Since 1901, when Ginsberg and Levy, Inc. began, the Levy family has garnered a distinct reputation specializing in American antiques primarily from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though the art world lost a great man in early 2016 when Bernard Levy passed away at the age of ninety-eight, his son and grandson, Dean and Frank, are successfully carrying on the family business that changed its name to Bernard and S. Dean Levy in 1973.
Frank, who appeared quite enthusiastic to be continuing the gallery as its fourth generation owner, explained that while the gallery contains a few pieces of English furniture that once lived in American homes, everything else was made right here. This is rare in the antique business, where European works usually have the strongest showing. I was interested to learn that some of Frank's favorite pieces are the framed needlework that decorate the corners of the first floor. He told me that the surviving needlework was mainly done by girls between the ages of eight and fifteen. The nice thing about needlework, Frank pointed out, is that collectors often know who made it, since their names are worked into it, and after a while it is easy to start to recognize different schools and teachers of needlepoint.
Frank spoke to me about growing up in the family business. "As a kid, you learn that these things are heavy," he said with a smile as we walked by a seventeenth century wardrobe. From a young age, Frank found the history of each antique fascinating. "I've always liked American history," he admitted. He then went on to reflect that as a boy, he and his brother would play football with an antique highboy in his parents' room, which provided "a perfect goal post." When he was in his twenties, however, he began working for the family business and started to become more interested in the clues that told him when and where something came from. Most of the pieces are from the eastern seaboard - Frank told me that the taller ones usually come from the South, where inhabitants wanted heat to be able to rise, and the shorter furniture comes from the North, where lower ceilings helped keep the heat inside. As for where the impressive collection is found, "Things show up everywhere." Frank found one piece at an estate three blocks away, whereas a chair from Rhode Island was discovered at an auction in California.
In addition to my conversation with Frank, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Melanie, a gallery employee, who shared with me that despite being on a side street, the gallery gets a fair amount of walk-ins. Recently, a man stopped in who commented that he was "taken with the portrait of the sheriff" in the window. Most of the gallery's customers, however, are collectors and frequent visitors. Bernard and S. Dean Levy has helped to build not only private collections, but countless public ones, including those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. The company is also proud to have helped to furnish a few historical house museums or help them to recover original furniture that was lost over the years.
Touring the gallery with Frank, which is vaguely arranged chronologically, we began on the top floor. It is here that I discovered that many of the newest pieces from the nineteenth century are from New York, and made by three primary cabinetmakers - Duncan Phyfe, Michael Allison, and Charles-Honore Lannuier. Frank showed me how he "looks for little clues to find out where something is from and when," showing me a drum on the leg of a table made by Duncan Phyfe that indicated that it came from a specific phase of his career. He then pointed out an elaborately decorated knife box. When Tom, the Manhattan Sideways photographer, commented that it looked like it could have come from the Art Deco period, Frank agreed, saying, "styles come back."
The fourth floor has furniture from the same period and a bit earlier, but with an emphasis on the country. Much of the furniture came from Connecticut and New Hampshire and was made from birch and maple trees. Frank indicated a dower chest that had a hidden signature from its maker, John Saltzer, etched into a painted urn on the side. We also saw an old lead-lined wine cooler with a stopper at the bottom which let out water. On the third floor, there were even earlier pieces, including one with a completely fictitious historic plaque claiming that it had once belonged to Martha Washington. Laughing, Frank said that if everything attributed to Martha Washington actually belonged to her, she would have needed far more houses to store her collection. The second floor had an impressive array of grandfather clocks as well as a desk with an extraordinary removable hidden compartment that allowed the owner to keep important documents in a safe space that could be removed from the desk in case of fire. When we returned to the first floor, we had traipsed through one hundred years of history, told in the language of furniture. It reminded me that Bernard and S. Dean Levy can boast a more-than-hundred year history of its own. "I'm proud we've been around this long," Frank concluded.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.
