Aaron Thorp and Michael Sullivan lived on 7th Street, two blocks from their store’s current location, for eight years before opening Wineshop LLC. With Michael’s background in retail management and Aaron’s extensive wine knowledge, Napa Valley background, and successful career as the wine director for Raoul’s in Soho and the Standard Hotel in the meatpacking district, they make an excellent team.
When I stopped by, Michael was kind enough to take time during a busy day to tell me about their stock and their position in the neighborhood. Wineshop LLC opened in 2013 after the guys secured what they hoped to be the perfect spot. I learned how difficult it is to acquire a liquor license: an establishment has to be a certain distance from churches, schools, and other stores selling alcohol. After lengthy renovations, Aaron and Michael opened Wineshop LLC and began offering their regionally diverse selection from places including California, Washington (Aaron is from St. Helena), Oregon, France, Italy, and Australia.
The two men focus on small production, biodynamic, and sustainable wine, but mostly they sell what they love. They alternate the stock on a consistent basis, offering wines that one does not often find in small shops similar to theirs. “We only bring in things that we would drink ourselves,” Michael said. Stop by on most Saturdays and there is a tasting going on from 6pm to 8pm. Additionally, in the not too distant future they hope to start offering wine classes.
When chatting about the people who stop into their shop, Michael mentioned that their clients are mostly locals – “Neighborhoods tend to be a three or four block radius.” While owning a small business, Michael and Aaron have met far more people and made more lasting connections in the neighborhood than they did in all the years that they lived in the area - including people from their own building. “You realize how neighborly the East Village really is,” he said. A community like this one, however, cannot exist without support. Michael’s last words to me were “Shop local….if you can!”
In 1954, a Ukrainian refugee began Veselka as a shop that sold cigarettes, candy, and newspapers with a few tables for some tasty homemade Eastern European food. Over the years, it slowly evolved into a coffee shop, and then to a casual restaurant. Almost fifty-nine years later, it continues to thrive as a neighborhood destination when one is in need of comfort food, or as my own kids have told me, it is a great late night spot too. Open twenty-four hours a day, the restaurant’s menu is a mix of Ukrainian and typical American diner fare. More than a diner, though, Veselka is a family-friendly establishment that serves up Ukrainian "peasant" food - known to many as "Ukrainian soul food."
Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves.Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item," said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla.Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake.As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.