Jonathan Boyarsky, fourth generation owner, has found himself a terrific niche on 39th by being one of the only menswear shops to remain on the ground floor. Over the years, he watched as companies moved upstairs into offices in the garment district, or even overseas, but he chose to remain where people could easily spot him. Although he feels that he has remained "under the radar," at times, when people come in they are "ecstatic" with what he has to offer. His family began their men's clothing business on the Lower East side back in 1919. Over the years, members of the family spread out and opened related businesses offering either custom made shirts, suits or fabrics. At No. 257, Jonathan has combined it all. He describes it as "double dipping." They used to sell only the fabric and then send people elsewhere to have their clothing made. Today, within the three floors of space at Fabric Czar, customers can select from some of the finest cloths, and then meet first class tailor, Steven Tabak, of Beckenstein Bespoke, where their clothing is designed...and, everything is constructed on the premises. "We are one stop shopping, whatever a customer needs, we can make it for them." And for Jonathan, it is only about quality craftsmanship.
Since 1947, Steinlauf and Stoller has been devoted to selling sewing notions. I stopped in and spoke with Dan Stoller, the grandson of the founder, who explained that as the years passed, the store's reputation and the charisma of the Stoller family kept the business afloat as the garment district around it largely struggled. Today, this store continues to sell the merchandise it has been peddling for over sixty years: thread, scissors, shoulder pads, bra cups, anything needed to make clothes other than fabric. The old-school approach is evident the minute I walked in the door. Equally apparent: the influential presence of Nancy, a wildly popular figure in the area who puts on snaps, grommets, rivets, and the like. Signs in the front window advertise her presence and the limits on times when folks can utilize her services. I was puzzled at first, but I quickly understood why: she is an amazing human being. From the first word we shared, she was familiar, benevolent and kind. Nancy began work in the garment district in the late 1960s and has been at Steinlauf & Stoller for sixteen years. She has perfected her craft beyond many others. Her longevity gives her some perspective on the changing times, and she chatted with me about the garment district as she sewed on snaps. The changes have disturbed her (as they have many, presumably): "I've never seen so many vacancies as in the past few years. " Those vacancies, of course, are quickly filled by "banks and restaurants, " and the district is losing a bit of its flavor. "It's dying out, it's scary to me, " she reported, alongside tales of friends out of work whose jobs have flown elsewhere for the long winter. Of course, change happens, but it is poignant to see a fashion district lifer so affected. I must encourage others to find something that needs Nancy's attention, and come chat with this lovely personage.
I could not resist getting caught up in Clare's enthusiasm as this Manhattan Sideways team member spotted Mood Fabrics, a second floor shop on 37th Street. Having never watched "Project Runway", I was clueless about this business, but eager to share in her excitement as we ascended in the elevator. Walking the aisles with her, I decided that there was no one more appropriate to do a write up than this adorable college student from California: When I visited Manhattan with my mom a number of years ago, the hit TV show, "Project Runway", was our latest obsession, and we made visiting Mood a high priority on our to do list. Project Runway is a reality show for aspiring designers to compete for the chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. The series uses Mood as its source for all the fabrics and materials the designers need to create pieces for the various challenges over the course of the competition. My mom and I eagerly explored the countless aisles of Mood, admiring the gorgeous colored fabrics and vast assortment of buttons and ribbons. We certainly stood out as tourists among the many knowledgeable people strolling the floors asking for "ten yards of this" and "eight yards of that, " but we made an attempt to blend in by buying a yard of what we thought was the prettiest ribbon in the store. We also could not resist buying a T-shirt printed with Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn's famous phrase "Thank you, Mood, " and I am guilty of taking a photo with Swatch the dog, who has many guest appearances on the show. Visiting the store again a few years later, I still had just as much fun getting lost in the maze of roll after roll of fabric stacked up to the ceiling. Watching fashionable design students measure out just the right amount of material made me wish I could make lovely clothes to show off on the runways at New York Fashion Week! My second time around at Mood, I was also thrilled to learn a bit of the history behind the famous fabric store. Much more than just a business whose popularity expanded outside of the fashion world with the airing of Project Runway, Mood Designer Fabrics began with designer Jack Sauma in 1991. He