“My grandfather came here in the early 1950s,” shared David Ettinger, owner of Truemart Fabrics. A Holocaust survivor, Irving Ledereich first found work in a velvet company, but when the businesses decided to move out of New York, he remained here with his family. Soon after, Irving came across an advertisement about a fabric store for sale and decided to purchase it.
According to David, “His lawyer gave him a new name to call it, and it’s the name we still have here today: Truemart.” Irving was in his mid-fifties when he took over the shop. He ran it alongside his wife, Anna, until her death in 2004. That is when David and his mom, Freida, entered the picture, until Irving passed away in 2010.
Initially, Truemart was in a perfect location, in the heart of the Garment District and steps away from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). These days, not many people sew anymore, so the business has changed to keep up with the times. But they continue to have customers coming in to purchase materials for Broadway, movies, back-drops, and commercials.
And, of course, the FIT students are still learning to sew, frequenting the shop that is filled with rolls of cotton, wool, satin, and linen fabrics. “People come in for small projects, but once they step inside, their imaginations keep growing.”
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Four generations of the McManus clan have operated this jovial Irish tavern, making it among the oldest family-run bars in the city. Its originator, Peter McManus, left his quaint Irish hometown and disembarked in Ellis Island with “basically five dollars and a potato in his pocket, ” as the story goes. He opened the first McManus as a longshoreman’s bar in 1911 on West 55th Street, which he then converted into a thriving general store during Prohibition while migrating his liquor business into a number of speakeasies. Once the restrictions ended in 1933, the shop was so successful that Peter kept it going and found a new spot on 19th Street in which to revive his bar. Peter’s son, James Sr., spent close to fifty years working in and later running the pub. It then passed into the hands of James Jr., who now stands beside his own son, Justin, serving beer and cracking jokes over a century later. Knowing that they will find pleasant conversation and an intriguing cast of characters at McManus, people often come alone to see what the night holds for them. The atmosphere at McManus is merry, but patrons still respect the history and charm that suffuse every corner of the space. Much of the bar is original, including the stunning Tiffany stained glass windows, the hand carved woodwork and crown molding, and the terrazzo floor that can no longer be made today. “We try to preserve it and are pretty protective of it. This bar was built to last, ” Justin said.
When I walked into Biricchino alongside Fouad Alsharif, it was like stepping inside his home. Fouad, one of the owning partners of the restaurant, greeted each person inside with hugs, kisses, and warm conversation. I remembered a comment that I had heard from a different restaurateur not long ago: He was reacting to the lack of loyalty from customers in his neighborhood. In his opinion, there are too many restaurants to choose from, nowadays. People are eager to try them all rather than give consistent business to two or three. I understood his concern, however, I must say that Biricchino has proven him wrong - at least in this particular spot in Manhattan. "I know everyone, generation after generation, " Fouad said. It helps that the family behind Biricchino (which means “naughty boy”) as been in the food business for over ninety years. “Today we are a new generation of men, but we all came from Curino, a small town in Italy in the province of Biella, " Fouad explained. “In 1925 Salumeria Biellese opened on 28th and Eighth Avenue. This is where the men got their start. ” Today, Salumeria Biellese is known as "the" salami and sausage maker in the industry. “Some of the biggest people in New York purchase their meat from us, " says Fouad. Sure enough, one corner of the restaurant has cured meats hanging with a high-end slicer waiting nearby. Biricchino opened in 1986 not only to showcase their handmade meats, but also homemade pasta, mozzarella, and more. Fouad stressed that good food starts with good ingredients. “We are second to none for quality. All our meat is natural and local to the Berkshires or New Jersey, from our hogs and grass-fed beef to our chickens raised on an Amish farm. Everything is done according to our specifications. We also feature seasonal vegetables from New Jersey and fresh breads from Sullivan Street Bakery. ” As proof that Biricchino is the real deal when it comes to high quality and healthy practice, the restaurant was the first in the industry to receive the “Snail of Approval” from the Slow Food movement (in honor of commitment to authenticity and sustainability of the food supply in NYC). “This is a big deal to those in the know, ” Fouad added proudly. The chef is proud of his pasta, fresh fish, chicken, and, of course, pork chop. Each day he tries to mix up the menu a bit so that he is certain to appeal to the different crowds stopping by for lunch or dinner. As far as crowd favorites, Fouad had a ready answer: “Rigatoni with homemade sausage has been our signature dish for years. That and the cured salami has kept customers coming back for a generation and counting. ”
