, since history repeats itself," Howie declared. Referring to the All Seeing God statuette, he pointed out that it often catches the eye of contemporary art collectors, because it seems abstract. Howie loves that almost everything that is referred to as an "antiquity" has a purpose. They rarely exist solely because of a whim of an artist, but often play a role in religion, politics, or home life. He has become interested in marking the patterns of what tends to draw customers. For example, "captains of industry" tend to buy antique wagon wheels and spears.Howie's personal favorite part of the world of antiquities is Roman marble pieces, though he also has a fondness for pre-Columbian gold, since that is what his wife prefers. He also spoke at length about the cleverness of African art and how each mask and totem has a rich history of use in ceremonies and rituals. He then guided me to the lower level of his shop, filled with wooden African art and books. I could have spent hours in the room, where there is something fascinating on every shelf."This is a reputable gallery that's in it for the long run," Howie declared. He showed me the Art Loss Register, where gallery owners can guarantee that their pieces have never been stolen and come from reputable sources. He likes to join his customers on their "personal journey" and make sure that they never feel buyer's remorse. Though Howie's collectors come to him from every corner of the world, he notices that he does not see many young customers. He has seen a trend in the younger generations spending money on experiences rather than items, especially in New York, where most residents have very little space in their apartments. He encourages the younger generation to explore his shop, regardless: "People experience a sense of discovery when they come in" he told me. "Everything has a story."
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!"
When I walked into Book Nook, I thought I had stepped inside a children’s novel. Intrigued, I began to look around at the leafy, artificial vines hanging from the low ceiling like verdant Christmas lights, complementing the trees and birds painted on the walls. I walked by the fireplace in the corner, surrounded by stacks and stacks of colorful books, noticing the paintings, toys, and tiny, pastel-colored models of houses and bicycles adorning the shelves. I asked Rina Patel-Collins, the effervescent young founder, to tell me the story behind Book Nook.To begin with, Rina told me that she believes that designing the space where children learn is as important as what they learn. She carefully created Book Nook’s beautiful interior in order to make sure that “from the moment they walk in, children want to be here.” I think that she has succeeded: There was something immensely calming about the space that made me want to curl up with a book.Rina led me through the hallway and into a similar room that had bright colors, vibrant and child-friendly décor, paintings, and, of course, rows upon rows of books. It was in here that I found children sitting around small, circular tables, engaged in lively conversation as an instructor shared a picture book with them.Armed with degrees in elementary and early child education, a Master’s in teaching literacy, and a certificate in handwriting education, Rina taught at public schools in New Jersey for many years before she moved to Manhattan and became the director of a pre-school. While she taught pre-k, kindergarten and first grade, she started to zero in on “the gap between each grade.” She recognized that children have different needs and various styles of learning. “I’ve learned throughout the years that all children are at different levels, even if they are at the same age,” she said.Even though the idea for Book Nook started brewing during her four years as a pre-school director, the seed for the project was officially planted when Rina began tutoring privately in homes - she realized how beneficial it was that children were learning one-on-one in a home setting. She also noticed that there was a void in the market for an enrichment program that was based in academics, rather than solely in the arts. “Reading is an enrichment, too, and we have to teach children that early on: That it’s not something you do just to learn things, you have to innately love it,” she passionately explained to me.And so began Book Nook: a one-day-a-week, holistic enrichment program for children from the age of eighteen months to seven years. Rina begins by concentrating on skills such as fine motor development, separation, confidence, and teaching children how to sit at a table and remain focused. By the time they leave the program, they are confident enough to read with proper reading comprehension and write (in both uppercase and lowercase) on their own.Every aspect of the Book Nook program draws from Rina’s in-depth experience teaching young children. There are only five children at a time, and the youngest and oldest members of a group are within six months of each other, in the hopes that they are hitting the same milestones in a similar time-frame. Rina feels that this helps facilitate peer learning.Interestingly, Book Nook has no toys; instead, Rina likes the “wall-to-wall books” ambience, so that children are visually surrounded by a variety of books. “First, children learn to read through pictures, and then they move onto decoding familiar words, ultimately becoming able to read independently,” Rina said succinctly. “The key is to bridge the gap between the three by providing students with books they’re interested in.” To this end, Rina provides each parent with carefully handpicked booklists with a combination of new books and classics.When Rina told me that she had made many of the lovely, eclectic little pieces that adorn the walls and shelves of Book Nook, I was amazed. Just when I thought she could not have any more feathers in her cap, it turned out that she was an artist, too! She pointed to one of the walls, which was covered with a grid of small, square paintings, each bearing a letter of the alphabet and a portrait of a corresponding animal: Rina made each painting herself. In front of her office is a large wooden scale, with notches to measure kids’ heights. It was exquisite. I thought for sure that this was store-bought, but Rina assured me with a cheerful shrug, “I didn’t want to spend a $100 on it... so I made it myself!”As of the Summer of 2016, Rina is looking forward to opening a second location in Tribeca. I asked her how she has the energy to do everything herself, from designing her curriculum and her space to working with the children, and she joked: “I don’t sleep.” Then she laughed and said that she is so passionate about her job that it never feels like work. “I told myself that whenever I start my own school or business, I’d make it so I’d want to be here all the time, and if I want to be here all the time, then the kids will want to be here all the time.” Looking around Book Nook, I can confirm that she has achieved her dream.
