The City Quilter is New York’s most extensive and comprehensive resource for both occasional and professional quilters and sewers. Husband and wife team, Dale Riehl and Cathy Izzo, opened their shop in 1997 based on a passion, and have since turned it into a center for all things quilts. Today, they have several thousand feet of retail space, an equal number of bolts of colorful fabrics - cotton, lace, velvet, silk and batiks - as well as threads and other materials and tools including sewing machines. They are unique among quilt stores for having a line of New York City-themed fabrics with an eye toward tourists who want a piece of the city to work into their lives...but, as a proud New Yorker, I, too, took a special interest in these amazing pieces of art. Most recently, an impressive Grand Central Station design was created in honor of the celebration of the building’s one hundredth anniversary.
When I returned to City Quilter in 2015, Dale and Cathy had expanded their collection to include sixteen New York City fabrics, including a children's Manhattan-themed A to Z print. There is also a new boutique in a corner of the store where customers can purchase ready-made rain jackets, pajama pants, night shirts, and more, all made using the special New York City fabrics.
Next to the boutique, City Quilter sells Bernina sewing machines at a variety of price points. The shop welcomes everyone from novices to experts, offering over 150 workshops a year catering to all levels and skill sets. Bright and supremely colorful, City Quilter is a feast for the eyes, but more importantly, it is warm and welcoming environment for quilters and non-quilters alike. People hum along at their work, sewing and picking up supplies and exchanging pleasantries with one another. Cathy cites quilting as a zen experience, calling it “yoga for the lazy.” Dale added, "You don't need hand-eye coordination at all. It's so easy to create a unique design." The couple showed me the high-tech capabilities of some of the sewing machines. Some could be programmed to automatically sew along a set pattern. City Quilter sell special inputs that allow you to sew standing lace structures, stuffed animals, and even designs that gain dimensions with the help of 3D glasses. Before I left, Dale and Cathy took me to the basement to see the Long Arm machine, a mechanism that allows you to fix a large quilt in place and move a needle over it, rather than having to feed yards of fabric through a stationary point. As the Long Arm weaved over the quilt, Dale turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, "It's painting with thread!"
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”