grew up in Lebanon and Sweden, and moved his family to New York, opening Mood originally as a fabric wholesaler. It was not until 1993 that Mood started to do retail sales, and once it did business grew so quickly that by 2001, they had to move into their current space of 40, 000 square feet. Mood has another location in Los Angeles, however the Manhattan location remains the flagship of the business, drawing a constant flow of customers - from students in fashion school to designers, to people who simply love to sew. Currently, Mr. Sauma's two sons oversee Mood and its online retail site. I could not help picturing the Project Runway competitors running frantically up and down the stairs of Mood in search of the perfect material as I wandered through the store, and I felt compelled to imitate Tim Gunn as we headed towards the elevators with a wave and an approving "Thank you, Mood! "
It’s not every day you’re greeted at the gym by a man wearing teeny tiny swim trunks and plastic lei. And it’s not a regular gym where the boss arrives for a meeting resplendent in chicken hat. Which stays on for the duration, despite the rising temperatures. But then, Mark Fisher Fitness is not any old gym. In fact, it doesn’t even call itself a gym; it’s an “enchanted ninja clubhouse of glory and dreams”. It’s a place where clients are called ninjas and trainers are called unicorns and where mirrored balls, graffiti and disco lights take the place of the usual utilitarian gym furniture. “We like to keep things colorful, ” said Mark in understatement. “So there are lights. There’s a closet with costumes, so if the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S& M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good. “But one thing that’s also important to us is just taking people where they’re at, so a lot of the ninjas who come here AREN’T insane, ” Mark added. “We say if someone wants to come to a dance party and someone wants to take off their pants and someone wants to cry quietly in a corner because they’re having a really bad day, everything’s perfect, you’re OK wherever you are. ”Mark describes himself as once that “classic skinny, awkward, Martian man, afraid-of-girls guy” who only properly found his place in this world when he started to work out in high school. “I was also a professional actor – which is partly how we’ve become such a fixture in the Broadway community – and throughout my twenties I fell more and more in love with the training. It was like the mistress I slowly left my wife for. ”A few years ago he quit acting completely and committed himself to training fellow New York misfits. “My own experience in the gym, starting as someone who didn’t feel very good about his body and didn’t feel like an athlete, it was very difficult for me, ” Mark said. “We like to say, in the most affectionate way, that the ninjas are like an isle of misfit toys – all manner of humanity, all ages and colors and backgrounds that are generally united in that we all have a feeling of being an outsider at times. I just wanted to celebrate that, and also to provide really good fitness information. I’m a huge fitness nerd, so it’s very important we provide a really good service with results. ”So if you want clear, no-nonsense weight loss and are willing to put in the hours, the intensive six-week Snatched program might be your bag. Alternatively, there are group classes, and semi-private training packages, Mark’s cheaper but just as effective version of a personal training program, where you train with two other ninjas and a dedicated unicorn. Unsurprisingly, many of the gym goers are from the Broadway community. Mark has worked with plenty of performers to get them ready for a specific role (such as a ninja playing a boxer in Kinky Boots) as well as backstage workers. “We train a lot of composers and directors and casting directors – and from their friends it’s trickled out to other professions; people who maybe work in white collar jobs but are a little bit weird, ” Mark shared. “The nature of their life means they perhaps don’t get to be as creative as they’d like so they can come in here and do whatever they want to do. ”The trainers, too, are a colorful bunch, counting among them one of the city’s best known drag queens, a gay porn star, a tattooed graphic artist who was a skate punk in a former life, and a professional clown who, at the last minute in med school, decided he wanted to be a clown not a doctor. “We need people to be really great coaches, but we also need them to be really authentic and comfortable with who they are. And a holistic approach means this crazy fitness family doesn’t just take care of your physical fitness; it offers life coaching workshops, classes on book keeping for financial fitness, advice on time management …“We hope to be a place where people come for general betterment, ” Mark explained. “Fitness is so transforming because you’re able to be more creative and stable and braver with your life. You’re feeling better about yourself, you’re eating well, you’re sleeping – we know your brain is going to work better. Additionally, it’s interesting to see how much of your life you can control. New York can be an isolating town – particularly for performers, who spend a lot of time getting rejected. So there’s a certain power one discovers when you know you can control what you eat and how you look. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Mark Fisher Fitness — The Gym Where New York’s Misfits Go to Work Out. "
