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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nothing Small Minded about Small Business

Recently I read an article by Joanna Molloy and that articleSmall-business owners say their plans can't be confined by city's tiniest work spaces, has caused me to I post this as a follow-up. Molloy writes,"Big-box stores may be all the rage in suburbia, but in this recession some canny business people have been running what could best be described as thimble stores."

Molloy then describes a few small business owners who are giving "new meaning to the term small business." She delineates the measurements of selected shop owners, including those whose "thimble store" measures 5.5 feet wide by 9 feet long, and another that measures 4 feet by 4.5 feet. These stores are located on Harrison Street and Warren Street respectively. In my neighborhood (the Upper West Side of Manhattan), there are a number of "thimble stores," and älskling, at 228 Columbus Avenue is one of them.

However, since it measures 8 by 24 feet, äskling might be considered the "big-box" store of the thimbles. äskling is a boutique, owned by Vivianne Tvilling, where she sells women's clothing and accessories. There is not much room to try on clothes, or to have a seamstress pin them for alterations in her store, yet Tvilling brings another dimension to Molloy's small business article.

When Tvilling's "neighbor," Maya Schaper, sole proprietor of
The West Side Cheese Company (located at 228-A Columbus Avenue, one door south of Tvilling's äskling) was forced out of her shop this past October (two weeks before she'd intended to leave because of an inability to earn enough revenue for the $4,000.00 rent), Tvilling reached out to help Schaper, who was no stranger to business struggles.

While Schaper's  shop, 
The West Side Cheese Company, had the same dimensions as äskling, it was a  substantial downsize in space of Schaper's "famous" Maya Schaper Cheese and Antiques shop, which sold antiques and cheese. It had been located around the corner and two blocks south from äskling, on West Sixty-Ninth Street. That shop of Schaper's was used in the film, You've Got Mail, where it was converted into a bookstore for the story-line of that movie, which ironically addressed an attempted closing of a small business. Schaper's shop became somewhat of an icon because of the movie.

Unfortunately, it was not enough of an icon for Schaper's Sixty-Ninth Street shop to remain in business, and after trying many things to keep that shop afloat (renting part of the space to other proprietors to have their shop within hers, and
trying to convert it into a café), Schaper closed it in January of 2009.

I know Maya Schaper personally, and she is full of perseverance. It was not surprising to see her find a location eight months later in the late summer of 2009 — the "thimble store" next door to äskling. It was quite a downsize in space, but Schaper found a way to have both her antiques and array of cheeses in her new shop, The West Side Cheese Company. However, once there, Schaper had to downsize her downsize , which she did this past summer, by eliminating the sale of cheese altogether, and selling only antiques - even though her shop was called The West Side Cheese Company.

Ultimately none of the downsizing helped Schaper to stay in business, and so this past October 24th and October 31st, after she'd been forced out early she was help by her "neighbor" Tvilling. Tvilling did this by hosting an event in äskling's small quarters, where she served wine and appetizers, and invited her clients to browse and encouraged them to buy Schaper's remaining inventory of antiques, which Tvilling allowed to be put in äskling's small quarters. Many of Maya's antiques overwhelmed the clothing that äskling sells as you might imagine, but can also see for yourself, in the photo posted at the top of this entry which was taken by Tvilling.

The point to this post, however, is not whether Schaper's antiques overwhelmed Tvilling's women's and children's clothing; rather, it is to say that even in a deep recession, where a small business is likely to be losing revenue, one small business owner reached out to another almost in solidarity - even in a "thimble store's" constraints.

Moreover, just as "small-business owners say their plans can't be confined by city's tiniest work spaces," street vendors such as Helen, (whose business is Gifts by Helen) are also persevering.

Helen vends outside (not even in a "thimble store"), a block and a half north of äskling. She is there in all types of weather, selling beautiful hand-made gifts comprised of all natural materials such as this frame (posted below) which is beautifully hand-crafted with snake-like dried dark seedpods. The corners are covered with the dried brown leaves of the Waru tree.

As an artist, with a small business of my own, I don't even have a "thimble store," and due to New York City vending laws cannot set up shop on the street. However, I still support small businesses whenever I can. I've used Helen's "journals" (which are made of natural materials such as those seen in this photo-frame) to use as guest registry books at exhibitions of both my Kaleidoscopic and Black and White photography. This use of Helen's journals can be seen in the image (taken at my one woman show at The Borough of Manhattan President's Gallery) below, and my prints can now be viewed as well as purchased via my web-site.

And as a writer and gardener, I've used Helen's mini journals,

to keep notes on various projects. Helen sells an array of journals which can be viewed here, or you can find her vending at Columbus Avenue and Seventy-Second Street on the Northwest side. She is there Tuesdays through Fridays as well as Sundays from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and her table is usually "parked" slightly south of a blue van as seen in the photo below:

Helen is also available to meet with people by appointment. To do this please phone 212.362.3756, and for security reasons, please mention you read about her on my blog. Like Tvilling in her reaching out to Maya Schaper, Helen reaches out to comrades in need. On most days, you will find hand-painted rocks bearing an extraordinary likeness to various cats. I will post something about these works of art on November 13, 2010, at which time I will have photographs of the creations which are done by the artist Phyllis Alden. Helen shares her vendor's table with Alden; as Tvilling did with her tiny shop helping Schaper.

Tvilling and Helen's small businesses contribute to an integral part of the Upper West Side, as I am certain the businesses that Molloy discusses in her article do for their respective "hoods" — Small businesses give New York City its color: Nothing Small Minded about Small Businesses.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Helen, sole proprietor of Gifts by Helen, passed away in December of 2014, and at the time, I announced it on Facebook. Her business is closed. My entries about her will remain in honor of her legacy.

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