There’s more to the Big Apple’s retail scene than Macy’s, Bloomingdales and the designer haunts loved by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. In fact, New York shopping should be on your agenda even if you’re not a fashion fan, because there are some excellent specialist shops to discover on your travels. I’ve picked two of my new favourite niche stores not to be missed.
The Fountain Pen Hospital
With sixty years of pen repairs under its belt, this is a thriving business and a fascinating place to explore. It has survived relocation and the ups and downs of the economy, and is now run by the third generation of the Wiederlight family, brothers Terry and Steve. Inside its doors you can pick up a posh rollerball, browse the latest pen catalogue and check out limited edition fountain pens at well over the $1000 mark. As the ‘hospital’ name indicates, your pens can be repaired in store, and the staff really do know their stuff.
My so-expensive-the-prices-aren’t-even-listed top picks come from a brand called Krone, which made the Apollo 11 Kapton Foil Krone pen from Apollo 11 spaceship remains, and offers other designs to celebrate HMS Victory, Harry Houdini, and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
In fact, another style of the Krone Abraham Lincoln pen contains the great man’s powdered and crystallised DNA, taken from actual strands of his hair and embedded in amethyst. In case you missed it: THIS PEN CONTAINS ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DNA. For a much cheaper price bracket, try the multi-tasking Tool 60 ballpoint pen ($40), which doubles as a ruler, spirit level, screwdriver and stylus.
The shop’s Tribeca location means many customers are willing to spend that bit more to get the perfect writing instrument. However, if your pockets aren’t that deep, the Fountain Pen Hospital is still an essential stop for any self-confessed stationery nerds (much like Papersmiths in Bristol). However, it’s also interesting from a tech-free, analogue perspective: why have fountain pens endured? Why do we keep spending money on them when the stylus and the index finger demand to be used on gadgets?
I guess it’s about personality: injecting a little of ourselves into our writing. After all, handwriting analysis is still big business – you learn about a person from their writing style. Putting pen to paper feels more honest than typing on a keyboard and it gets more done, as you can’t be distracted by the Internet when it’s just you and your notebook. You have more of a focus and become better at editing your work.
I have my sister to thank for tracking this gem down. Fishs Eddy (no apostrophe – it’s named after a town in upstate New York) also has a specialism: quirky kitchenware. Not for this store the utilitarian plate and the boring glass jar. Yes, there are times when a bit of Ikea neatness or Scandi cool is all that’s called for, but this is a distinctive alternative, full of pop culture references.
Hot-foot it to the political merchandising display where you can scribble down who you’re voting for in the US elections. Pick up a Hillary Clinton souvenir, an Obama finger puppet or a collection of Donald Trump-isms in the style of Mao’s Little Red Book. Nothing is eye-wateringly expensive, either.
You can also buy sarcastic ceramics (a dish that says ‘Here’s your snack, dumbass’; a range of intervention-based bowls), learn to speak Brooklynese (a dishcloth labelled ‘Dish clawth’ or a butter dish labelled ‘buttah’), or channel your inner artist with a paint palette coaster.
Meanwhile, celebrity lines range from Alan Cumming’s ‘Club Cumming’ tumblers (supporting the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS charities) to Amy Sedaris’ ‘I Like You’ cake sprinkles. Basically the whole shop is unusual and fun, showing there’s more to life than sensible dinnerware. These pieces are conversation starters.
If you’re in the UK with no chance of a New York trip on the horizon, shop a range of their products at Liberty, London. Café Liberty even uses the brand’s ‘While you were out’ ceramic trays to place customers’ bills on tables.
Do you have a favourite New York shopping recommendation? Send me your tips – I’d love to read them!
Visiting Notes: the Fountain Pen Hospital (10 Warren Street, just off Broadway) is open Monday-Friday, 07:30-17:30.
Fishs Eddy (899 Broadway, corner of E 19th Street, Flatiron District) is open daily: Monday-Thursday 09:00-21:00, Friday-Saturday 09:00-22:00, Sunday 10:00-20:00. Find a smaller selection of products at West Elm stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan.