When Mark Mason graduated from college in 1971, he asked himself, “What do you want to do?” Luckily, he had a passion to guide him: tennis. His love for the sport converged with the tennis boom of the 1970s, which created a need for more tennis shops. In 1975, he opened his own business on Seventh Avenue, where he quickly developed a reputation for innovation and quality. The store’s success, however, did not come without hardships.
In 1999, Mark was pushed out of his original location. But he proudly told us, “I refused to let that defeat me.” Instead of giving up, he moved the store to its present spot on East 53rd Street. With an 80-square-foot window, 1000 square feet of selling space, constant foot traffic, and an affordable rent for an independent retailer, the move proved to be the perfect way for Mark’s business to continue thriving.
Mark has always looked for ways to improve. He constantly brings in new tennis products before anyone else. Mason’s Tennis was the first American store to carry sportswear by the world-renowned Italian designer Tacchini. The shop also introduced Asics sneakers to the New York City tennis scene after finding out about the brand through its Brazilian clients. In addition to keeping track of tennis fashion, Mark closely follows trends in tennis equipment. In 2000, the French racquet company Babolat came to him and asked if he would like an exclusive deal to carry their brand in New York. When Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open with a Babolat racquet in 2003, everyone wanted one. Mason's Tennis' exclusivity with Babolat helped solidify the store’s reputation for being the first to have products that are most in demand.
Mark’s daughter Dana, who joined his team in 2004, is another key to the store’s success. She discovered Monreal, the upscale sportswear brand for women that has been a hit at Wimbledon since 2013. The addition of this luxury brand helped to attract additional female customers. Every year, the father-daughter team goes to the tournaments in Indian Wells, California, where they often find new, top-of-the-line goods – including bags and accessories – to introduce to the East Coast.
In addition to his strong local customer base, Mark describes many of the frequent visitors to his store as “upscale, international clientele who play tennis on a regular basis and can’t find good products where they live.” While Masons is very popular with a great number of New York tennis enthusiasts, Mark mentioned, “We are more famous in Brazil than we are here.” So what is it that keeps drawing these clients back from so far away? Personalized treatment, professionalism, and quality goods are just three reasons. There have been times when Mark has organized trips for his clients to take together, and he even has a doctor that he recommends to people suffering from tennis elbow. He emphasized, “We go beyond what other stores do, and we have a passion for what we do.” As for his sales team, Mark exclusively hires tennis players – they truly understand what they are selling. Some employees have been at Mason’s Tennis for fifteen years. Mark knows that when shopping, “you want someone who's willing to help you, wants to talk to you, and find out what your needs are.” He feels strongly that his knowledgeable and personable team gives his brick and mortar business the edge over the often-impersonal Internet.
When we sat down to chat with Mark during the fall of 2016, he reflected back on his forty-one years in the business. It was evident that Mark is just as passionate as the day he began. At sixty-eight years old, he has no desire to stop working. He told us, “I’ll probably work until I can’t work anymore...It’s a blessing to be able to go to work when you get older.” Willing to put in the same effort as he did in the beginning, Mark hopes that his business will stay around for at least another forty-one years.
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”