As the former owner of a children's bookstore that also carried educational toys, games and puzzles, I found The Children’s General Store to be everything I could desire in a toy store. I was most impressed by the way in which the store was clearly organized, with different sections for categories like bath play, outdoor play, and dress up. On one wall, there were dozens of Ravensburger puzzles and craft kits for a variety of ages. A rack of animal hand puppets greets customers as they enter and in a central aisle, the “novelty" items, including yellow taxi cabs, slinkies, and other old-school toys, call out for attention. Not only was I entertained, but the young Manhattan Sideways team members were smiling as they took a stroll down memory lane.
Tess Pintchik, the daughter in the mother-daughter team that runs the store, pointed out some of their signature items. One popular one, she noted, was the colorful spinning lamp on a high shelf. She turned off the lights for the full effect, saying, “You won’t find these other places.” She also showed us clever wooden lock boxes that had a different mechanism on each lock. “My mom opened her first store with these,” Tess added proudly, “Usually we hide stuff in it…or the kids do.”
Laura, Tess’s mother, opened the first Children’s General Store on the Upper West Side in 1994. She and her husband were partners in an indoor playground called Play Space. Laura, who has a design background, decided to turn the downstairs waiting area into a store. On the first day, she sold out of almost everything. She credits her success to the fact that she “created an expression of what a child really lives with,” unlike the big warehouse toy stores that populated the city. She called it the “Children’s General Store” because she did not restrict herself to just toys, instead choosing to feature decorations and home goods alongside the playthings. Laura told me that it was the perfect job for a mother with young children, since she could bring her kids into work and have them play in the indoor playground.
A couple years later, Grand Central approached Laura. They were in the middle of their renovation and wanted to fill the terminal with local businesses. Though Laura was hesitant at first to expand, she opened up a store in Grand Central, which began a twelve-year period that Laura describes as “the primetime for the store.” In 2006, she opened the Upper East Side location. Laura designed the 91st Street space by hand, painting the flower details on the shelves and creating the bold star patterns on the ground. “We’re going to give it a facelift, soon, since it’s been ten years,” Tess informed us. Though the other locations had to close, the family held onto their whimsical shop on 91st.
In 2008, Grand Central tried to convince Laura to expand the Children’s General Store. Laura refused – “I didn’t like the lifestyle,” she told me. “Every inch of the store had to be devoted to retail.” Laura wanted to slow down and have time to put more personal attention and creativity into her store, so she decided to focus on what she had. Four months later, the market crashed. Laura then closed the Grand Central store, keeping the Upper East Side Children’s General Store.
“This was my whole childhood,” Tess shared as she picked up the Fizzy Tints, which work as bath bombs for kids. Many of her childhood memories involve toys from the family store. Laughing, she told us that she would use the “Shaving in the Tub” kit with her dad and brother, not realizing that she would not have a beard to shave when she grew up. “I tested everything out on my kids,” Laura said. “They were my little guinea pigs.” “Most people had trouble buying me presents because they thought, ‘this kid has everything,’” Tess admitted. Though, having a treasure trove at her front door does not seem to have spoiled Tess in the slightest – her kind, happy nature makes her the perfect person to run the family business.
Though Tess only officially joined the company in 2015, she appears to be both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about every aspect. “We try our best to find unique things,” she said, lifting up the “Yoga Joes,” GI Joes sitting in peaceful yoga positions. She also showed us the Automoblox, wooden cars that imitate specific rescue vehicles and brands. Though the shop stocks traditional toys such as Mancala, Chinese yoyos, and Jacob’s Ladder, they do not shy away from new, independent company offerings. Overall, however, the Pintchiks try to stock items that encourage adult involvement. As Tess pointed out, “Mom was really active in playing with me and my brother and I think that really shaped how I view ‘play’ and growing up.” Laura clearly enjoys having her daughter working with her. After explaining how Tess convinced her to put out dress-up clothes all-year round, instead of just at Halloween, Laura confided, “She’s made it really exciting for me.”
