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MAKING IT - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


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MAKING IT

Making It | Petra Olivieri of Raul’s Candy Store


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Raul’s Candy Store.

RaulCandyMelvin Felix

Some major changes are coming to Loisaida: Avenue D is getting luxury rentals as well as a pizzeria from Kim’s Video. But around the corner from where La Isla recently shuttered, Raul’s Candy Store holds down fort. The bodega is no stranger to changes: it opened in 1976 at 190 Avenue D, then moved to 208 Avenue B about five years later. Now it’s a few doors down at 205 Avenue B – a sign in the window reading “Absolutely No Drugs or Hanging Out” harkens back to an earlier era. The Local spoke, in Spanish, to Petra Olivieri, wife of owner Raul Santiago (they’re celebrating their 45th anniversary this year).

Q.

When did you move to this location?

A.

I can’t remember. But between there and here, we’ve been in business 35 years. We used to pay $100 for rent when we were at Avenue D. Then it started going up: $200, $300. Here, we now pay $2,400. So we have to sell a lot more. Read more…


Making It | Phil Hartman of Two Boots, Celebrating 25 Years Tonight


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Two Boots.

Two Boots owner PhilMelvin Felix

Tonight, Two Boots celebrates its 25th anniversary with an outdoor concert hosted by Luis Guzman and featuring performances by the Sierra Leone Refuge All-Stars, circus acts, live painters, poets from the Nuyorican and more. So we talked to the pizza and film chain’s maverick owner and community builder, Phil Hartman, about how he’s kept his Avenue A shop running while watching his other businesses open, close and relocate.

Q.

In the East Village and Lower East Side, you’ve endured some losses alongside your business triumphs.

A.

We closed the Two Boots on Grand Street but that one was never supposed to stay open long. It was in a location too close to the East Village one. We also moved a location from Rock Center to Hells Kitchen. That was a cool move into a great funky environment. A big loss for me was when we closed down Mo Pitkins. The Pioneer Theater closing down was another one. Losing it was hard. We’d invested a lot into it. I used to say the Pioneer ate 40,000 slices of pizza a year at $2.50 a slice, so it was expensive to keep it going. I wish we could have kept it, but our lease ran out. Read more…


Making It | Evelyn McCue of Doggie Dearest


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doggie dearestMelvin Felix Evelyn McCue.

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Doggie Dearest.

Back in college Evelyn McCue’s career plan was to be a veterinarian. When she became pregnant with her son, her career took a different turn. “Instead of becoming a veterinarian, I made one myself,” Ms. McCue joked about about her son’s career as a neurological veterinarian. But after years teaching English as a second language and bartending, she revisited her love of animals and opened Doggie Dearest at 543 East Fifth Street. Ms. McCue said her boutique dog grooming business was the first of its kind in the neighborhood, and for nearly 19 years she’s groomed roughly eight dogs a day, three days a week. The Local spoke with Ms. McCue about the popularity of the pet industry, the weirdest creature she’s ever brushed, and why poodle owners can be so strange.

Q.

How did you end up in the dog grooming business?

A.

I was on the phone, sitting on hold and flipping through the Yellow Pages when I saw an ad for a grooming school. I called them and somehow it turned out perfectly. At first it would just going to be a cool hobby. But lo and behold, it turned out I am really good at it! Read more…


Making It | George and Ryan Figlia of Figlia & Sons.


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Figlia & Sons.

IMG_1025Melvin FelixRyan Figlia with employee Leonard “Lee” Hills.

If he could, 23-year-old Ryan Figlia would spend the steamiest summer days cooling off atop his surfboard, rather than helping run the air-conditioning sales and service business his grandfather started nearly 50 years ago on Avenue A. But his brother is off in Florida – “he’s pursing a golf career and a girlfriend,” Ryan explained – and his father will eventually hand over the family business, now located at 746 East Ninth Street. “My plan is to retire and for him to send me a check every week,” said Ryan’s father, George, “but first this guy has to start making me some money already!” Actually, business has tripled in the last year, according to Ryan: this summer they’ll install a record 5,000 cooling units around the city. We asked the father-and-son team why they aren’t sweating the economy.

Q.

At 23, you are pretty new to this.

A.

