At times, living in Manhattan can become a bit chaotic – and it is at this moment when Muji feels like a breath of fresh air. So different from our busy and cluttered apartments, Muji is the epitome of minimalist class. There is no rhyme or reason to what items are carried and yet while there are a million trinkets to browse through, the atmosphere remains effortlessly crisp and clean. Everything is made in neutral colors and simple materials, and labeled with clear descriptions. After wandering around, I suddenly had the urge to go home and clean everything out of my closet and start fresh. The store has a calming and almost meditative effect on people. The vast variety of items includes furniture, clothing, home goods – and yet everything feels unified. Some of the hidden treasures can be found within the office supplies – pens that glide beautifully across the page and notebooks that rival moleskin for utility and sophistication, but at a fraction of the price. Even the clothes are in soft, soothing colors, but made from fine fabrics and sold at very reasonable prices. Step inside to escape the bustle of the city, and do not be surprised if you leave with a new toothbrush or a pair of slippers.
I have discovered many fascinating places while walking on the side streets of Manhattan. I am sorry to say that I did not look up to see Belly Dance America when I initially walked on West 37th Street. It was not until a few years later that I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Hanna and Jehan, the wonderful couple behind the place that has been hailed as the center for all belly dance needs. As it is the first and only store of its kind in New York City, located on the second floor, it has definitely cornered the market. For anyone passionate about the art of belly dance, or for those who are only getting started, there is just about anything that one could want in this shop. It is more than just a belly dance store. Belly Dance America is a love letter to the passion and culture of the Middle East, paying homage to the richness of history and music that so often gets overlooked these days. As I walked into their shop, I was greeted by the sound of a breeze sneaking its way through an open window to rustle the costumes within, announcing its entrance with the soft jingling of the coins on the bottoms of the skirts. Every costume is made with a unique attention to detail. Some are imported and some are made right there in the shop, designed and assembled by Jehan’s husband and co-owner, Hanna. The costumes that are imported are made especially with the diverseness of the human body in mind, made by designers who know how to fit it perfectly. Even still, Jehan and Hanna take an honest approach to the sale of each item. “If something doesn’t look good, I’m going to tell you, ” said Hanna, “It’s not about making a sale. I’d rather have a loyal customer who comes back and is always happy. ”I found there to be a strong sense of community among the dancers and instructors. Everyone is welcome, whether they are a professional dancer or a hobbyist who is just starting out. It is never about competition, just the mutual enjoyment of a beautiful art. “The good thing about belly dance is that it welcomes all sizes, all body types, and all ages. ” In the studio, I watched a group of dancers go through a routine as the instructor, Layla, led. While standing there, I listened to the coins jingling in time with the music and the sound of beads swinging side to side. The ghazal of the singer’s voice wailed from the stereo system in the corner of the studio and the dancers looked very much at peace, some of them smiling, some staring at themselves in the mirror, all feeling the passion and richness of the music down to their very core. Returning to the shop, down the hallway, where Hanna and Jehan were, I commented on what an incredible experience it was for me to witness these women dancing. They smiled and responded, “It makes people happy, ” “the music, the colors, the dance. ”
Nora’s story begins in the same way as some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs: she encountered a problem and decided to fix it herself, instead of waiting for someone else. Nora worked on Wall Street for nearly six years, during which time she discovered how uncomfortable and unflattering women’s business-wear could be. She decided to leave Morgan Stanley and develop the skills needed to manufacture functional, appropriate business attire for women. Fortunately, she already had a lot of the training needed to make her dreams a reality. Though Nora had majored in economics at Georgetown, she had minored in Studio Art. “I love drawing, ” she said simply, and added that she has always been able to sketch. She had a very clear idea of what she wanted in her clothes, so she took some draping and sewing classes in Williamsburg, attended fabric seminars, and visited factories in the garment district. In addition to this hands-on education, Nora went to bookstores to find literature on garment-building and “learned everything under the sun. ” When I asked her if she ever considered simply hiring a secondary designer, she explained that she considered it very important that the primary designer understand the business lifestyle, and that that quality was more important than being highly skilled in fashion. Therefore, this determined young woman learned enough in an effort to do it all. Nora spent the first year or so perfecting the stitches and the design. “The first season was very different from what we are now, ” she explained. She began working with five or so factories and got her website off the ground. She believed it was very important, however, to have a physical presence in order to introduce the brand in person, so Nora started traveling the east coast, setting up pop-ups. Through