The West Side’s Quirky Shops Still Live

Written by West Side Spirit on . Posted in News West Side Spirit, West Side Spirit.


By Helen Matsumoto and Amanda Woods
The Upper West Side’s retail landscape is always changing. Big stores edge out smaller ones on some blocks, while mom-and-pops thrive on others. We set out to find some of the quirkiest shops in the neighborhood.

Granny-Made
467 Amsterdam Ave., 212-496-1222,
grannymade.com
A little girl peered into the window of Granny-Made one morning, eyeing a stuffed giraffe wearing a tutu and dolls dressed in real baby clothes. The store’s owner, Michael Rosenberg, said it was not the first time children have gaped at the window.
The store’s supply of zippered cable-knit baby sweaters attracts many customers, said Rosenberg. He displayed one light blue sweater made by his grandmother, who he said was the inspiration for the store.
“We’re still a little old-school, but we like that about Granny-Made,” Rosenberg said.
Woven alphabet wall hangings—which have become favorite baby gifts—also adorn the front of the store.
Granny-Made sells unique, handmade quilts, including one embroidered with characters from the Paddington and Thomas the Tank Engine stories. The store is distinctively New York—cardigans with images of the city’s skyline and yellow taxi booties are also stand-out items.
“There are much fewer stores like this one,” Rosenberg said. “Big box stores are coming in. But we will always have people who want specialty.”

Olde Good Things
450 Columbus Ave., 212-362-8025,
ogtstore.com
At Olde Good Things, the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” is put into practice. At this store, a former ceiling or floor, repurposed, makes a great table. Old motorcycle chains can be used to make decorative lettering. And why throw away 60-year-old school chairs? They can find a new home in someone’s house.
“I would hope that customers walk out with a renewed sense of the scarcity of our natural resources,” said Joe Stren, the store’s manager. “We’ve become a nation of waste.”
In the store, a mirror made of an old window from the Flatiron Building is for sale. A French chandelier from the 1870s that used to adorn an all-girls school in Long Island hangs from the ceiling. Customers can buy an old mantel recovered from the Plaza Hotel or railings from old Brooklyn brownstones.
The store also sells a few new items, such as a fiberglass carousel horse that was originally brown but was repainted with colorful patterns. It is an exercise in preserving the past—even when the past takes on a new form.

Blades  
156 W. 72nd St., 212-787-3911, blades.com
In 1990, just a few years after Rollerblade came out with the inline skates that began that decade’s rollerblading craze, Blades opened its doors on 72nd Street between Broadway and Columbus—just in time for the grunge era to hit Manhattan. Before Blades, no store had existed on the Upper West Side that sold rollerblades, skateboards and the skater-style casual clothing to match.
Throughout the ’90s, Blades provided Upper West Side teenagers with baggy pants, sneakers and, of course, rollerblades. But as the store became more and more established, it began to attract adults and families looking for a new, fun way to exercise and spend time together. Located just a block away from Central Park, Blades kept the loop filled with rollerbladers and skateboarders young and old.
Today, the newly renovated store bears no suggestion of Blades’ 22-year history. The clothes on the racks have gotten pricier (but are still reasonable), the rollerblades are more high tech and the skateboard display would make any enthusiast’s eyes glaze over. But behind the brightly lit counters filled with sports watches and accessories and the wall of trendy hats, Blades is an Upper West Side staple that has shaped both youth fashion and uptown outdoor life for over two decades.

Town Shop
2273 Broadway, 212-787-2762,
townshop.com
Town Shop operates on a single concept: 80 percent of women wear the wrong bra size, according to Danny Koch, the store’s owner.
“If your breasts are closer to your navel than they are to your chin, you need a new bra,” Koch said. His family business has been operating in its current location since 1936.
“My grandmother really went out of her way to teach me why it’s such a special place, to make sure that the concept that she put forward—which was a store that was based in old-fashioned customer service—was still going to be intact in the Upper West Side, because while it’s good to make some money in your business, it’s better to make your customers happy,” said Koch.
Bras in the store range from sizes AA to K, and employees help even the most well-endowed find the perfect fit.
Town Shop can do about 60 alterations for the same style bra, Koch said. Some of those styles are nontraditional—they have memory-foam bras, an anti-sweat sports bra and a bra with clear straps in the center, to name just a few. The store’s bras range from $42 to $168, Koch said, most of them in the $60-$78 range.
“There’s an old adage that you’re not supposed to try to be all things to all people, but at the Town Shop, we still try,” Koch said.

Off Broadway Boutique
139 W. 72nd St., 212-724-6713,
boutiqueoffbroadway.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Between the upscale eateries and swanky stores of West 72nd Street lies the Off Broadway Boutique, a quirky and often overlooked gem of the Upper West Side.
“I was a dancer, model and actress, and I didn’t want to be skinny anymore, but I loved fashion,” says the store’s founder, Lynn Dell, in her quick New York voice. “So what can you do that’s more wonderful than opening a store?”
Like its owner, the Off Broadway Boutique is eccentric and over the top—passing by on the street, the mannequins draped in colorful wraps of fabric adorned with extravagant hats and bold jewelry give you a glimpse of what lies behind the doors. Catering to older, plus-sized women, the store orders and manufactures clothes from all over the world and sells vintage designer pieces.
But don’t think you can walk in to find the same pieces every season. “I make very few things, because everything is special,” said Dell.
For 41 years, Dell’s mission has been to bring “‘Glamour’—that’s glamour with a capital G” to Upper West Side women. “We have had people who have been customers for 41 years now—sadly, some of them are starting to move to Florida. But people in the neighborhood love it; the theater people also love the vintage section in the back,” Dell said.

Soutine Bakery
104 W. 70th St., 212-496-1450, soutine.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Soutine aptly describes itself as a “small corner of Paris in New York City.” Tucked away on 70th Street just off of Columbus in a tiny store barely big enough for the display counter, Soutine bakes some of the most delicious French pastries and breads on the Upper West Side—arguably in Manhattan.
Just a few skilled bakers turn out the array of tarts, cakes, cookies and breads that are prepared fresh daily. Flowered wedding cakes that taste just as good as they look decorate the shelves as examples for the many couples who come to buy their cake there.
In the early 1980s, owners Madge and the late Barry Rosenberg opened Soutine, which has remained one of the few mom-and-pop bakeries on the Upper West Side—many have been put out of business by bakeries like Magnolia or Crumbs. But nothing can beat the quality you will find at Soutine. Their goods retain the warm taste of homemade treats while incorporating the refinement of French cooking. Standing in the tiny modest store, one can almost imagine looking out the glass windows to see the cobblestoned streets of Paris.

Himalayan Crafts
2007 Broadway, 212-787-8500,
himalayancraft.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Walking into Himalayan Crafts is like stepping off the city streets and into an international oasis. Buddha statues from Indonesia and Nepal adorn the back of the store, Bhutanese animal masks—some with long horns and large teeth—border the wall and the fragrance of incense permeate the room.
Shozo Miyahara, the store’s owner, lived in Nepal for many years, where he said locals did not have a place to sell their crafts. With that in mind, Miyahura conceived Himalayan Crafts, which he opened in 1991, as a place to sell Nepali items.
Most of the store’s selection is handmade, Miyahura said. Carved wooden jewelry boxes sit atop a table in the center of the store. Some items come from Handwork of India, a not-for-profit organization that employs women and people with disabilities. The store is also stocked with fair trade handbags, jewelry made from old African and Italian glass beads and prayer beads for the Hindu and Buddhist faithful.

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