When asked what cake means to her, Lisa Mansour did not hesitate for a second: “Cake is happiness! ” she exclaimed. An award-winning cake decorator and owner of NY Cake, Lisa has had a hand in shaping the baking industry, from judging competitions to creating new and innovative product lines. In addition, Lisa has been inducted into The Wilton Method Instructor Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the Societé Culinaire Philanthropique. Besides her own hard work and determination, Lisa attributes her many accomplishments to a long family tradition of dessert-loving. Her grandmother was a chocolatier and her mother, Joan, a cake decorator, who opened The Chocolate Gallery in the ’80s. In 1989, Lisa and Joan grew The Chocolate Gallery into a store and school that focused purely on cake decorating. Then, in 1992, the duo opened NY Cake & Baking Supply on West 22nd Street. The business boomed, and, in October 2018, moved into a new, larger space just down the street from their old location. NY Cake is a baker’s paradise. The new location includes a commercial kitchen, a café where customers can purchase baked goods and coffee, and an expanded school. And, of course, there is the sprawling retail section that first put NY Cake on the map. Here, one can buy every baking supply imaginable and then some: cake and pie pans in multiple shapes and sizes, cupcake wrappers, chocolate molds, cookie cutters, food coloring, rolling pins, and hundreds and hundreds of other items. It is overwhelming in the best sense, stacked ceiling high with everything needed to create that special dessert. The idea, according to Lisa, was to provide something for every sweet tooth. “If you like to bake yourself, you can get your supplies in the back. If you wanna learn how to do it, you can come and take a class. Or, if you have no desire to bake, you can just come in, sit, have a coffee and have a treat. ”The expansion has been stressful, to be sure (“I’ve never worked so hard, ” Lisa confessed), but the challenge is what makes it so exciting for her. With the extra space, they have been able to grow the NY Cake line of specialty baking products–designed to help bakers execute intricate cake designs, such as a Chanle-esque quilted bag–and have started selling a series of blinged-out cake stands that are sure to jazz up any dessert table. The larger school can accommodate twice as many students, and the industrial kitchen has allowed them to actually sell cakes, rather than just helping people make them. “It’s so fulfilling for me to teach, to take an order, ” Lisa said, “It makes me happy. ”In addition to professional customers from bakeries, wholesalers, and restaurants, NY Cake has carved out a market among amateur baking enthusiasts and counts many Chelsea and Flatiron locals among its regulars. That sense of community loyalty goes both ways: From baking competitions and events to the cake-pop class Lisa volunteered to teach at a center for the blind on 23rd Street, NY Cake is a true neighbor. This might stem in part from the fact that the store is as much family as business. Three generations of Mansours work at NY Cake (I met Lisa’s nephew, sister and mother during our interview), and even those who are not blood-related are part of their big, happy “cake family. ”
With its bright storefront accentuated by wide windows that show off a line of vintage typewriters, Gramercy Typewriter captured our attention at first glance. Created in 1932, this third-generation family-run business has continued to shine throughout changing neighborhoods and technological advances due to the ingenuity, passion, and dedication of the Schweitzer’s. Paul Schweitzer began to work with his father, Abraham, in 1959, and always remembered being interested in typewriters. Today, he runs Gramercy Typewriter with his son, Jay, and their work day consists mainly of servicing, fixing and selling typewriters. For them, typewriters are more than just machines. They pride themselves in knowing the unique stories of each of the re-conditioned vintage typewrites from various eras showcased in their store. In recent years they have noticed a resurgence of typewriters, which they attribute to the fact that people “like to hear and see the words hitting the paper” and that typewriters “minimize distraction. ” This resurgence has drawn interested newcomers into their store who, alongside clients that they have maintained for decades, constitute the ever-growing diverse clientele that the Schweitzers have shared their love of typewriters with since the beginning. The Schweitzers are optimistic about their business and look forward to the future. “In the early 1990’s when type writers were put aside and the computers were on every desk, we were still busy throughout the worst of times… now with tech at everyone fingertips, we are busier than ever. ” Learning how to service HP laser printers as well as other office machines was crucial for them in the early 90’s, but with the designed obsoleteness of current-tech, people are valuing long-lasting, beautiful machines more than ever. “With the type writer, you can have that one machine for decades, and then wind up passing it on to someone else. This is something that can certainly withstand the passage of time and never become outdated. ”
Today, Shareen Mitchell is a bicoastal business owner, a sought-after entrepreneur with fourteen employees and a celebrity following. But no one would have guessed it eleven years ago, when Shareen was, in her own words, “broke, in debt, and selling at a flea market. ” That flea market booth soon grew into a 7, 000 square foot vintage warehouse in LA, and within a few years, Shareen had expanded to New York City. In spite of her success, Shareen’s location on West 17th Street is one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan. Hidden away on the second floor of an old walk-up, the only sign of its existence is a red dress hanging from the fire escape, and sometimes—like the day I visited—not even that. Fortunately, a friendly employee from the salon next door pointed me in the right direction, but if I had not been in the know, I would have missed Shareen entirely. This secret location may seem like a bad business decision, but it is actually one of