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
Since 1985, D.L. Cerney has been a treasure-trove for any lover of vintage clothing. Heedless of changing fashion and consumer trends, as well as the general loss of public appreciation for well-made, long lasting, beautiful clothing that they have noticed, creators Linda St. John and Duane Cerney continue to stay true to their increasingly rare style. The creation of D.L. Cerney was entirely serendipitous: Linda and John arrived in Manhattan in 1984 to visit a friend with the intention of staying only for the week. Instead, they fell in love with the city. The ease with which they obtained their much-loved, first location on 7th Street was like “magic," as was the contents of their store. As great admirers of vintage clothes, both Linda and Duane used all of their money throughout their 20s to amass the collection - culminating in the 26-foot U-Haul full of unworn, vintage clothes in the original factory boxes - that they would sell in their new store. Knowing their collection was finite and irreplaceable, Linda and Duane began to slowly reproduce the vintage clothing they loved, relying on their far-reaching background with clothing design and creation. Linda taught herself to sew when she was twelve and always loved the beauty of well-made clothing. "We were so poor I would go to the junk stores. I looked at what rich ladies were throwing away and knew it was out of style, but marveled at the quality… And the quality of clothing back then lasted until around the late 60’s because the consumer… expected quality for their money. Quality’s out the window now - it’s all hype, advertising, and just total BS." Linda creates “statement maker” clothing in the style of the 1930s through 60s and emphasizes “quality, flattering fit, and beautiful fabrics.” After closing their 7th St. location in 2013 and opening a studio in upstate New York, in 2017 the East Village once again had the good fortune of having D.L. Cerney open in the neighborhood. Today on 9th St., D.L. Cerney enjoys a dedicated following of long-term customers and newcomers alike. The store also frequently provides clothes for period piece TV shows as well as numerous Broadway plays, including the Color Purple, Memphis, and South Pacific. Linda's designs influenced by Broadway, old movies, her research, and her own memories. As we walked through her store, Linda excitedly pointed out a few of her favorite designs, including brightly patterned blouses in the style she remembers her aunts wearing, the timeless, high-waisted “field trouser” that dominate almost all old Hollywood movies, and a row of reversible, wool jackets in the style of the '50s reversible jacket fad. Passing by a patterned tent dress with wide, square front-pockets, she plucked it off the rack and deemed it perfect for a day at the beach “with a pair of little red tennis shoes.” D.L. Cerney not only displays clothing, but is also Linda's own studio. “When I’m not busy with people, I am working with all my projects.” These projects include her critically acclaimed memoir, "Where Dogs Go to Die," as well as her exhibit of dolls, “1000 Skinny Girls in a Dirt Yard," showed in the American Visionary Art Museum. The dolls’ clothing features junk food wrappers, potato bags, and other sorts of traditionally discarded items. Linda is especially frustrated that many fashion businesses use plastic in their fabrics and wishes that more people would be interested in investing in clothing with fabrics that are wonderful, last for a long time, and naturally decompose.
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."
In 1954, a Ukrainian refugee began Veselka as a shop that sold cigarettes, candy, and newspapers with a few tables for some tasty homemade Eastern European food. Over the years, it slowly evolved into a coffee shop, and then to a casual restaurant. Almost fifty-nine years later, it continues to thrive as a neighborhood destination when one is in need of comfort food, or as my own kids have told me, it is a great late night spot too. Open twenty-four hours a day, the restaurant’s menu is a mix of Ukrainian and typical American diner fare. More than a diner, though, Veselka is a family-friendly establishment that serves up Ukrainian "peasant" food - known to many as "Ukrainian soul food."
Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves.Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item," said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla.Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake.As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.