Ryan: I started three or four years ago and started developing a company that mainly focuses on cooling the lobbies in the buildings that we already do the residential for. The market for commercial air-conditioning is a lot bigger than residential. So far it’s doing all right. That’s what I want to focus on growing and do more. Read more…


Making It | Grace Kang of Pink Olive


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Pink Olive.

Grace Kang spent her early career as a buyer for fashion retailers like Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks. “People thought I would open a fashion clothing store,” she said, “but I am into doing the unexpected.” Five years ago, she opened Pink Olive, a gift shop stocked with charming treasures at 439 East Ninth Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A. It did so well that she opened a second location in Park Slope. She told us how she’s managed to make it.

Q.

Why did you choose the East Village?

A.

The East Village has always felt like home to me. It’s my favorite neighborhood because it is low-key and full of unexpected finds. That’s what Pink Olive is all about, too: character with hidden gems. The East Village has the kind of vibe I wanted for my store. Read more…


Making It | Keshav Das of Keshav Music


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Keshav Music Imports.

P1040075Shira Levine Keshav Das

During his forty-six years as a professional musician, Keshav Hunter (known to most as Keshav Das) has played with the likes of Sting, Jeff Buckley, and Alice Coltrane. He also spent twelve years touring with Krishna Das and playing with him at the Jivamukti Yoga School. “Everywhere we went people would say, ‘Hey man, where can we get a harmonium?'”, said the 59-year-old. Finally, he decided to open a store where fellow musicians could shop for Indian instruments or just sit around and play them while sipping chai and smoking beedies. Nearly eight years after Keshav Music Imports moved from its namesake’s Suffolk Street apartment to a 300-square-foot space at 67 East Fourth Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery, the owner is still plucking away at sitars as well as selling and repairing them. We asked him how he’s managed to make it.

Q.

Your store seems to be doing well. Why do you think that is?

A.

Musicians and artists are always looking for a new flavor. People in general are looking to fill a hole. Some people fill it with music. Some people fill it being on the Internet. Some people fill it with sex, some with drugs. I fill it with music and find people with the same thinking. Read more…


Making It | Igor Iskiyev of Igor’s Clean Cuts


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Igor’s Clean Cuts.

Igor Iskiyev, Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov of Igor's Clean CutsShira Levine Igor Iskiyev tends to a customer while Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov looks on.


Five years ago Igor Iskiyev left his gig cutting hair at Neighborhood Barber on East Ninth Street and became commissar of his own chop shop at 20 First Avenue. The Azerbaijan native had dabbled with hair-cutting back home after serving as an anti-aircraft gunman. Igor’s reputation for detail and perfection precedes him: good Yelp reviews, affordable prices ($15 for a haircut, $15 for a shave) and, let’s face it, the occasional offer of a beer have been key to his success. The Local recently spoke with Mr. Iskiyev and his right-hand man, Imanuel (Manny) Ibragimov about Mr. Iskiyev’s decision to go solo and his distaste for small talk.

Q.

How is business?

A.

Igor: Right now it is slow, but not very bad. It was not good in 2008. Customers didn’t come as much. Some moved because they couldn’t afford to stay. We didn’t see many of our old customers for a while. Read more…


Making It | Shirley and Rebecca Solomon of Pageant Print Shop


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Pageant Print Shop.

pageantLauren Carol SmithRebecca Solomon

It’s been nearly two decades since Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey perused the Pageant Book Shop for a copy of E. E. Cummings in “Hannah and her Sisters,” but the store’s history goes back farther than that. In 1946, Sidney B. Solomon and Henry “Chip” Chafetz joined the ranks of Book Row, a stretch of mom-and-pop bookshops along Fourth Avenue from St. Marks Place to 14th Street. One of Mr. Solomon’s two daughters, Shirley, took over after her father died and then moved the store to West Houston Street after a rent hike in the 1990s.

Pageant became an online-only enterprise in 1999, only to reopen at 69 East Fourth Street after Shirley’s sister Rebecca moved back to the city. Nearly seven years later, the siblings are still selling hard-to-find items, though now maps and prints rather than rare books. “Some are old, some are very old, some are very, very old,” said Shirley during a recent conversation with The Local.

Q.

How does a shop that sells old maps stay in business?

A.

