It is a thrill to be able to be writing about the Argosy Bookstore. As a former owner of a children's book shop, I could not wait to get to 59th Street so that I could delve deeply into this family history, which began in 1925, and share the story of the three extraordinary sisters that have carried on their father's legacy.
Despite being on 59th Street since the 1930s, the bookstore remains a 'hidden gem' to many New Yorkers who will regularly walk by and miss its presence amidst the ever-growing retail buildings. Naomi, one of the sisters, who maintains her post at a desk by the door, says, "About fifteen times a day, I have someone walk in the store, stop in their tracks and say, 'Oh my goodness, I never knew that this existed.'" And what a wonderful discovery this six-story curiosity is.
Argosy feels as much like a museum as it does a bookstore. With its specialty being rare and out-of-print books, along with a score of historic maps, prints and autographs, it is a treasure trove with a vast selection that has something for everyone. It brought me great pleasure to introduce members of the Manhattan Sideways team to this remarkable shop that I had been scouring for decades. From the moment we walked through their doors, and they commented at the "book smell" that invaded their senses, I knew that I had them hooked. But then their eyes wandered across the shelves of books that dominated the room, catching the paintings hung above them and the green library lamps suspended at every interval, they simply stood in amazement.
And then Naomi greeted us and took us on what would become a remarkable tour of the entire building. We began on the main level, where some of the store's most beautiful books are showcased, in genres from historical fiction to children's books. We were amused as Naomi pointed out her special shelves appropriately named "the oh-I-should-have-read-this" - a sort of "un-Barnes and Noble section" that does not necessarily include Hemingway or Faulkner, but certainly exhibits a great awareness and taste in fine literature.
From there, we ventured down to the basement, a general browsing room, and then up to the sixth floor, which Naomi calls the 'oh my God room,' as it is filled with autographs from Teddy Roosevelt to Elton John. As one of three sisters who inherited the bookstore from their father, Lou, Naomi explained that each of the siblings maintains an individual pride in a certain collection in the store. For Naomi, it is the autograph collection.
As we continued down, we stopped on a floor dedicated to American History, where there was a fascinating collection of rare books on topics that included American Architecture, the Cold War, and the American Revolution. I was particularly attracted, however, to the map room. As I was wandering through, I discovered an actual first edition map of Manhattan - drawn sideways in 1865.
Argosy Bookstore remains one of the largest, family-run independent bookstores in New York City. Despite impressive offers for its real estate, the store has continued its business through generations and maintains a genuine character matched by only a handful of other businesses in Manhattan.
After a long, cold January day trekking across 57th Street, the Sideways team found their spirits revitalized at the Row House, where men and women were coming through the doors for their early evening fifty-minute workout. Row House was founded by trainers and couple, Debra and Eric Von Frohlich, as a destination where people of all ages can participate in a variety of exercise classes centered on rowing machines. The idea was inspired by Debra's great cousin, Emery, who lived to age ninety-three maintaining incredible health and form - which he attributed to his daily rowing routine. Promoting this inspirational story along with the full-body workout and non-impact nature of rowing, Debra and Eric have attracted a strong following of those who believe in it as the right alternative to the typical gym routine. After a tour of the facilities and observing a class, I believe that we were each inspired to give this new form of exercise a chance.Located one flight down, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the trainers as he was getting ready to begin his class in the EVF Performance Space - also run by Debra and Eric. Continuing in the same vein as Row House, the staff strives to provide a better alternative to traditional gym machines and utilities. Each class features a variety of cross-fit exercises including box-jumps, gymnastic rings and barbells, with the most popular class being their Signature 360. Although intimidated at first by the intensity of the exercises, I was captivated by the warmth and sincerity of the instructors. I came away believing that every client is given the same amount of guidance and care in order to provide the perfect individual workout for them.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers.Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore,” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business.Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding.Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations.”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design.When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories," as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do," featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano." In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.