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“Flowers bring the innermost smiles out of people, this little moment of awe and wonderment. That’s what I try to give,” said Bella Meyer, who runs fleursBELLA, an Edenic oasis on 11th Street. As the granddaughter of revered artist Marc Chagall, flowers have long been a part of Bella’s life. Chagall is known for his modernist depictions of vibrant blooms, and he always had a bouquet in his studio while he worked to remind him of the chemistry of colors. Bella, too, shared his passion for natural beauty. She initially meant to follow in the footsteps of her father, a “formidable art historian” and museum director in Switzerland. Bella was researching and writing her PhD in medieval art history while teaching at a university in Paris when she eventually gravitated toward other creative pursuits. She found herself spending more time decorating spaces, painting, and making puppets, masks, and theater costumes. Like her grandfather before her, “I wanted to color the whole world around me and beautify it,” Bella shared, albeit through different mediums. When seeking a way to express her joy at a friend’s marriage, she took it upon herself to build a chuppah (a wedding canopy) out of flowers and birch branches. The project was an epiphany for Bella. “I was intrigued by the symbolism of the decor. To create meaningful things and spaces, I realized I needed flowers.” She made arrangements for several events before deciding to open fleursBELLA as a retail business some twenty years later. She envisioned the studio as one “where people could just walk in and find a moment of peace.” The space was designed to be deeply personal, and she brought in items from her childhood in France to achieve this. The bathtub that her mother bathed her in as a baby is now used to wash the daily flower deliveries, and the family’s old bookshelves are lined up like sentinels along the walls. “These things hold all the warmth of the best parts of my home and my mother,” Bella believes, and they lend to the shop’s special atmosphere. Above all, fleursBELLA acts as a creative outlet, allowing Bella to convey her philosophy on life and beauty through the blooms she sells. Visitors are greeted by a serene woman made of moss, with foliage climbing the walls and flowers adorning every surface — entering the wild, wonderful shop feels like a sudden departure from the city. As Bella aptly describes it, fleursBELLA is “the perfect hidden place” for someone to get lost in.
“My only connection to chess is through my son, ” confessed Noah Chasin, the unlikely leader of the Marshall Chess Club. Grandmaster Frank Marshall, a native New Yorker and longstanding U. S. Chess Champion, established the club as a haven for chess buffs. It relocated several times, beginning at Keens Steakhouse — featured in the first Walking Manhattan Sideways book — until it finally found its home on 10th Street in 1931. Perhaps the most famous chess club in the world, every champion has played a game here over the past century. “It’s essentially an obligation for all of the top players at some point. ” This is also where the illustrious Bobby Fischer rose to prominence. Fittingly, parts of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer were later filmed on the Marshall’s premises. Though some might be intimidated by the Marshall’s storied reputation, Noah emphasized that the atmosphere is more welcoming than one might expect. The club’s regular tournaments are typically a fifty-fifty split between its members and those who simply possess a love for the pastime. Noah’s own son started visiting the Marshall when he was only eight years old and has since spent years attending some of the largest competitions around the globe, including the Philadelphia World Open. Though certainly no chess disciple himself, Noah was a devoted father, and as his son participated in workshops, camps, and matches at the Marshall, Noah was recruited to represent the parents of other scholastic members on the club’s board. In 2016, he became the president and is now “neck-deep in the chess world, which I never could have imagined before. ” He is delighted to see players old and young, from New York and abroad, find their way to the Marshall. Better yet, he relishes the second-hand thrill of witnessing opponents face off over one of the club’s elegant boards. “It’s not the trajectory I would have imagined as a parent, but it’s been such a spectacular one. ”
Upon entering the front room of Beads of Paradise, we were greeted by long strings of brightly colored beads, boldly patterned fabrics, and African art filling every inch of space. While this certainly makes for fun exploring, the magic really happens further back in the store, which is replete with thousands of beads and endless jewelry-making materials. Welcoming anyone from novices to experts, the shop holds regular beading classes on Sundays. What sets this store apart from others where beading materials, pre-made jewelry, or textiles are sold, is that they are serious about beads. Really serious. Glass cases throughout the shop are filled with beads from all over the world and all periods of history. We noticed a bowl of small bead fragments labeled with the location and date of Djenne (a town in Mali), 700 AD. We became quite curious and had to investigate further. After talking to Joe, one of the managers, not only were we convinced of the validity of the labels, but as people with no previous interest in beads, we were now hooked on this store. Joe knows everything about beads, and his passion is so clear that we could not help but get excited with him. He gave us the history of several of the oldest beads in the shop - the very oldest being warring state beads from China dating to 300 AD. He then proceeded to pull out his favorite books on beads and show us how they go about dating and validating the beads. Finally, we were whisked away with a fascinating discussion on early bead-making techniques and early man’s impulse for self-ornamentation. In the end, Molly purchased one of the original Djenne beads that had caught her attention - for a mere $3. 00. It was a tiny broken fragment, but still, the fact that a piece of history was made so accessible to her was extraordinary. Of course, for those able to spend more, there is a vast selection of much larger historical beads in beautiful condition. Beads of Paradise is sure to delight anyone with an appreciation for history, jewelry, or craft-making - and if Joe is around, we recommend engaging him in a conversation on ancient cultures.
Every time I am walking with someone new, I find myself winding past Breads Bakery to have us try yet another delicious bite of their freshly baked goods. I cannot call this a hidden gem, by any means, as the lines are sometimes out the door. In a matter of a few weeks from when Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg opened, they have managed to be written up everywhere. They have even been cited as having the best rugelach and babka in different periodicals, but I must encourage all who visit to sample Breads' take on focaccia - the multigrain version. If it is not still warm from the oven, then take it home, heat it up, add a bit more olive oil and savor every bite. Another that I cannot resist are the flaky cheese straws. Direct from the oven, they are impeccable. In fact, fresh is king here, and the baked goods are often fresher than the vegetables around the corner. While most bakeries have their employees come in during the night to pump out a days worth of starchy creations, Uri's staff at Breads Bakery has fresh bread coming out just in time for each of the mealtime rushes. Uri was raised in Israel, but went back to his parent's roots in Denmark for his training in baking. He then traveled and worked in Europe before returning to his homeland to open up his first bakery in Tel Aviv. Many years later, Gadi was traveling in Israel and discovered Uri's Lehamim Bakery. It took several more years of persistence, but ultimately the timing was right and Uri made the huge decision to move to New York and partner with Gadi to open up shop near Union Square. The store itself feels modern and spacious, with one counter for bread and baked goods just as you enter on the left, and another further back with sandwiches and drinks. Extending further back another 75 feet are the kitchens. Customers can watch bakers ease proofed dough off rolls of canvas onto an adjustable conveyer belt, which feeds into the carefully regulated ovens. Unlike Sheft's locations in Israel, he got to design this one from the ground up so the technology involved is sometimes just as amazing as what comes out of the ovens.
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.