Shirley: I focus on the unique and affordable. I have things from $1 to $100, to $1,000. There’s an original David Roberts lithograph that is $3,000 framed. We get lots of foot traffic and sell a lot of things in the $1 to $4 range, which adds up. Read more…


Making It | Linda Scifo-Young of Foot Gear Plus and Village Kids


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P1030888Shira Levine

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here are two of them: Village Kids and Foot Gear Plus.

While in high school, Tony Scifo worked part-time for a shoe guy. In 1980, at the tender age of 19, he bought Foot Gear, the shoe shop across the street at 131 First Avenue. Two and a half years ago, he and his big sister Linda Scifo-Young opened Village Kids, selling children’s kicks just a block away at 117 First Avenue. Ms. Scifo-Young used to work in corporate real estate, so she wasn’t scared of going into business during a financial crisis. “As a real estate broker, I knew that the only time I could get a decent lease for the second store was when the market was bad,” she said. The Local spoke to her at Village Kids about whether her gamble paid off.

Q.

What influences your business the most?

A.

The funny thing is that in actuality we’re in the weather business. If the weather cooperates, we’re good. If it’s cold when it’s supposed to be cold, then we have a good season. If it’s hot when it’s supposed to be hot, then we have a good season. If any of those things don’t work, you have no season. This year was hard with how the weather cooperated. Read more…


Making It | Rita Bobry of Downtown Yarns


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Downtown Yarns.

Rita Bobry of Downtown YarnsShira Levine

Before she started teaching people to knit, Rita Bobry owned a flower shop, but ultimately she found that the business was no bed of roses. “You have to deliver flowers. There are so many deadlines. There is a lot of stress and pressure,” she said. She sold the store and spent some time working for somebody else, until she decided she wanted to be her own boss again, partly to spend time with her new puppy, Frankie. The knitting enthusiast discovered a vacant space at 45 Avenue A and opened Downtown Yarns at 45 Avenue A. Eleven years later, she says she made the right choice, especially since her landlord still keeps her 300-square-foot space affordable.

Q.

I’ve walked down this block and never realized you were here. Given the possibility of others overlooking your charming little yarn shop, how do you think you’ve been able to make it all these years?

A.

We have a fair rent. We don’t have to struggle to meet our rent. I keep my expenses low so I can pay the rent and I can actually save money. Read more…


Making It | Jayant Patel and M. Aslam of Essex Card Shop


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Essex Card Shop

essexShira LevineM. Aslam (left) and Jayant Patel (right) outside of their store.

Twelve years ago, Jayant Patel came to the East Village for cheaper rent (yes, your read that correctly), after the monthly dues were hiked at his 12-year-old stationery store at 116th Street and Broadway. Back then, the rent in the city-owned building at 39 Avenue A was $3,500. It’s now $5,800, and the modest paper store has expanded to include items like printer cartridges, socks and baby clothes. Five years ago, Mr. Patel, who is Indian, partnered with M. Aslam, a Pakistani immigrant. Not only are the two of them making it at Essex Card Shop (and at their other store, Village Stationery on LaGuardia Place), but as Mr. Patel revealed to The Local, a movie is being made about his life story.

Q.

There is a lot of quirkiness in here, with thoughtful quotations you’ve pasted here on the counter. What is your philosophy on life?

A.

Mr. Patel: My philosophy is “truth, love, and honesty.” It’s universal. Trust is something everyone follows. If you are truthful then people will trust you. I see myself as Muslim, Hindu, Christian, all in one. If you’re nice to people, people are friendly. People in New York are good. New York is a tough town, but it’s full of good people if you stop and experience it. Life is hard and not always comfortable. Struggle makes you strong and I don’t mind it. Read more…


Making It | Grace Sull of Avenue A Laundry King


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Avenue A Laundry King.

P1030381Shira Levine

When Grace Sull, or, Eun Sook Han as she’s known to her Korean friends, had the first of her two daughters, she and her husband, a computer programmer, realized one income wasn’t enough. So she quit her job as a secretary at a travel agency and opened Avenue A Laundry King at 97 Avenue A. Twenty-one years later, she still loves what she does.

“It’s a very good business making people’s clothes clean, because we also clean their mind,” she told The Local. “I have no special skills, but I like doing laundry. It calms me; I like keeping things clean and organized for people. I like all these young people who come in, especially all the good-looking beautiful people, the handsome men and the beautiful models.” We asked the laundry queen to come clean about how she’s managed to make it all these years. Read more…


Making It | Paul Brickman of H. Brickman & Sons


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P1030373Shira Levine From left, Jason Brickman, his father, Paul Brickman, and in the backgroudn the store manager, Ruben.