these “little bursts all over the place, ” she was able to gain followers, including some notable TV personalities and news anchors. After residing inside a community space on West 38th Street for a short while, Nora is excited to now have her own boutique. Women can take a break from their day by stopping in during the afternoon for a cocktail and browse through Nora's creative clothing line. "I now have a women's workwear oasis. "I asked Nora about the other businesses cropping up throughout the city that are similarly trying to solve the dilemma of business clothes for women. I learned that she does not consider them competition. “We support each other – we are all trying to do something that is really hard. ” Just like with lifestyle clothing brands, women will either choose the company that best fits their style or buy bits and pieces from each label. “There are so many women on this small island and in the world that need work clothes, " Nora said, judiciously. Though Nora currently wears a lot of blacks, since she is constantly running through the streets of New York to the Garment District, she is proud of the vibrant colors in her collection. “During my hard, routine days at Morgan Stanley, wearing colors made me really happy, ” Nora admitted. “Color can do a lot for your mood. ” Another source of pride is the fact that everything is made in New York. Above all, however, Nora is very happy to say that, so far, she has proved herself “resilient to all obstacles to creating a business. ”
Known as Bryant Park Place today, this Renaissance Revival structure was originally built by Andrew Carnegie, in 1907, to house the Engineer's Club, a professional group of men who were creating an important niche for themselves in the world of business. It was Mr. Carnegie's strong desire to pay tribute to "ordinary men doing extraordinary things. " Members included President Herbert Hoover, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Today, No. 32 is completely residential, with Royce' Chocolate and Gotham Beauty Lounge located on either side of the stunning lobby. The exterior of the building remains almost the same, with its magnificent entryway and white stone facade.
A marriage of Mexican and barbecue, the bursting flavors of Mexicue set it apart from other mobile eats during its beginnings as a food truck in 2010. In 2011, the energy and vivacity of the original endeavor were carried over to a brick and mortar location on Seventh Avenue, and in 2014 Times Square became its third location, with continued plans for expansion. Great smells awaited me when I first stopped in one summer afternoon to find out what the buzz was about. Apart from the inviting wooden slab booths, the innovative menu, and the dynamic bar (which hosts weekday happy hours from 4pm to 6pm) what made me return for dinner that night was the charisma of the staff. From hostess to waiter, all members were devoted to ensuring a comfortable experience for their guests with bubbly smiles and relaxed attentiveness. Among other hits, the burnt ends brisket bowl has garnered quite a following with a base of award-winning chili, tortilla chips for crunch, and house-pickled jalapeños for a little kick. The empty bowl, after Manhattan Sideways members were done with it, assured me it was something special. What provoked my own interest, however, was the kale and quinoa bowl, an interesting listing on the menu that made sense at first bite, a perfect flavor combination of spicy Mexican and smoky barbecue.
Despite being in the Garment District, we were pleasantly surprised to find Nepenthes. Unlike the surrounding storefronts that cater primarily to the trade and are full of women's dresses, ribbons, trims, and spandex, this hip boutique sells upscale, trendy men's clothing. While browsing through the racks of stunning attire, my eyes were also drawn upward where I discovered fascinating pieces of artwork. Named by GQ Magazine as of the best men's retailers in the country, Nepenthes originated in Japan. Their clothes reimagine traditional silhouettes, (think classic hunting or army gear), but with creative patterns and tremendous attention to detail. According to Abdul, the sales associate, their products are intentionally made to reflect the inaccuracies of old production, bringing the notion of "vintage-style" to a whole new level. Abdul went on to describe their unique style as "a nostalgic look at Americana from Japanese eyes. " Their most iconic item is their fatigue pant, a straight-legged and loose-fitting trouser that is made with a reverse sateen. It is as durable, washable, and wearable as denim, and available in seven or eight different colors. Takuya, the manager, who also joined in our conversation, told us that their location in the Garment District is no coincidence. It is part of the company's strategy for vertical integration, bringing their design, retail and manufacturing divisions into close proximity. In fact, most of their garments are made within a four-block radius.
There is a dazzling and astonishingly large array of army and navy supplies available in the rather small space at Kaufman's - one can find everything from canteens to clothing to fallout shelter equipment. A staple in Manhattan since 1938, it is the oldest military surplus store in the city and one of the oldest in the country. The store was founded downtown in 1938 by Nathan Kaufman, but was later razed to make way for the World Trade Center. Kaufman's has been on 42nd street since 1940 and has had its iconic cannon outside the store since 1950 (although as of the summer of 2107, it has been removed for cleaning). The cannon is originally from the US Army and was used in 1898. In addition to its lengthy history as a military surplus shop, Kaufman's is also the longest continuously operated store on West 42nd street.