Tucked away in the West Village is Madame Matovu, the New York vintage world’s best-kept secret. The owner, Rosemary Wettenhall, is as decadently adorned as the colorfully vibrant space she has curated. She began our conversation with a coy shyness (“I like to let the store talk for itself” - it certainly does), but once the ball got rolling, she was a fountain of charisma.
Born in Uganda to diplomat parents, Rosemary became a seasoned world traveler early on and has worked in fashion for her entire life. She attended shows with top designers around the globe and scouted pieces for the US market before opening Madame Matovu in 2007. When I asked about the inspiration behind the shop’s name, she recalled, “I was coming back from France, and I saw an ad in the inflight magazine with this amazing woman. She was unbelievable, had everything going on; it was over the top but so clear - so strong, but playful. It was pure fantasy; she made you dream of being her. So I knew then if I ever opened a store, she would have to be a Madame.” The logo, the profile of a woman with a red and white striped head wrap and a pearl necklace, has a similar anecdote: “I was looking through postcards from the French Revolution and this one caught my eye. She had bright lipstick and the caption read, ‘Me Too, I’m Free.’”
Rosemary’s worldliness left me with one important question: what makes New York worth settling down in? “Other places are beautiful and all, but the energy in New York, you just can’t find it anywhere. My customers who come here from other places never want to go back. New York makes you a better person.” This does not mean that she has not seen the area change: “SoHo used to be filled with raw, beautiful artists, now it’s a mall.” She strives to keep authenticity and individuality as the focus of her boutique.
Rosemary’s personal connection to everyone she works with is clear. I complimented her skirt, which featured a collage of brightly colored Vogue Magazine covers, and she noted, smiling, “These are made by a local girl. Her name is Perry and she lives on Perry Street. Perry on Perry! The fun of it is finding the stuff, that’s what I like to call it, that specific treasure. It could be ugly to someone else, but I trust my gut and buy it if I believe in it.”
Rosemary described her ideal shopper as very secure, and attributes her success to the loyalty of her customers, who know she will always have what they are looking for. One of her many long term customers who has made an annual pilgrimage to Madame Matovu from Aspen, Colorado every year since 2002, happened to be in the shop when the Manhattan Sideways team stopped in. The customer shared, “This is why this woman is so amazing. I’ve been shopping with her for fifteen years. I come in with jeans and a t-shirt and I leave looking like a Paris Runway.” She modeled her look for us, wearing a black and fuchsia leopard print blouse with a high neckline and a white turban. It is this type of experience, these unique finds, and Rosemary’s radiant personality that makes Madame Matovu a central fixture of the West Village.
This bright and colorful West Village thrift shop is just one of the many businesses run by Housing Works, one of New York's highly regarded non-profits. Housing Works was founded in 1990 by members of ACT UP, an AIDS activist group that is dedicated to fighting the joint issues of homelessness and the AIDS epidemic. Their first thrift shop opened in Chelsea in 1992 and thirteen more have opened throughout the city since then, as well as a bookstore café in SoHo. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, the social stigma associated with those living with the virus or simply being LGBTQ+ resulted in thousands of individuals being denied the foundation of a stable living: housing. Whether it was from familial rejection or housing discrimination, more and more HIV positive people found themselves on the streets, and poverty, queerness, and AIDS soon became intrinsically linked. Recognizing this often neglected connection, the founders of Housing Works sought to create an organization that addressed this crisis. The non-profit is committed to ending the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. Luke, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, sat down with the 10th Street store manager, Lauren Guttenplan, to discuss the community atmosphere forged in their shop. She mentioned, “Community feels very central to the mission. We’re not too far from Christopher Street and Stonewall, so many of our customers and volunteers have lost someone or have a personal connection to the cause. They like to know that the money they’re spending is going to help towards something good. ” Guttenplan also noted that many of their regular customers come in as frequently as once or twice a day, and that the staff, the majority of whom are volunteers, often know customers’ names. Some patrons will even make a point to shop on a day where they know when a particular volunteer is working. Guttenplan credits much of the success of the operation to the devotion of the volunteers, whom she describes as “the face of the store. ” The shopping experience is truly unlike many other in that there are opportunities for customers to become volunteers or get involved in local activism and protests. With a retail background and a degree in social work, Lauren finds Housing Works to be a perfect blend of her passions. The organization provides the unique opportunity to run a business and actually make a difference. She appreciates that with programs like job training, it is particularly satisfying to witness the impact of her work first hand. Because all of the merchandise sold in the stores is donated, each of the Housing Works shops also serves as a reflection of the surrounding neighborhood. The West Village shop, with plenty of natural lighting and exposed brick, features not only fun and unique clothing selections, but also many household items, including kitchen items, home décor, and even furniture. The store hosts a number of events, the biggest of which are the Best of Fall and Best of Spring sales.
What started out as a couple of ice cream trucks in 2008, has since become a beloved collection of shops throughout Brooklyn and New York City. Van Leeuwen offers delicious fresh milk ice cream and vegan options made with only “coconut and cashew milk, raw cocoa butter, extra virgin olive oil, and organic sugar cane. ” These artisanal ice cream makers are extremely concerned with the quality of their product and the source of their ingredients - their vanilla flavor comes from organic bourban and Tahitian vanilla orchids, and their chocolate from a family-run French company concerned with quality and free trade practices, Michele Cluizel Chocolate. Van Leeuwen also offers sophisticated flavors like ginger, sweet sticky black rice, earl grey tea, Ceylon cinnamon, and salted caramel with buffalo trace bourbon. This is a must try ice cream spot for vegans, dairy-lovers, and everyone else.