For thirty-nine years, this family-owned shop has been hand-rolling Dominican and Nicaraguan tobacco into Ecuadorian and Brazilian wraps. The Nicaraguan tobacco, the clerk assured us, is arguably the best in the world. “People fall in love with Cuban cigars because we want what we can’t have. ” This could be true – psychology 101 in a tobacco leaf. For our crew, the cigars themselves, while fit for one’s greatest victories, are not the most amazing part of the shop. Rather, it is the experience of being there. In a small space at the back of the store, the rollers pull tubes of tobacco from stacks of wooden blocks and expertly shape dried leaves from giant bundles into just-so shapes to do their enveloping duty. When we asked the clerk if he could roll, he replied, “No, man, it’s like a language. You have to start when you’re little. ” The sentiment is borne out in the mesmerizing motions of the rollers. Up front, a group of regulars gather around blowing puffs of smoke from their cigars while chatting. The air reeks of yet-to-be-smoked cigars mingling with smoking ones of all sizes. Everyone gets along. Long-time friends mingle with new ones, brought together by a shared languorous pastime. And then there is the added treat of stopping by on a Saturday afternoon when people gather to play a serious game of dominoes.
Nic Faitos was not always in the flower business – in fact, he started out working on Wall Street. But the financial world just was not right for him. “I fell out of love with what I was doing, ” Nic told me. “I was having my midlife crisis a bit early – I went from being a broker to being a florist! ” Standing in Starbright, it is not hard to see why Nic was drawn to this sector. The space is filled with bright light, and the scent from all the flowers is enough to make anyone fall in love with their job again. Nic started Starbright in 1993, and for the first twenty years, Starbright operated out of a second-floor industrial space on 28th Street, focusing on corporate clients and large contracts. They provided flowers for clients like Ernst & Young and Columbia University, along with several other large corporations and a number of major hotels. In 2015, Starbright moved to its current 26th Street home. Although it was not far geographically, Nic explained “this was a big move for us. ” The new space is twice as large as the old, and, being on ground level, offers an opportunity for Starbright to draw customers from the street in addition to their existing corporate clientele. Nic has been embracing that opportunity by having a floral “happy hour” every Thursday throughout the summer when everything in the store is half price. “There are all these pubs and bars on the block, ” Nic exclaimed, “Everybody’s having happy hour, why can’t we? ”Starbright is by far and away the largest florist that I have come across on a Manhattan side street thus far, and so I asked Nic to tell me a bit more about how his business operates on this scale. I learned that they receive shipments of flowers three times a week, from places as far away as New Zealand, South America, Singapore, Holland, Israel, and Italy. In a given week, Starbright handles twenty-five to thirty thousand stems. I could not imagine what so many flowers would look like, and so Nic said, “I’ll show you! ” and led me to the walk-in refrigerator that keeps their blooms fresh during the hot New York summers. The fridge was fully stocked with flowers in boxes and buckets, each a different color, and all waiting to be arranged by the designers who work at large tables in the main area of the shop. I was content to stay for some time and watch them – each employee was a true artist, combining the flowers as a painter might mix different colors on a canvas. Starbright’s size allows them to bring in many flowers that are not often found at other florists in the city. Nic showed me a few of the more rare blooms, including the deep purple vanda orchid and the trumpet-shaped calla lily. “We donate a lot of flowers too, ” he told me. Starbright often sends its arrangements to charitable organizations like Gilda’s Club and the Ronald McDonald House, believing that sharing beauty is an important way of helping others.
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. ”