For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: H. Brickman & Sons.

Want to stay in business for seventy-nine years in the East Village? H. Brickman & Sons at 55 First Avenue owe their success to two valuable business decisions that Great Grandpa Hyman Brickman made in 1933 when he opened the first location of the hardware store. First, be your own landlord. Second, keep it in the family. Now, the store has employed four generations of Brickmans, and has two other locations at 125 West Third Street and 312 First Avenue near 18th Street. Making It spoke to Brickman’s third generation owner, Paul, about keeping things familial and when it’s time to pass the torch.

Q.

How was it decided that this would be a family business?

A.

My grandfather ran it for three decades and then he had my father take it over in the 1960s. Business was too good to let it go. When my father retired about 17 years ago it was my turn. My cousin’s husband and I took it over. Now I’m grooming my son and my cousin’s son who will be the fourth generation to take over. Read more…


Making It: Hossein Amid of Gizmo


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Gizmo.

P1030248Shira Levine Hossein Amid

The notion of describing sewing accessories as “notions” is a rather antiquated one. But notions, like buttons, snaps, trimmings, seam rippers and collar-stays, are exactly what Hossein Amid has been selling to the East Village’s artists, D.I.Y. designers, and drag queens for 22 years. The trimmings and fabrics at his First Avenue shop, Gizmo, are particularly popular among casual costume designers. “Every year, Halloween is a big, busy time for me,” Mr. Amid told The Local. But how does Gizmo manage to make it the rest of the year?

Q.

You must really love to sew.

A.

Repairing this stuff is what I like doing. I have a mechanical background from when I lived in Iran. When we first opened in 1990, my wife did all the sewing, now she doesn’t. My work is helping people find what they need and repairing sewing machines. Read more…


Making It | Zoe Hansen of Manitoba’s


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly — or not so quietly — making it. Here’s one of them: Manitoba’s.

Zoe Hansen of Manitoba'sShira Levine Zoe Hansen

Since shutting down her two brothels in 2002, Zoe Hansen has refocused her hustle, using her entrepreneurial skills to bring some semblance of order to the punk rock bar Manitoba’s on Avenue B. Her husband, Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, may be the public face of the dive (he recently told The Local, “I’ve got to keep it going if just for one thing: I can’t let another Subway move in here”) but the husband and wife are very much a team. So much so that they’re shopping a reality show about their life in the East Village. We spoke with Ms. Hansen about sex, drugs, rock and roll, and… management?

Q.

You used to be a sex worker and ran a brothel. How did that prepare you for tending and running a bar?

A.

I ran and owned a brothel on Park Avenue and 23rd Street and another on Second Avenue and 22nd Street. It’s all good material for me now that I am a writer. It’s just business, so it wasn’t any different. It was about being there all the time to make sure things are happening and flowing. It was really an office environment. We had to keep up, creatively, with advertising and marketing. Read more…


Making It | Patti Kelly, Stained-Glass Artist


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For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Kelly Glass Studio and Gallery.

Photos: Vivienne Gucwa

Patti Kelly took a stained-glass making class at All by Hand Studio in Bay Ridge in 1976 and “took to it like a duck to water,” she said. After years of study, she opened her own Kelly Glass Studio and Gallery in Dumbo in 1989, then moved to St. Marks Place in 1992 and eventually settled at 368 East Eighth Street. Her pieces have made their way into the homes of John Leguizamo and Mary Lou Quinlan, and can be seen around the neighborhood – everywhere from a door panel at 243 East Seventh Street to the façade of the Cooper Union clock. We asked her how she’s managed to make it in the East Village for two decades.

Q.

How long have you been in the East Village?

A.

I came to the East Village in 1992. First I was at 29 St. Marks Place and there for two years before I moved to a bigger space on Essex between Stanton and Rivington. It was an old Jewish theater. The rent got too high so then I moved to Avenue C between Seventh and Eighth where I was for about 12 years until the rent was too much. I’d started at $1,800 a month and when I left it was $4,500 a month. Five years ago I moved here to East Eighth between Avenues C and D. This space was already an artist’s studio. He was a sculptor who moved to Mexico. Before that it was a hardware store. Read more…