As I told Jim McConnaughy, the vice president of S.J. Shrubsole since 1982, I was, initially, intimidated to enter this world-renowned silver and jewelry shop, but after meeting him, I was able to relax and engage in conversation. There were many remarkable stories that Jim shared with me, but the most incredible was Eric Shrubsole's. His father, S.J., opened a silver shop in London in 1912, where his son learned the trade. When old enough to go it alone, however, Eric made the decision to come to the States. He traveled throughout the country collecting silver pieces, only to land in Manhattan, on 57th Street, where he has remained since 1936. What was astonishing to me was to learn that Mr. Shrubsole, at the end of 2014, is 102 years old and still coming into work.There was a time when 57th Street was filled with "serious antique shops," Jim explained. Today, Shrubsole is one of the last remaining. Perhaps, Jim reflected, this is because they deal in small objects, and therefore do not require the same amount of space to house their merchandise. Unfortunately, the real estate prices simply forced many to move to different parts of the city.At this point, Jim mused, "We are known as having the most extensive fine English and American silver collection from the eighteenth century." They have even sold the rare Paul Revere silver pieces. "Yes," Jim laughingly told me, "He didn't just ride around on a horse during the Revolution. He was an excellent silver craftsman."When I inquired about their clientele, Jim told me that they have two different types of clients - those that want to be surrounded by beautiful objects in their homes and those who are serious collectors, looking for particular pieces of silver that his company is able to locate. In addition, museums buy from them on a regular basis.As we walked through this regal shop, both Jim and Nadine, the director of jewelry, began opening up the glass doors and showing me some extraordinary items. I was particularly taken by the silver greyhound and the story that dates back to 1840. Apparently, Queen Victoria commissioned this dog as a twenty-first birthday gift for Prince Albert, shortly after they were married. It was modeled after Eos, Albert's favorite dog, and mentioned in Queen Victoria's journal. Jim was proud to tell me that they have all the documents to prove its authenticity, including information on the sculptor who made and signed it.Dating back to 1762, there was a breathtaking Rococo epergne. Nadine thought that these would have been used to serve fruits and candies, or simply displayed as a fantastic table piece. I also appreciated the intricate detail on a set of perfume bottles from Paris that were crafted in silver over glass, painted with beautiful enamel colors. Although they predominantly showcase English silver, I was struck by a case filled with original Tiffany objects from the 1890s, when Americans were influenced by Japanese prints. The decorations on many of the items were of fish, dragonflies and even turtles - all Asian inspired.The collection of jewelry was equally fascinating. Shrubsole had antiques dating back to 1680 alongside pendants and earrings from the 1980s. I saw signed jewelry by Van Cleef and Cartier, as well as some "crazy fun" retro suites from the 1940s. I marveled at a 165 carat aqua marine ring, as well as the winged ring and earrings that Salvadore Dali created in 1958.After my education in silver and antique jewelry, I had to bring our conversation back to Mr. Shrubsole, as I continued to dwell on this amazing gentleman. When I commented, once again, on his age, Jim's response was, "If you do something that you love, it keeps you going." He went on to share a recent story when the staff was at a silver show at the Armory on Park Avenue. People were continuously stopping by to say hello to Mr. Shrubsole, who was seated on a chair, but he eventually became bored and stood up and began wandering around making purchases for his shop. Jim then paused and said to me, "Wouldn't the world be a better place if we could all do what we loved?" Indeed.