When I walked into Clash City Tattoos, Baz was hunched over his station, completing a tattoo sketch. The space popped with bold red walls, brightly colored ink bottles, and large tattoo designs. One could not miss the almost human-sized bass in the corner if they tried – “some friends just like to come in and play the bass, ” Baz told me as he shrugged his shoulders. Music influences much more of this tattoo shop’s ideology than I could have anticipated. Named after Baz’s favorite band, the space encapsulates the idea that just as The Clash could play such a range of genres, so too could Baz’s tattoos encompass all kinds of people. “Lawyers and rockstars alike listen to The Clash, ” he elaborated, “and I want my tattoos to unite my customers, just as a single beat can unite different listeners. ”Baz first visited the United States in 1991 while working on a cruise ship and was immediately drawn to everything American – particularly the music, cars, and TV shows. Working in a comic bookstore, he was captivated by posters for Iron Man, Planet of the Apes, and an assortment of cartoon superheroes. He claimed it was the “solid black lines, bold colors, and clear forms” of comic art that lent it a unique and sophisticated artistic quality. Moreover, his mother’s admiration for surrealist painter Salvador Dali offered him an early penchant for the freedom of abstract art anchored in bold lines – the ideal forms for tattoo art. Clients coming into Clash City Tattoos have usually heard about the store and like to visit with an idea of what they want inked. While Baz and his team are exceptionally friendly, asserting that their store “is a place that you won’t have to be afraid to walk into, ” they are also honest with clients about which designs work and which simply do not. Equipped with a creative bent, the team mostly designs custom tattoos using clients’ ideas. However, when someone comes in asking for a "full bible verse on their little finger" or an arrangement of “a heart with four names in it, two wings on either side, and a crown on top in the size of a fist, ” the team knows when to say “this isn’t working; let’s fine-tune. ” What is more, they pay exceptionally close attention to each client’s pain tolerance. While some can manage three hours of inking in a go, others (like Baz’s wife, he laughs) only last ten minutes. I asked Baz about the most challenging tattoo he was tasked with designing. When the bass player of globally-renowned British band Muse, Chris, asked for a tattoo of his son’s name, Buster, in Disney font, Baz started thinking of ways to make the design more complex and unique. A few days later, Chris and Baz were hanging out with a group of friends, when Chris recounted a story about Buster. The young boy was playing with his toys at home when he ran straight into the corner of an table and cut his forehead. But he continued with his play as usual until Chris’ wife noticed a large gash on his head and rushed him to the hospital. Buster was unfazed. The story inspired Baz to draw up the tattoo that now decorates Chris’ right forearm – a smirking cartoon kid with boxing gloves over the name “Buster” in striking black font. Chris loved it. Looking at Baz’s journey thus far, it is easy to see how he has settled into a characteristic set of themes and motifs. Through space backgrounds, gypsy girls, cartoon superheroes, and more, Baz eventually reached a signature design – “pin-up girls with stuff in their hair, ” as he amusedly called it. I was thrilled to see his gorgeous side profiles of girls with complex forms – ships, octopuses, and more – wrapped in the locks of their hair. Baz’s artistic genius spans a wide range of imagery, fixed into his defining black lines and bold forms.
I had heard about these baths for years, believe it or not, from my grandmother who lived nearby on Avenue A as a child. Needless to say, I was eager to have a look inside this spa that has been around since 1892. Upon entering, clients are given a key to the locker room, then told to take some towels and select a sauna... be it a Russian one that has a rock filled oven or an electrically heated redwood sauna. In addition, there is an aromatherapy room, a steam room and a Turkish room complete with cold showers. Other amenities include an ice-cold pool, a Swedish shower with cold-water jets, a sun deck, and a small cafe that serves an authentic Russian menu. Some on the list of treatments include a Swedish/Russian massage, Thai/Sports massage, the Platza Oak Leaf Treatment that involves being whacked with a bundle of soapy oak leaves and oil, or a Dead Sea Salt Scrub. Although I did not chose to venture past my guided tour of the baths, I did experience an old world, warm community with many foreign speaking clients.
With its sharp corner spine, perpendicular window displays, and eye-catching red accents, the façade of Three Lives and Co. resembles an enticing book cover. Inside, caramel-colored shelves, a cozy patterned carpet, and warm lamps surround an assortment of handpicked reads. As the current owner, Toby Cox, put it, “just open the door and it’s a jewel box. ”Three Lives, which takes its name from the Gertrude Stein novel, was opened in 1978 by Jill Dunbar, Jenny Feder, and Helene Webb. Originally located on Seventh Avenue, the shop moved to the corner of 10th Street and Waverly in 1983. It has since remained a “small neighborhood bookstore, ” while the neighborhood has grown “to sort of become the world. ”Toby first stumbled upon the store on a visit from his home state of Rhode Island, where he sold books for ten years after graduating from Brown University. He was so in awe of the little shop that he sung its praises in the local Providence newsletter. Nine months later, he moved to New York to work as a book publisher, and for the next three years, he frequented Three Lives to “revel in the store. ”Then, “it all came together in a magical way. ” Toby asked Jill if she was interested in having him as an additional partner; Jill countered by offering Toby the business. In early 2001, Toby took over the store. Toby sees Three Lives as much more than a store selling books. To him, it is a vibrant community center — a place to “step off what’s going on outside those red doors, relax, unwind, have an easy chat with a staff member, and let go of all the pressure. ”