I heard that one of my favorite independent booksellers had just opened on 48th Street, and I was eager to go and check it out. It’s certainly happy news when a bookstore opens. For many years Doubleday, Scribner’s, and Barnes and Noble had brick and mortar stores lining Fifth Avenue, offering “a cerebral antidote to Tiffany’s glitter and Bergdorf’s finery,” as the Times put it. And we can’t forget the great NY Bound Bookshop in the lobby of 50 Rockefeller Plaza, which closed its doors in 1997. Let’s hope the late Fred Bass of the legendary Strand Book Store was right when he once said, ”As far as we’re concerned there are no dark days of New York bookstores.”
McNally Jackson certainly seems to be on a roll. And these days, other small independent retailers of all sorts are growing, too. Some are opening with new concepts; others are direct to consumer businesses that have prospered without premises that are finally ready to make it in New York. Well, why not?! Creativity is always welcome in this town.
It was with great delight that I walked into the new McNally Jackson book store. The privately owned bookseller has been opening new stores around the city. And this new iteration is built over two floors, offering many items of interest. It was also full of browsers on a weekend afternoon.
There are not a lot of walls in the store. Bookcases divide the space into rooms filled with books on any given subject. At the entrance sits a large table filled with new non-fiction titles, and another with fiction. The books on the shelves are grouped into subjects.
The space for children’s books offers seating next to windows, which makes exploring different subjects fun and easy (to read).
Fiction and non-fiction are found on both floors. You’ll need to do some nosing around to find the sections that interest you. But then, that is part of the fun.
Upstairs houses more book-lined rooms where there is a large section of artist’s monographs and books on art and design, romance, and science Fiction. This particular table is filled with novels.
Around the corner is a section filled with books on women’s studies. music and poetry. Literature is divided into sections by country — American, African, Spanish and Portuguese and more.
Back downstairs, a large space is devoted to the art of writing. McNally Jackson operates several stores called Goods For The Study that offer similar merchandise, including all sorts of pens and pencils, luxurious papers and bound books, and notepapers. Greeting cards are also located here. For a jolt of creativity or a just a courteous thank you note, look no further.
McNally Jackson, 1 Rockefeller Plaza
Armando Cabral Mercado is located a few blocks away. Born in Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Cabral worked as a model around the world while studying business in London. He eventually moved to New York and in 2008 decided to start his own footwear brand. The shop features his fashionable footwear, and also invites other designers to do pop-ups.
The made-in-Italy shoes, leather accessories and jewelry are all designed and produced by Armando Cabral. The designs are modern. Fellow African creators provide the clothing and art that fill the space.
Shoes are displayed on a sculpture that was inspired by the designer’s own head.
Colorful clothing sits in different areas of the open boutique. Many of the pieces are Afro-centric luxury items and you will only find them in this store.
Other designers offer tailored looks that work well with the brand’s shoes.
And some of the pieces have a serious sense of humor. The boutique is a good mix of “a little of this and a little of that.” Since the pop-ups are constantly rotating, there will be new drops of clothing and art in the near future.
Armando Cabral, 70 West 50th Street
Bembien started producing bags in Bali in 2016. The small female owned company prospered and grew, adding more styles and new colors. The workshops in Bali do everything by hand. The bags are organic and real. And well made.
The artisan community of weavers also did the lampshades and the wall scounces. They have perfected many kinds of weaves that give the bags a one-of-a-kind feel.
As well as bags, many of the home accessories are for sale. The bags aso come in more natural colors and color combinations.
There are many sizes and shapes of bags. Totes, from pocket-sized to large, crossbody and shoulder bags, and more. There is a ton to choose from, all of it chic.
As the collection grows, new styles are always being added. The prices are very reasonable for bags made by hand. And a part of the profits go to support the communities where the weaving is done.
With spring (almost here!) and summer coming, the bags have a special relevance. A simple outfit will always look special with these bags — in the city, country, or at the beach.
Bembien, 52 West 50th Street
On the same street you will find Hill House Home, founded in 2016. Bedding was the first category sold, followed by clothing and lounge-wear for women, kids clothing, bags and shoes. The original store was on Bleecker Street, but Rockefeller Center is now home.
Hill House is known for its casual “nap dress” stressing comfort and practicality. There are lots of Mummy and Me looks as well. The same shapes are repeated in new prints all year long.
The prints are mostly small scale florals and archival prints, although there are checks, plaids and solids. The bedding comes in prints as well. Jewelry is another new category, seen in the boxes on the table.
Sheets are on display on the shelves along with duvets and throws (monograming is available). Shoes come in platform styles and as slides.
Canvas bags come in prints and solids. Dog toys are made from fabric scraps from the production of bags like the pet tote above. Everything has a clean and preppy feel made for family style living.
Hill House, 60 West Fiftieth Street
Wander into 30 Rockefeller Plaza and head down to the Rink level. There are a few stylish restaurants near the rink, and many fast food places. There are also a select groups of shops offering interesting novelties. Apotheke is one of them. This home boutique, started by a Brooklyn native, carries its own range of vegan scented products. The first soaps were made in the owner’s kitchen.
There are scented lotions, liquid and bar soap, and lots of candles. There are nine base scents, including Charcoal, Sea Salt Grapefruit, Earl Grey Bitters, Amber Wood, and others. Candles come in many shapes and sizes, with multiple wicks. All the products are made by hand in their Brooklyn factory.
Other items include scented infusers, different kinds of glassware, vases, fun things for the kitchen, olivie oils, vinegars and honey, and lots of books on different subjects.
It is a surprise find in the heart of corporate New York. And the artisinal approach makes this boutique even better. Hand made and well priced, you really can’t go wrong.
Apotheke, C005 Rink Level, 30 Rockefeller Plaza
Another shop sells 0% alcohol wines and spirits. Yep, you read that correctly. Boisson sells wine, sparkling wines, whisky, gin, rum, tequila, aperitives, digestives and botanical drinks that are all sans alcohol. The wines and spirits are fermented, then de-alcoholized. The tastes remain, but not the kick.
The wines are vacuum distilled, meaning they are heated while under vacuum pressure. The alcohol burns off at a much lower temperature so that the taste of the grapes and the soil remain. Sparkling wines sometimes have carbon dioxide added. Wines that were never fermented are pretty much just grape juice with water and sugar. Some wines are also de-alcoholized using reverse osmosis.
This rack held bottles from Long Island’s Wolffer Estate. Most of the other brands I did not recognize. The sales person was happy to explain the process in some detail. Boisson has other stores around Manhattan and Brooklyn, L.A. and San Francisco, and has just opened in Miami.
The company worked with Heineken to brew a serious zero % alcohol beer with real Heineken taste. I found the Phony Negroni amd Armaro Falso amusing. Herb-based beverages have an entire section and of course, being thoroughly modern, there are cannabis-based brands. If you did Dry January the old fashioned way, next year Boisson may have the goods for you.
Boisson, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Concourse Level
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.