There are intriguing spaces sprinkled throughout the city that invite corporations to utilize their facilities, but stepping inside Offsite is a unique experience designed specifically for the business meeting clientele. The brainchild of Patrick Everett and Shawn Kessler, they have created a stunning turnkey facility where all day conferences can be held. Companies are invited to bring their employees together for a productive 9am-5pm meeting in the three levels of fully equipped space, which can then be flipped effortlessly into an appropriate venue for an evening event. The rooms are configured so that some forty people are able to sit around one gigantic table or be rearranged into smaller units. Attendees never have to feel confined to one space, as they can move around freely on each floor, dividing up into smaller breakout sessions, when necessary. The rooms are versatile and technology oriented, fully outfitted with AV equipment - as Patrick referred to it, "plug and play. " Endless pens and pads, drinks and snacks, including large jars of enticing candy, are provided throughout the day. The partners have paid attention to every detail, taking into consideration exactly what they believe their clients will require, including a small executive office that allows for a private phone conversation and a myriad of white walls that are actually whiteboards. Offsite works with some of the terrific catering facilities in the area to provide top lunches and dinners for groups, and everything is served on their attractive dishes. While being given a tour, Patrick told me that he had been an event planner. When he discovered that there was something important missing in the corporate world, he found his niche. As he began to imagine the possibilities, he worked diligently on his concept with Shawn. Basically all one has to do is book the space, and the rock star team at Offsite will handle the rest.
Do not be fooled by the curiosities and vintage artifacts that cover the windows and walls of Hecht. Besides repairing industrial sewing machines, this company is in the business of buying and selling plants (the manufacturing kind). The vintage pieces scattered throughout the small space are absolutely not for sale, but rather a part of the owner’s personal collection. As I walked around and examined the curiosities, he insisted that he uses "every single one of them. "The owner bristled when I described the fascinating space as "small" and proceeded to show me that there was much more to Hecht than meets the eye. He opened a door in back, which gave way to a much larger, warehouse-like room, which was similarly jam-packed with vintage artifacts. He immediately walked over to a Howe sewing machine, which he proudly disclosed was the first of its kind in the world. He had just gotten it back from the Smithsonian, he said, showing me the official museum tags. While so much is continuously changing around them, the Hecht family is determined to remain a Garment District institution, having opened their doors between 1910 and 1920. The ambiguous establishment date is not because the owner does not care to remember, but rather because Hecht opened its doors as the building in which it still stands was being constructed. "They built around us as we worked, " the owner explained. They are the very definition of a neighborhood institution; As the owner says, "In the garment industry, we're a legend. "
Established in 1923, the Blatt family has been collecting, designing and manufacturing custom-made pool tables for eighty-eight years. Little did we know that we had stumbled upon such a quality and long-standing institution when we found Blatt Billiards preparing for their grand opening on 38th Street. After seventy-one years at 809 Broadway, the family business found a new home in the early part of 2014. Their new space lets the tables do the talking with its white walls, good lighting and high ceilings. Pool tables can be custom designed with impeccable craftsmanship of intricate carvings and wood inlay and made to order in their factory. In addition, Blatt sells foosball tables, poker tables and many other items for grownup games. We spoke with Jeff, the nephew who is in training to one day run the business. He explained how their tables showcase the rich history of billiards and the game of pool. We saw the detailed artistry of the “four seasons” table, which has four mammoth legs and ornate carvings, as well as the Gatsby-esque tables, which have clean lines and portray that iconic jazz-age elegance. Indeed, maintaining in-house quality seems like a priority. As the company has evolved, they moved their manufacturing operations to New Jersey to better accommodate the needs of modern production. There, they also have a warehouse for storing their collection of antique billiard tables. What impressed me as I engaged in conversation with Jeff and his uncle, Steve, is their ability to find a balance between remembering their roots and thinking about the future. They are both businessmen and craftsmen, seeking modern convenience while also maintaining high quality.
