"People feel comfortable in my gallery. I believe it is the little things that we do that make a difference: incense, music, greeting people when they walk in. Everyone just feels welcome." Robin Rice began her career by studying commercial photography for fifteen years, but ultimately decided that it was not satisfying her real passion. In the 1990's she segued into an area of this medium where she was able to fine-tune her craft and figure out what kind of aesthetic she liked. "I guess you could say that I developed a brand." She continued on, telling me, "My work and the shows that I hang in the gallery all have different imagery, yet somehow everything seems to fit together - like a collage, a collection - but I mix it up a bit." Robin suggested that I go into the back room where I would begin to understand what her concept is. "It almost all tells a story," she said. There are over twenty years of photo collections in the back of the gallery - at all prices.
I must recommend that anyone visiting should steal a glimpse of this hidden space. There are stacks of both Robin's work and the work of other artists from previous exhibits. Robin told me that people contact her constantly, either by phone or via email to make specific requests for a certain genre or a category that they would like to have represented in a photograph. She says that this is her forte. "I will do research for hours, even days, trying to come up with a perfect selection to please the customer."
When I asked Robin why she chose this particular location on 11th Street, as it is not in an area known for galleries, she explained to me: "I was riding my bike through the neighborhood years ago and just stopped when I came upon this disheveled space - broken windows and all. It had been empty for about a year, but my heart began to pound and I knew it was the perfect space to rent for my gallery." She loved it so much that she also was able to find an apartment a few doors down for several years. Robin went on to explain that the gallery is surrounded by great bars and restaurants that help to keep the traffic flowing into her gallery. And when she isn't open late at night, she still receives phone calls from people who spotted something they saw in the window when strolling by. Yes, this is more a destination area, as it does not get a lot of street traffic, but she said that it is perfect for her this way. "If I am going to be there everyday, then I want to be in a neighborhood that I love. It feels like home when I walk into the gallery."
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.