During our first visit here, we were delighted by the funhouse interior, the racks and racks of tightly-packed clothing, and the menagerie of colors and designs. But it is when we brought our friends from Boston that the store took on a whole new meaning. They adored this vintage clothing shop... jokingly referring to it as "love-it vintage," after scoring big here. Having looked through all the rock band tees, sweatshirts, and other rare, interesting finds, they spent forty dollars and walked out proudly with their finds.
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."
"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.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal." Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7.Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U.S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off.While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City.Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool.” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved.”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases.Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.