With shops in over a dozen states, Buffalo is known throughout the country for carrying both "new and recycled fashion." We found the East Village location to be bright and spacious, and on the day that we were here, there were a number of friendly staff willing to chat and to share the history of Buffalo. Back in the 1970's Kerstin Block opened her first exchange shop in Arizona and as she continued to open up additional stores around the country, she was able to stay true to her original desire to provide quality clothing on consignment. The staff went on to say that the majority of their stock in New York is "bought locally and sold cheaply."
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. "
This cleverly coined thrift store and vintage clothing boutique is named for its owner, Kate Goldwater, and sells women’s apparel, accessories, and jewelry. Kate pays careful attention to every item the shop sells, only bringing in what she “would wear or see someone wearing and think, ‘I like her style. '” She goes on adventures to stock the shop up to three times a week, sometimes road tripping as far as Wisconsin and Virginia to find the best products. She also has suppliers in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Kate got involved in fashion by making her own clothing when she was young. She eventually turned the hobby into a business, but when she realized the repetitive labor that came with the occupation, she decided to take on consignment instead. While attending New York University, she experienced firsthand that even “cheap” vintage was not in the price range of college students. Now the owner of her own inexpensive “thriftique, ” Kate believes it is ”important that the clothes be affordable. ”When I asked about whether there was any plan for expansion on the horizon, Kate replied that she actually “did expand and did not like it. ” When she opened another location in Brooklyn, she struggled to be as hands-on as she had been with only one shop, and had difficulty stocking each of them to her satisfaction. Having closed the second store, her focus is devoted entirely to this East 7th Street location, which makes her quite happy.
In the 1980’s, St. Marks Place was where the Goths, Punks, and Rockers hung out. Search and Destroy is a relic of this eccentric past. With naked toy babies and skeletons piled up in the front display window, the store is intriguing at first sight. A step through the door reveals mutilated animals and dummies, a larger mound of plastic infants, and loads of second hand clothing – studded leather, flannel, band t-shirts, boots, tutus and decorated gas masks. Not in a buying mood? Wading through the masses of clothing and checking out the funky clientele will be a memorable experience.
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.