Where can you get freshly “picked” flowers that won’t trigger your allergies? We headed to W36th Street in the Garment District, to a century-old factory and shop where fabric flowers are still custom-made by hand daily — “blooming” everywhere from movies and TV to high fashion design houses. Opened in 1916 by brothers Morris and Sam Schmalberg, the M& S Schmalberg fabric flower factory is the oldest and last of its kind in the US. It still employs many of the time-honored techniques for handmade flower making, and craftsmanship skills and the business itself have been passed down through the family over decades. Fourth-generation owner Adam Brand walked us through the legacy of the shop started by his great-great uncles. The M& S Schmalberg storefront in the 1940s. Photo suppliedSam Schmalberg. Photo supplied“I grew up here — there are staff members who have been here as long as I’ve been alive! ” said Adam as we chatted amid display cases of beautiful, brightly colored fabric flowers. “My grandparents, dad, mom, brother, sister and aunt have all been involved at some point — it’s truly a family business. There are fun family stories — I don’t know if they’re true or just family lore at this point — that I used to sleep in a fabric box like a crib! ” While Adam started his career at M& S Schmalberg at age five by making flowers for fun — “just for entertainment, not for production! ” he insisted — he began working at the store in earnest between semesters of school. “We were really busy with Sex and the City at the time — Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing our huge flowers in her costumes, ” he recalled. While he worked outside the business for a few years after college, Adam eventually returned to help his father, Warren, and grandfather Harold (nephew of founders Morris and Sam) at the factory. “About 14 years ago, I was kind of just at a place of wondering, ‘What am I doing? Where am I going? ’” said Adam. “One day I said to my dad, ‘Can I come in and help out, and see what happens? You don't even have to pay me, just pay for my train ticket! ’” he added, “and as a New Yorker, you know that’s not cheap! ” Adam's grandmother Renee, aunt Debra and grandfather Harold at the shop. Photo supplied The gig grew, and as dad Warren moved closer to retirement, Adam took on more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities — including the creation of flowers. While M& S’s veteran team of artisans complete the majority of crafting work, Adam walked us through the system he’s come to know after decades of observation. “This basic process has existed for over 100 years, ” said Adam as he showed us the hundreds of vintage irons — some from the factory’s first years in existence — that are still used to press fabric petals into unique designs. First, fabrics are brushed with a starching agent called sizing to eliminate wrinkles in the material. Next, fabrics are stretched and dried by hand before being cut into petals. Designs are arranged into the iron press — once gas, now the factory uses electric power to join petals together. Stems and extra accoutrements are applied by hand before the flowers make their way to a theater, fashion atelier or TV costume designer’s hands. While the team at M& S is well-versed in all aspects of the custom construction, today there are far fewer skilled flower artisans in the Garment District. “In the old Garment District, you could go to the labor union and say, ‘We need somebody for assembly, we need somebody for die cutting, we need somebody compressing' — there were so many other flower factories, ” said Adam. A recent profile of the shop by costume historian Bernadette Banner estimates that in the early 20th century, over 74 percent of flower and feather trade manufacturers were located in the Bronx and Manhattan — many of them in the Garment District. Now, like so many other specialty costume and fashion businesses once occupying the historic neighborhood, M& S Schmalberg is the last of its kind due to ever-increasing offshore manufacturing. Adam said he feels camaraderie with fellow Garment District holdouts, telling us: “I hold all of these manufacturers who produce here in such high regard — because the easy thing would be to ship it out. Continuing to manufacture here instead went from being maybe a questionable business decision to becoming part of our identity. ” Warren Brand with Adam Brand. Photo suppliedThat’s not to say that Adam and his family haven’t taken steps to bring M& S Schmalberg into the 21st century. In addition to updating the company’s website and creating social media accounts, Adam credited his brother with having helped pioneer