My calves’ ache from the constant pounding I force them to do walking the sidewalks of Madison Avenue, Chelsea, Soho and the Meat Packing District. The cobblestones of Little Fourteenth Street have made blisters on my pinched little toes, but the pain in my feet is overshadowed by the pleasure of the visual stimulation of a city so filled with magic hiding around every corner. Sure you can still find the ubiquitous box stores that now stretch from continent to continent, but in New York you can still see the tiny specialty stores tucked into decades old niches in neighborhoods where people still call out from fourth story walk-ups to their boy friends on the street below.
Recession has brought the demise to many a mom & pop but not to all mini-enterprises in this city of retail wonders. For over twenty years I’ve stopped to listen to the click of the game clocks as pairs of combatants duel over a chess match in front of one of the two chess stores that stand in opposition to each other on either side of Sullivan Street. Stores dedicated to a single game still battling along sans a “going out of business” sign bolted over their moat protected doors.
Down the street a lady sits on the stoop outside the “Little Lebowski” teasing her cat with a feather on a stick. How does a store focused on the paraphernalia of one independent film continue to have a stoop where a lady with a feather can sit in the company of customers buying little look-alike figures of Jeff Bridges or t-shirts with sayings like, “You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus”.
If you go far enough North on Lexington Avenue there’s a store that sells nothing but model making supplies for models of ships and jet planes and racing cars, a place where kids and adults alike can buy miniature dreams of life-size obsessions.
Head into the Village where a little shop has specialized in portraits of man’s best friend for over a decade and across the street you’ll see an amber lit window filled with art glass from the fifties and sixties.
Then there’s the store in the West Village dedicated solely to cookbooks, still thriving against all odds from the stiff competition of Barnes & Noble and the virtual stores of the internet.
There are stores so small they are barely the width of a doorway and once inside you can touch both walls while standing in the middle.
There are stores on wheels selling cupcakes baked on site. Red velvet, mocha and aromatic banana spice lasso your nose and pull you to the wagon window. I don’t need a gun pointed to my head to force me to plunk down my three bucks for a taste of the city I wasn’t anticipating.
The ability of these entrepreneurs to pay the rent and succeed from spaces so small and so sweet gives me hope that retail isn’t dead as long as the passion exists.