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
Amanda Dolan and Meagan Colby have a wild, wacky, sparkly, and generally outrageous sense of style. On 9th street, they fit right in. Spark Pretty, their pop-up shop turned permanent storefront, has garnered plenty of attention since opening in the East Village in September 2017. The Manhattan Sideways team was eager to learn more about the story behind the store, and so we caught up with Amanda and Meagan on a quiet Tuesday in January. After stepping inside, the term “visual lifestyle brand” will make perfect sense to even the most fashion-hapless visitor. Amanda and Meagan have transformed the space from floor to ceiling with a spectacular collage of posters, lights, memorabilia, and clothing that is a work of art in itself. The design is anything but random. It does not take long to realize that everything has been carefully curated to reflect a particular aesthetic from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and that when it comes to the clothing, a great deal of effort has gone into acquiring each vintage dress, pant, jumpsuit, skirt, jacket, and curated T-shirt. In fact, Spark Pretty is the result of a lifelong passion for iconoclastic style. Amanda, who grew up in Greenwich, CT, stuck out among her peers who dressed in the "latest shades of beige. " She cites childhood visits to thrift shops with her grandmother as one of the reasons she enjoys looking different. Meanwhile, in California, Meagan made fashion statements of her own, whether it was with purple hair, piercings, or a pair of oversized dad jeans. The two women agree that they were lucky. They always knew who they were and what they wanted to wear to reflect their personalities. Careful not to come off as shaking their fingers at the younger generation, the pair insist that searching for buried treasures in bins and boxes helped them hone their personal style in a way that has become less common in the internet age. "Sometimes you don’t know what you are looking for until you find it, " Meagan admitted. The two friends first met as stylists working at Betsey Johnson, but when the retail chain filed for bankruptcy, they decided to strike out on their own. As part of their inventory at Spark Pretty, they have a selection of one-off items from the Betsey Johnson showroom. Both women agreed that working at Betsey Johnson was their "apprenticeship. " After over fifteen years of friendship, road trips, and shopping, the Spark Pretty brand was born. Now, along with in-house designer Thomas Knight (whose custom work has appeared on Usher, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Rihanna), they are sharing their treasures with the world. During our conversation, something else became clear: Amanda and Meagan are committed to the East Village community. When it came time to decide on a permanent location, they discovered that 9th street made perfect sense. For one, it is a great shopping street with funk that fits the Spark Pretty vibe. More than that, they immediately recognized that it is a real neighborhood with a "tight knit family of fellow small business owners, " the type of place where they can plant real roots. That is not to say that running the store is easy. Even if their work is a labor of love, there is still plenty of labor involved and Amanda and Meagan have set high expectations for themselves. “9th Street is magical, ” said Amanda. "This is our little jewel box. "
For the modern gent who appreciates vintage boots, jackets, denim, flannel shirts, bags, belts, hats and much more, we have found a phenomenal shop. On our journey across 13th Street, we were thrilled to uncover this truly vintage collection of menswear. Melissa Howard is the proprietor, and she has made a fantastic effort to carefully curate each bit of space. Our conversation with her convinced us that she is an expert in her field, and there is no doubt that she recognizes her store is a rare find. Stock's clothing, which is fittingly housed in a building that dates back to the 1800s, consists of pieces from the same period through the 1950s. This is certainly a go-to for those in the market for something salvaged and special, handed down from the working class men of last century. Melissa has been in the vintage clothing business since a young age and was inspired by her mom, who runs an antique store in Michigan. Melissa has recently expanded her collection to include women’s and children’s clothing as well, carrying a wonderful array of shirts and jackets. She told us that she is looking forward to designing her own line of vintage-inspired clothing with a great team of people and selling them to her customers, who are sprinkled all over the world.
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.
The ice cream at Alphabet Scoop is refreshing in more ways than one: Managed by Robbie Vedral, Alphabet Scoop is an extension of Father’s Heart Ministry, which has been focused on empowering the neighborhood youth in the Lower East Side since 2005. Robbie, for his part, has always believed that if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of you—in this case, those employees just so happen to be high schoolers from the East Village. Under the wishes of his parents, who are still pastors of the church next door, Robbie has taken it upon himself to hold Alphabet Scoop to an uncompromising standard, always ensuring that things are done right. From a background of 25 years in retail, Robbie has found that he can learn from anyone’s mistakes - including his own. He has, in this vein, adjusted the shop’s schedule to keep it open all year; previously it was just a summer stop, but Robbie found that being a seasonal location made it more difficult for customers to anticipate when Alphabet Scoop would be in business. So, now, rather than seasonal hours, Alphabet Scoop boasts seasonal flavors. Pistachio flavor, a summer 2019 special, comes highly recommended by the Manhattan Sideways team. Alphabet Scoop is also constantly experimenting with new flavors suggested to them by customers, so if you’ve been saving up that million-dollar ice cream flavor idea, Alphabet Scoop might just be the place to make it a reality. The “sweet n’ salty” flavor is proof of the potential here, as it was suggested by one of the shop’s younger customers. While the spritely New Yorkers that work in the shop are paid for their work, Alphabet Scoop is also a non-profit. The mission, transparently, is as stated on the walls: “Justice & Sprinkles for all. ” The kids, typically between the ages of 14 and 16, learn all aspects of the business, from hands on skills such as making ice cream to managerial skills like taking inventory. The goal of Alphabet Scoop is to encourage maximum involvement from its employees, so they are invited to help make decisions about the business. Robbie told us a story of a young woman, for example, who has worked in the shop for close to two years, and who was initially quite difficult to work with - but with patience and persistence from Robbie and other employees, the young woman grew to better understand the mission of Alphabet Scoop, and now even has keys to the shop. Robbie’s work at Alphabet Scoop shows the importance of creating strong foundations for young people, as well as how truly influential small businesses can be in their communities. Stop by the shop - any time of year - to help Robbie make his impact.