116th Street is filled with chains, be it Dunkin' Donuts, CVS or 7-Eleven, but in the fall of 2016 Manhattan Sideways founder Betsy Polivy stumbled upon a colorful gallery quietly tucked away in a tiny space, amid all of the other shops, filled with unique pieces of jewelry, art and glass. Although everything inside the space is beautiful, it was the owners of Millennium, Bertram and Judith Romeo, who drew her in and kept her there for quite some time.
Bertram came to New York at the age of 12 from Jamaica while Judith arrived with her family a year later from Trinidad. They both landed in Brooklyn and met through their brothers, who had become friends. "We grew up together, and then it became more," Bertram beamed. He studied computer engineering, but one day, they decided that it would be fun to open a boutique and sell the pieces of jewelry that Judith had been creating. That was in 1999, and in 2023 they are still enjoying every minute of being in business together.
Bertram was proud to point out the stunning earrings and brooches that his wife had made. The "Mother Earth" collection was embellished with numerous stones — each one more attractive than the next. Judith chimed in at this point and said, "We take pride and are passionate in what we do." She continued, "We always go the extra mile for our customers and they've been coming back for years."
There is no doubt that Bertram and Judith are a fixture in the neighborhood. The door was swung open that day, and not a person went by without calling in to say "hello." Commented Bertram, "We are always watching out for each other."
The two have added "different elements" as the years go on, changing up the inventory, but keeping true to selling jewelry, artwork and glass. In addition to Judith's artwork, the couple has a stunning selection of hand blown Venetian glass from their years of traveling to Italy. "We have loved traveling, my wife still enjoys creating, and we both adore meeting new people and spending time with those that we already know."
Since they do not travel as much as they used to, they now recruit their friends to bring interesting pieces back from their trips to inspire them. They have loyal customers, but in order to keep them around, they need to "have something different to offer them."
Bertram and Judith are inspired by current events. When the Metropolitan Museum of New York had an exhibit on American designers influenced by Asian elements, they "played around" with Asian designs. And more recently, that "something different" is pressing the essence of leaves and botanicals into silks and other materials using heat and pressure. It makes an extraordinary leaf pattern for scarves and fabrics, including oak tree pieces created with leaves from Massachusetts. Judith shared that when a couple brought back leaves from Australia, she created an Australian-themed selection.
The shop represents several local artists and others throughout the States, as well as having a nice collection of art from Africa. Their clientele comes from the local community, but also the buses that travel to 116th Street each day taking tourists to the outdoor Malcolm Shabass Harlem Market next door, "and then they inevitably stop into our shop," said Bertram.
When asked if after all of these years it was still fun, he immediately replied, "I still love every aspect of the business," and then smiled and said, "We grew up together and we are always together, and we like it this way."
UPDATE: Judith now has a sideline of Decadent Desserts for pickup at the store.
My first encounter with Amy Ruth's, a Southern style restaurant in the finest tradition, was during a walk while documenting every place on 116th. The street is enormous, with many delis, convenience stores, hair salons and barber shops, but tucked between these are some marvelous hidden gems. Amy Ruth's is certainly one of them, although, "hidden" is debatable given that the restaurant usually has a line out the door. Once inside, I discovered that the space is endless. There are some smaller nooks, an upstairs area that is open on the weekends, and then a large catering hall for private events. The second time I visited Amy Ruth's, late on a Saturday morning, I brought my husband and friends, as I needed them to enjoy the same experience that I'd had. I loved every aspect of this restaurant. From the star-shaped paper lanterns hanging on the ceiling to the murals portraying well known African American figures — including President Obama, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Serena and Venus Williams — to the variety of ages and cultures sitting at the tables, and, of course, to the excellent Southern cuisine, the restaurant offers a memorable dining spot for everyone. The opening of Amy Ruth's in 1998 was inspired by Carl Redding's time spent down south visiting his grandmother during the summer months. He chose to stand by her side day in and day out as she prepared meal after meal for her adoring family. Years later, he decided to pay tribute to this wonderful woman by opening up his own restaurant and naming it after his beloved grandmother. This warm family feeling is transmitted to guests as soon as they arrive. Waiting to enter, we began speaking with some of the patrons who were raving about the food. I learned that they queue up almost every weekend for the chicken and waffles — and every other waffle combination imaginable. Needless to say, our meal also consisted primarily of waffles, most of us opting for the variety of fruit toppings, and it was perfect.
Crepe Master opened in November 2017. After a trip to Japan, owner Fumi wanted to bring the uniqueness of the country's crepes to Harlem. Unlike French crepes, the Japanese version is traditionally served in a cone — and a classic street food dish in populous cities throughout the country. Top recommendations include Chocobana, a sweet crepe comprised of banana, crushed chocolates, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, custard cream and almonds, the Suzette, a simple butter, sugar, lemon crepe, or any savory crepe with tofu.
Sojourner Coffee, located on W 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Frederick Douglass Boulevards in Harlem, is more than just a place to grab a fresh brew; it's a tale of a community coming together and a couple turning dreams into reality. When the previous coffee shop, Shuteye, closed its doors in September 2020, the neighborhood lost a cherished gathering spot. Locals Madison Ritter and James Miller live at 112th St and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and were regulars at Shuteye. Madison, a bartender, and James, a barista since 2008, felt the loss and saw an opportunity where others saw an end. The couple decided to use their savings — initially intended for an apartment — to invest in the community they loved and bring the coffee shop back to life. It wasn't just a business opportunity for them, but a way to fill a void that had been left by the pandemic. "It's been great. We love the neighborhood, we love our community. We have really wonderful regulars. One of 'em over there, Kendall's, one of our favorites, " Madison laughed with one of her mainstay customers. The team have got involved with local artists. When we were at the store, they were displaying the work of Emo Kiddo — and plan to continue with regular exhibitions. Barista Jacob Scherer said: "We've all got a bit of art in our background, so we feel it's important to use the space to contribute to that a little. "And what about the name? "A sojourner is a person who’s on a path, and they're taking a break on their journey, " said Madison.