When Miya Shoji opened in 1951, it was not as a house of elegant carpentry. In fact, the company went through many phases - from selling flowers to Japanese knick-knacks - before Hisao Hanafusa eventually guided the business toward wood design. When Hisao arrived in the United States in the 1960s and began working at Miya Shoji, it was owned by another Japanese immigrant, but Hisao eventually made it his own. He had come, "hoping to learn how to miss his home and to see it better from afar." Although he had been a successful painter in Japan, Hisao discovered that he had to start over in NY and, in order to survive, he had to learn many more skills. He began to train himself in carpentry, textiles, and cooking, and he also worked at the Miya Shoji shop, on the side, to pay rent. Hisao had an abundance of stories to share, but it was how his career as an artist in New York began that resonated the most with me. Early on, he was walking down the street and noticed a sign for an art competition—but the submission date was the next day. He raced home, whipped up a painting and mailed it off with the paint still wet. Needless to say he won, and received enough money to continue on in the United States. Hisao went on to tell me that in the late 1960s, he was working in his loft with the door open when someone walked by, smelled the turpentine, and came in to look. He turned out to be an art dealer who wanted to buy Hisao’s painting, but Hisao said that he only wanted to put his paintings in a gallery. The art dealer, unperturbed, simply asked “What gallery?” Hisao, on a whim, named the most prestigious gallery that came first to his mind. Shortly afterwards, his work was featured at that gallery and viewed by Peggy Guggenheim, herself, and, ultimately, a piece of his work was hung in her family's museum. Still, even as a fairly successful painter, supporting his family was difficult and Hisao eventually decided to take over the Miya Shoji company and devote it entirely to the art of Japanese carpentry. He now owns and operates the shop with his son, Zui. The Hanafusa's use only traditional tools and methods to create classic Japanese pieces - shoji (screens used to divide rooms), chests of drawers, tables, and flat bed frames. The style is meant to look as if it came to be naturally, fit together with joints as opposed to hammers and nails. "It is made to last," Zui explained. It is important to father and son that their simply stunning work - which has been featured in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts - be passed down through the generations.
Walking into Mantiques Modern is the equivalent of walking into a treasure chest. Full of antiques that grace the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this store offers not only an incredible buying experience, but an extraordinary viewing experience. While the largely pop culture-referential items, such as old Wrigley’s sculptures, handmade bicycles, carved skulls and massive seashells, were intended to cater to a primarily male, nostalgic clientele, there were plenty of women browsing on the days that we stopped by. In addition to the impressive selection of fun memorabilia, there is an array of photography, clocks, small tables and other furniture pieces. On a second visit, we were given a personal tour of the different century pieces that were particularly unique. A nineteenth century sterling silver Japanese flask from the Samurai era, a bronze clock that drips downward by Salvador Dali, a giant leather, classic Hermes handbag in perfect condition were only a few of the items that we gazed at in awe. While the store has rested on 22nd Street for just ten years, the owners of Mantiques have been in the business for forty, accumulating a broad knowledge that spans centuries, and a certain sort of intuition for choosing pieces that are “gutsy, cool” and one of a kind. We found that we could look up at a shelf for several minutes, walk away, come back and see something equally intriguing staring back at us that we had missed only a moment before.
France and Son is a delightful maze stocked with mid-century, modern furniture pieces with a contemporary twist. A bold array of light fixtures hang from the ceiling while a mixed assortment of modern and classic couches and chairs fill the space. I spoke with Brad, one of the founders of France and Sons, who sat in his favorite item in the store, a brown leather modern wing chair. Brad has been responsible for building the company's retail brand and online presence. Brad and his partner, Kevin Wu, named their furniture store after a pre-existing Danish manufacturer from the 1950s. They settled on the name France and Son because it was recognizable among designers and others interested in furniture. Today, France and Son specializes in reproducing pieces designed in the 1950s and 1960s. Similar to the original manufacturer, their store has a mid-century feel. France and Son is in the midst of expanding their work to include more contemporary, high-end leather couches. As Brad explained, “it’s all an experiment. ” They are constantly trying out new designs to find what people want. Most of their customers are young professionals who are buying their first nice pieces of furniture, so they try to offer everyone a personal shopping experience. The two men pride themselves on their ability to allow customers the opportunity to rent anything on the floor and to purchase floor samples. As Brad said, “We don’t mind catering to the customers and doing whatever makes them happy. ”
The Chelsea branch of the countrywide West Elm chain, and one of six locations in New York City alone, has furniture and attractive accessories for the home including rugs, bedding, and decorative pillows. The prices are reasonable and it is a perfect stopping place for those just starting out in the city.
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog. " Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting its American diners with Teishoku, or home-style cooking. This chain, which opened in Japan in 1958, features nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia there are over three hundred restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store, ” Ken remarked. Rothman's closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11, 000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day. ” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan. ” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible. ” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city, ” Jim said. Despite Rothman's more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living. ”