their presence on e-commerce retailers like Etsy. “Before I started working here, my brother created an Etsy page, ” he told us. “We’d get an email maybe once a month for a $12 flower sale. But I started to get obsessed with amping up our photography and presentation — it took me a while, but I took to it, and now our sales from Etsy and Amazon are as much as 20 percent of our business. ” It’s a business that’s marked not only by the ebbs and flows of the fashion industry, but also the entertainment industry. “I could tell you our biggest customer this year, ” said Adam, “but it's different from the one five years ago and 10 years ago, ” he explained. “In fashion, Vera Wang is one of our biggest clients. We work with Rodarte, Oscar de La Renta, Marchesa, Carolina Herrera. We do flowers for Bridgerton, The Gilded Age and Marvelous Mrs Maisel, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Rockettes and the San Francisco Opera, ” he added. “We had someone come in from the San Francisco Opera and buy five flowers — and that led to an order of over 4, 000 flowers total! ” They also showcased 17 designs on The Met Gala red carpet. “We had an amazing run with the Met Gala, ” said Adam, “My dad came back in that whole week and helped! ”Jenna Ortega, Paris Hilton and Harvey Guillén in M& S designs at the Met Gala. Photos: Instagram Even during the slower periods, the team at M& S stays busy working with student groups from nearby FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) and Parsons School of Design to show young artists the legacy of the fabric flower industry. “What's in it for us, if you will, is that you now have 15 to 20 students from every tour that are going to go into fashion and now know about us, ” said Adam. “We help them on their final projects. If you're a fashion design student, it’s a great way to really get into and utilize factories and build relationships. ” But whether you’re a budding Calvin Klein or not, the M& S Schmalberg factory is open to you, said Adam. They welcome walk-in tours of the factory for those curious about their unique offering. “Anyone can come in, ” he said, as a couple rang the bell to buy flowers and take a look around. They also welcome those who would like to order custom flowers from a significant fabric like a wedding dress, he noted. “It’s one of our specialties — we have a vintage wedding dress in the back right now that’s getting made into a single rose. ” He hopes that by engaging with the public, more people will know about and turn to M& S for their distinctive artistry. “We try to be very welcoming, which is something my dad started, ” said Adam. “Anyone who wants to walk in the door is welcome to a tour, and if you want to buy a flower for $20 bucks? Great! ” We recommend making the trip to M& S Schmalberg for a free tour of the city’s singular fabric flower maker — and keep an eye out on billboards around town for M& S’s next Hollywood showcase!
O haven of all things staged, how dost thou edify me? Enter the doors of the Drama Book Shop and be surrounded by a compilation of centuries of plays, critical writings, and music scores. Classical Greek tragedies, Shakespearean comedies, Beckett’s absurdist works, and a host of modern scripts line the shelves and even spiral overhead in a massive, winding sculpture known as the resident “bookworm. ” The establishment began as a card table in the lobby of a New York theater. Many moves, upgrades, and historical epochs later, it has expanded its purview from books and plays into periodicals, accent CDs, headshot envelopes, listings of agents and managers, and whatever else a zealous thespian might find useful. Though the shop fell into bankruptcy, it was revived in 2020 by actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton director Thomas Kail, Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller, and theater owner James Nederlander. Miranda’s In the Heights, his Tony Award–winning musical about the Latinx community in Washington Heights, was conceived and rehearsed in the original Drama Book Shop’s tiny black box theater. Upon learning of the shop’s imminent demise, he and his theatrical cohorts were compelled to rescue this New York institution, relocate it, and reimagine the space. Today, one can leaf through scripts while surrounded by the elegant, dark wood shelves reminiscent of an old-world reading room and nibble at the provisions in the shop’s small cafe. Of course, the basement will once again foster the talents of new artists by holding regular workshops and public programs. Even for those of us who are amateur actors, it is well worth a visit, lest we forget that all the world’s a stage.