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New York is independent

Nestled among nationwide chains and cookie-cutter development complexes, these indie shops find ways to survive and surpass.

By Jaime Jordan
Photographs by Jeff Gurwi

Harriet’s Alter Ego,
boutique/gallery/slumber party

293 Flatbush Ave between Prospect Pl and St. Marks Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (718-783-2074)

“We try to be more than just a clothing store. We try to be relevant in everyday life; our customers come in to have a good time. We have sewing and belly-dancing classes. To open our space to the community, we have an art gallery where we feature emerging artists. The whole social-networking thing is also really important. We have Facebook and MySpace pages, and we’re on Twitter. Last February, we had a sleepover in the store, and we did makeovers and watched movies. We try to be interesting and different.”—Ngozi Odita, co-owner (far left, with co-owner Hekima Hapa)

NEXT: Poseidon Bakery»

Poseidon Bakery,
family-run Greek pastry shop

629 Ninth Ave between 44th and 45th Sts (212-757-6173)

“The key these days is to buy the building and let the business pay the mortgage. Landlords want four times the rent because that’s what everyone else is getting in the neighborhood. There’s no, ‘Oooh, you’ve been here for 20 years, so we’re gonna cut you a deal.’ But really, how many candies or sandwiches or cartons of milk can you sell? Mom-and-pop stores just can’t do it. We’ve been here for 85 years. If my family didn’t own the building, I couldn’t survive here. As much as I’d want to stay, as much as people want us here, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”—Paul Fable, owner

NEXT: Jimmy’s Corner»

Jimmy’s Corner,
local’s beer den

140 W 44th St between Sixth Ave and Broadway (212-221-9510)

“We’re the opposite of the other businesses in the neighborhood. Our business is small and we’ve been here a long time—36 years. We’re located in midtown, where most places don’t have character. But we do. Most of our business comes from regulars, but since we’re near Times Square, we also get some tourists. The tourists always come back the next time they’re in town. We’re successful because we’re the all-American bar. Wherever you come from, this place feels like home.”—Swannie Glenn, co-owner (and wife of Jimmy)

NEXT: Russ & Daughters»

Russ & Daughters,
purveyors of smoked fish and nostalgia

179 E Houston St between Allen and Orchard Sts (212-475-4880)

“Now that there are new luxury condos and hotels in the area, there are new people, too. The more the neighborhood loses iconic shops and businesses, the more people look to us to continue to provide them with some kind of link to the history and culture of the Lower East Side. If anything, we’ve seen people develop even more of an emotional attachment to us, and not just people who have been here for 50 years. Every generation makes our business their own, even the hipsters. The experience that you get here is dramatically different from a larger place: the sense of history, community, character, intimacy. You can’t get that in a big-box store.”—Niki Russ Federman (with co-owner Joshua Russ Tupper), both fourth-generation owners.

NEXT: The Evolution Store»

The Evolution Store,
natural-history shop

120 Spring St between Greene and Mercer Sts (800-952-3195)

“We’ve been in business for 15 years. Part of the key to our success is that we’re a niche store. We sell natural-history specimens, and there aren’t really a lot of places in New York that do what we do. We lucked out enormously with our location because we’re dead center in Soho. We haven’t been priced out, thanks to an incredibly great landlord and pure luck. The location is very important to our business because we get a lot of walk-by business, thanks to the replica skeleton hanging outside the store and the enormous window filled with skeletons and fossils.”—Alex Minott, store manager

NEXT in Essentials 2008: New York is connected Creative groups often center around a specific person or place, making it easy to get involved.»


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