the keys to Shareen’s success. Her stores have always fostered a sense of exclusivity, and Shareen told me that her warehouse, especially in the early days, was not only the hottest vintage store in LA, but also a gathering place for a society of hip young women. “It was a crazy, fun secret, ” she told me. “No one knew where they were getting their vintage. ”Because there are no dressing rooms at Shareen—women change out in the open—both store locations have the same “no boys allowed” policy. But the resemblance between Shareen’s two stores ends there. While the LA warehouse is constantly buzzing with youthful energy, the New York location has a quiet, sophisticated feel that caters to a slightly older crowd. The reason for the difference, Shareen explained, is that by 2009, many of her original customers at the LA warehouse were now young professionals living in New York City. “They told me there was nothing like Shareen in the city, ” she said, “so I decided to test the waters. ” She opened a shop in a train station parking lot on Long Island, above an auto shop. “People like Ivanka Trump would get off the train, ” she told me, laughing, “and walk into this auto shop with their dogs and babies and everything. ” But after a while, the trip to Long Island became exhausting, and Shareen decided to open a location in the city. “It was kind of a secret, ” she said. “I had no money for a sign, so I put the red dress out on the fire escape. ”Though she did not put much effort into the store’s exterior, Shareen transformed the inside. The former apartment is now an elegant retail space, filled with ornate mirrors and old-fashioned couches, and yet it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. One large room is devoted entirely to wedding dresses, while another two rooms are filled with vintage clothing of all kinds, from evening gowns to 1950s prom dresses. When I asked Shareen about the bridal section, she told me that the store is in the process of transitioning. “A lot of my clients are starting to get married, ” she told me, “but they don’t want to look like traditional brides. ” These young women, many of whom get married in unorthodox venues—upstate farms, Brooklyn lofts, and Manhattan rooftops—are looking for unique dresses that will express their personalities. Over the past few years, the demand for these “indie wedding dresses” has grown so much that Shareen predicts that the store may soon be entirely bridal. “A year ago, we were half bridal and half vintage, and now it’s more like seventy-thirty, ” Shareen told me. “We’re double-booked on the weekends with brides. ”The New York location may be transitioning into bridal wear, but Shareen insisted that the store will not abandon its vintage roots. Along with her bridal collection, which is all under $2, 000, many of the wedding dresses for sale in the store are reworked vintage. Shareen added that her collection is designed to flatter all kinds of body types, to celebrate women rather than inhibit them. She always tells her brides, “I want to see you looking beautiful, not you in a beautiful dress. ”
The third time was the charm for Mohamed Jamal, who cycled through several business ventures before settling on the perfect one. He first opened a candy store on 17th Street in 1989, which he then transformed into a juice bar, before finally arriving at the space’s current iteration: Rainbow Falafel. Mohamed used the recipes he learned at his grandmother’s knee during his childhood in Syria to create a healthy, Middle Eastern menu. “We stick to all of the old-fashioned, classic foods and never change them, ” Mohamed affirmed, adding that the freshness and preservative-free nature of everything he serves is key to his philosophy. Offerings include the eponymous falafels served in veggie-filled sandwiches and platters, as well as stuffed vine leaves, spanakopita, hummus and other spreads. Impressively, most of the spices and special ingredients are imported, such as tahini from Lebanon, olives from Greece and mango juice from Egypt. To Mohamed, who runs Rainbow Falafel alongside his wife and son, the restaurant’s prosperity is easy to explain — “We are always here and we are always happy. ”
This little urban oasis provides families and individuals acupuncture treatment for a wide range of ailments – infertility, stress, and muscular and skeletal pain. Husband and wife founding team Jill Blakeway and Noah Rubinstein have been a functional medical and media presence in the world of acupuncture for years, publishing a number of books, appearing on Bravo, CBS, The Today Show, and lecturing on the benefits of Chinese medicine.
The School of Visual Arts, a fine arts institute, has buildings scattered throughout Manhattan. At this particular location, however, they regularly display artwork from current and recently graduated MFA students. The MFA program has a rather "democratic" focus. We found all of the art to be accessible, both through its presentation and its inspiration, and we felt as though popular and familiar visual mediums were emphasized. Comics and infographics shared the same walls with more classical line drawings. Signage and 3D were brought to the level of high art and another room hummed with the electricity of four television monitors playing loops. Although the gallery space is small, the pieces, themselves, were charged with ready and apparent meaning due to their use of popular visual media.
The Anthroposophical Society is an organization whose main concerns are extending the scientific method into the realm of spirituality, fostering "imagination, inspiration and intuition, " and the teachings of Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner. The inventory at the adjoining bookstore covers a wide array of subjects as diverse as parenting, children's literature, biodynamic farming, meditations and spiritual pursuits. It also serves as a repository for the collected works of Rudolph Steiner. The society accepts people of all creeds, denominations, and philosophies in their varied programs, study groups, and events, most of which are held in the bookstore. In addition, this location houses the Center Point Gallery. The gallery provides a staging ground for unconventional art installations and other workshops.