The Loop of the Loom, tucked below street level on 87th Street, is a center for SAORI weaving, a special practice that combines the art of weaving with the principles of Zen. The founder of Loop of the Loom, Yukako Satone, began her career as a graphic designer for fifteen years in both Japan and New York. She claims that she did not consider herself a “craft person” until she was introduced to SAORI weaving when her daughter was five years old. She became a certified SAORI instructor in Japan, thanks to a talented teacher, Misao Jo. Shortly thereafter, Yukako made the decision to open a studio in Manhattan, hoping to introduce this specific type of weaving to New Yorkers. The Loop of the Loom encourages anyone who walks through the door to find their own unique style while embracing earthy materials and the Japanese idea of “Mottainai" ("non-waste”). The threads are made from natural fibers and many of the tools are created from recycled materials. The repetitive, calming nature of the work is said to introduce mindfulness and healing to the weaver. When I visited Loop of the Loom, a group of young children were gathered for a special children’s class, celebrating a child's eighth birthday. It was a special sight to watch them calmly sitting at their looms, eager for their next instruction. In addition to her studio, Yukako often takes her portable loom out into the city to do demonstrations. She loves that her “happy weaving” can bring smiles and a sense of calm to passersby.
I never miss the opportunity to gaze upward when entering a space in the hopes of discovering a chandelier (Check out our Sideways Story on the stunning chandeliers of the Side Streets). Peeking inside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on a Sunday afternoon, it was the dazzling, yet unlit, fixture that captured my attention first. I could still decipher its glistening in the dim shafts of light filtering through the stunning figurative stained glass "Transfiguration of Christ" by L. C. Tiffany (containing over 17, 561 individual pieces of glass). When I returned to the church with members of our team and Chrissi Nicolas, the office manager, turned on a few of the lights, we were able to see the spectral beams produced by the Czechoslovakian crystal. The entire sanctuary appeared to work in tandem, with the stained glass projecting light on the chandelier, which in turn reflected it onto the artwork surrounding the altar. For those who attend and work at Annunciation, it is considered a miraculous place. Chrissi told us that it was built in 1894 as the Fourth Presbyterian Church. The Greek Orthodox Church bought the location in 1953, after having met in various locations since its founding as the “Evangelismos” (“The Good News”) church in the late nineteenth century. At the beginning, the entire space was lit with a combination of electricity and gas lighting. They used an ingenious series of vents that allowed the gas to escape while turning on every light in the room with a single flint switch. “For its time, this building had amazing engineering, ” Chrissi said. We ascended to the loft, where we received a view of the magnificent pipe organ. Annunciation's organ is one of the few tonally unaltered organs designed by E. M. Skinner that remain in existence today. We learned a lot about the traditions and practices of the Greek Orthodox Church through Chrissi. For example, one always knows the feast day is celebrated by the church by looking to the left of the Royal Doors of the altar to see what icon appears there. Chrissi also provided us with an interpretation of the surrounding religious art imagery. For example, in the painting of the Annunciation, the angel has his feet apart to show that he is running towards the Virgin Mary. In 1957, the congregation installed an intricate iconastasis screen of linden and lime tree wood designed and executed in Greece by noted Byzantine-style woodcarver Theophanis Nomikos, with inset icons hand-painted by New York iconographer Konstantinos Youssis of the Bronx. There are many coincidences contained within the church’s history. For example, the Greek Orthodox congregation that would become Annunciation was founded in 1892, the same year the church at 91st Street was starting to be built. Also, the congregation moved into the building on March 25th, the day of the Annunciation of Christ, hence the name. Possibly the most mysterious fact about the church, however, is that one of the priests is said to have been visited by St. Xenia, a little-known saint. After his vision, the priest was hesitant to tell anyone, since it was the twentieth century, and he was afraid that no one would believe him. But he did some research, and discovered that St. Xenia did, in fact, exist. In his vision, she asked him to paint her icon. He did, and today the icon he painted holds a special position in the sanctuary and in the history of the parish
The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum first opened in 1897 thanks to three of Peter Cooper’s granddaughters: Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah. Their grandfather was an industrialist who founded The Cooper Union, a renowned art school. The museum was created as part of the Cooper Union and officially became a branch of the Smithsonian Museum in 1967. As for the building that houses the exhibitions, it was originally Andrew Carnegie’s mansion. Today, it is known for being the only museum in the country devoted to educating the public about both historic and contemporary design. There is also an entrance to the museum through the garden on East 90th Street.