Thursday, August 18, 2011



When we had our store, Mercantile, in Andes, New York we’d trek over to the piers and the Javits, lace up our running shoes, shove a bottle of spring water in our leather backpacks and start our mad dash through the aisles of fart cushions and coconut scented edible underwear. I hate the smell of coconut.
It wasn’t that money was no object but our time was more valuable then. We got to the point where we knew what we were looking for and where to find it in the miles of aisles known as the New York International Gift Fair. It wasn’t so much that we were irresponsible buyers; it was just easier to know what to buy with the clear concept of a country look with an emphasis on recycled vintage. The vendors with merchandise that fit into our store weren’t in abundance and they were relatively easy to see even at our whirling speed.
Those salad days of buying anything that struck our eye are gone and so is the youthful gait we were once capable of mastering as we bullet raced the show. This year we thought we could do the purchasing in two half days and have some time left to enjoy the city. Within the first morning it was clear our assessment of time was way out of whack. The gift fair now opens in segments. On Saturday the first part of the fair opened on Piers 94 and 92 and then in the lower level of the Javits. This part of the show would stay open until the following Wednesday afternoon.  The rest of the Javits opened on Sunday staying open until Thursday afternoon. I’m not sure of the significance of the staggered opening but if you’re there at the beginning and want to try to do the whole thing in a day you’re automatically screwed. We started our tour around ten on Saturday morning hitting Pier 94 first. This pier that houses the At Home segment always holds our biggest expectations and it didn’t disappoint. We had pre-registered  which made getting into the pier a breeze, no line to stand in, no forms to fill out, only a friendly attendant with a scanner zapping our barcodes and handing us our printed badges and lanyards.
Our first eye-catcher - Pillows. We found pillows, one of the things that topped our list. We found them in the first aisle we walked down. Tournaline Home is a relative start up with some of the most beautiful pillows we have seen. Sticking to our guns of cautious purchasing we stepped back from writing an order right off the bat. Instead we took cards and exchanged information but we were pretty sure we had found our source for well-priced feather-filled natural linen pillows. True to our instincts we did go back and place an order two day later.
Our next find was Soup. Here was a vendor you knew was destined to immediate success. The designers had worked on their craft at West Elm and now branched out on their own. They were so new they only had samples at the show and would place their orders with their manufacturers after the close of the show based on the amount of interest shown at the fair. Soup designs rugs, drapery, bedding sets and the most fantastic poof you could ever want. We caught them at the very beginning of the show, well before their heads would swell well beyond human proportions. Soup is one of those companies you’re going to want to keep an eye on. We held back on placing our order right there and then but there was no question we’d come back. When we did come back to place our order we had to stand in line behind the media people from O at Home, House Beautiful and HGTV as well as buyers from most of the biggies including ABC Carpet.
There was a TV commercial that came out around the time e-commerce started into its own. In the commercial there were a group of expectant 20-somethings gathered around a monitor. With a sigh one of them reaches forward and hits the launch button. Immediately they see 30 hits, then 3,000. Smiles across the board. Then you see 30,000 hits and then 300,000 as you watch the smiles turn to panic. I hope this isn’t the case with Soup. We’re counting on a December delivery and I can’t wait to put my feet up on that oh so cushy poof.
From Pier 94 we walked under the covered awning to Pier 92, the home of New York’s Newest. Last year our friends from Old Village Hall had taken a booth in this section. When I spoke to Scott he wasn’t very happy with their response. I didn’t believe him. I thought it would be filled with great inventive, new to the scene and never seen before products. Scott was right. What we found was not new, nor inventive and mostly “seen that done that” stuff you don’t really want to see again. I understood Scott’s frustration. Their product would have been lost amongst all the dime store trinkets and hardware store gadgets you couldn’t pay me to take a second look at or write out an order for. But, hidden on a side aisle was a small vendor selling bio-ethanol fueled ventless fireplaces. For those of you unaware of who we are; I’m from the north and Rick is from the south. We’re now living in the north where it gets cold. Rick starts to shiver sometime around late-August and doesn’t really stop until mid-July. Now that we have this new studio and retail store it’s going to require a fireplace or he won’t be coming in until the corn is knee high. I’m seeing one of these units from AnywhereFireplace in our near future because I can already hear his teeth start to chatter. We will be making these available to customers as well. 10% off if you can produce goosebumps in either May or August without the aid of air-conditioning or an ice cube.
On Saturday we managed to close down the piers. We weren’t sure we could do another marathon day on Sunday but the forecast was for torrential rain and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint. What better way to spend a day in the rain in a walking city than to do our walking in the ten miles of aisles stretching through the Javits Center. The only drawback being the Javits leaks like a sieve. You needed an umbrella inside almost as badly as you needed one outside. 
Our task here was to find gifts that would bridge our customer’s economic demographics. What we discovered were beautiful throws made from alpaca and woven paper. We purchased elegant candlesticks of polished nickel and marble, crystal perfume bottles and sterling serving pieces. We went into the show with a mission: to bring back responsible but elegant urban products that could grace any home.
Come the holiday season we should be well stocked with all your gift giving needs. We hope you all will stop in and warm your hands on our ventless fire come the fall and winter months.
By that time we should also have our supply of Bellocq’s hand-crafted teas in their yellow travel tins available for sale. A little bit of Kings Road London on hand for those icy winter days. In the meantime we’re here doing our design work and soaking our aching feet. 

What I tell every client at the start of a project, whether it’s one room or a full house, is before the first purchase whether it’s a pillow or a sofa, paint colors or floor covering, you’ve got to have a plan. If you start on a trip without a map you’re bound to get lost. Every design map should include furniture layouts to scale, color stories using fabric swatches and paint chips and concepts imagery culled from magazines or the net. One of the things that drives me crazy about many TV d-I-y shows is making their audience think they can just start knocking down walls with a sledge hammer without a roadmap or plan. That kind of designing usually ends in a dead-end called Money Pit Boulevard.


Nightview New York, 1932

By Berenice Abbott
Represented by Andrew Ward, Los Angeles

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