"I feel like I am twelve again and in my childhood bedroom," is how Mike Spitz describes coming into work everyday. He might be the most enthusiastic owner of a small side street business that I have encountered, thus far. I love to hear stories of how people have been able to successfully follow their dreams. Mike grew up saving and collecting his favorite toys, sports paraphernalia, videos and video games. While others were playing outdoors, he was busy online scouting prices and looking to buy and sell from customers. During college he continued to indulge in his passion, but once out, took a job in accounting. As he remarked, "that didn't last long...my heart wasn't in it." Instead, he gathered his collection and stood outdoors first at the Hell's Kitchen flea market and then Dekalb Market in Brooklyn. At the age of thirty, Mike finally decided it was time to open his own shop on 9th Street. And what a store it is. There is vintage clothing hanging on the bars for men, women and children with an emphasis on jerseys, but also concert tees, Cosby sweaters, denim, sneakers and baseball caps. The shelves are lined with items primarily from the 80's and 90's, including Ninjas, trolls, Power Rangers, and He-Man alongside Starting Line Up, WWF, and other sport figurines. Everywhere I turned, I saw something else that had been in my son's bedroom while he was growing up....and I saved it all...and Mike would like to get his hands on it...but that is up to my son.
Amanda Dolan and Meagan Colby have a wild, wacky, sparkly, and generally outrageous sense of style. On 9th street, they fit right in. Spark Pretty, their pop-up shop turned permanent storefront, has garnered plenty of attention since opening in the East Village in September 2017. The Manhattan Sideways team was eager to learn more about the story behind the store, and so we caught up with Amanda and Meagan on a quiet Tuesday in January.After stepping inside, the term “visual lifestyle brand” will make perfect sense to even the most fashion-hapless visitor. Amanda and Meagan have transformed the space from floor to ceiling with a spectacular collage of posters, lights, memorabilia, and clothing that is a work of art in itself. The design is anything but random. It does not take long to realize that everything has been carefully curated to reflect a particular aesthetic from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and that when it comes to the clothing, a great deal of effort has gone into acquiring each vintage dress, pant, jumpsuit, skirt, jacket, and curated T-shirt.In fact, Spark Pretty is the result of a lifelong passion for iconoclastic style. Amanda, who grew up in Greenwich, CT, stuck out among her peers who dressed in the "latest shades of beige." She cites childhood visits to thrift shops with her grandmother as one of the reasons she enjoys looking different. Meanwhile, in California, Meagan made fashion statements of her own, whether it was with purple hair, piercings, or a pair of oversized dad jeans. The two women agree that they were lucky. They always knew who they were and what they wanted to wear to reflect their personalities. Careful not to come off as shaking their fingers at the younger generation, the pair insist that searching for buried treasures in bins and boxes helped them hone their personal style in a way that has become less common in the internet age. "Sometimes you don’t know what you are looking for until you find it," Meagan admitted. The two friends first met as stylists working at Betsey Johnson, but when the retail chain filed for bankruptcy, they decided to strike out on their own. As part of their inventory at Spark Pretty, they have a selection of one-off items from the Betsey Johnson showroom. Both women agreed that working at Betsey Johnson was their "apprenticeship." After over fifteen years of friendship, road trips, and shopping, the Spark Pretty brand was born. Now, along with in-house designer Thomas Knight (whose custom work has appeared on Usher, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Rihanna), they are sharing their treasures with the world.During our conversation, something else became clear: Amanda and Meagan are committed to the East Village community. When it came time to decide on a permanent location, they discovered that 9th street made perfect sense. For one, it is a great shopping street with funk that fits the Spark Pretty vibe. More than that, they immediately recognized that it is a real neighborhood with a "tight knit family of fellow small business owners," the type of place where they can plant real roots. That is not to say that running the store is easy. Even if their work is a labor of love, there is still plenty of labor involved and Amanda and Meagan have set high expectations for themselves. “9th Street is magical,” said Amanda. "This is our little jewel box."
With shops in over a dozen states, Buffalo is known throughout the country for carrying both "new and recycled fashion." We found the East Village location to be bright and spacious, and on the day that we were here, there were a number of friendly staff willing to chat and to share the history of Buffalo. Back in the 1970's Kerstin Block opened her first exchange shop in Arizona and as she continued to open up additional stores around the country, she was able to stay true to her original desire to provide quality clothing on consignment. The staff went on to say that the majority of their stock in New York is "bought locally and sold cheaply."
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.