WHAT WE LOVE: A women’s vintage and accessories shop with appealing vignettes merchandised by color and theme. Edith Machinist offers an expertly edited selection of vintage goods that the modern woman can easily mix with her current wardrobe.
WHO: Vintage clothing and accessories aficionado, Edith Machinist, who has lent her unique name to her shop.
WHERE: Rivington Street in NYC’s creative Lower East Side since 2002. Locate Edith Machinist on TSK Maps NY.
What inspired you to open Edith Machinist? During college, I had a weekend booth selling vintage clothing and accessories at the now-defunct antique market on 25th Street and 6th Avenue called the Chelsea Market. The market was in its heyday then from the late ’90s to 2001, and it was a lively affair with vendors that were each more eccentric than the next with cool specialty items, and aisles that were always packed with shoppers. That market was my training ground as I moved my makeshift booth into a brick and mortar after college. I figured I was having modest success at the market, so why not continue for a little while, but I never imagined at the outset that I would own the shop for as long as I have. I opened the summer after 9/11, and the city was in a very fragile period with many storefronts emptied in lower Manhattan much as it is now during the pandemic. I wanted to be a small part of the return of a thriving creative downtown. Also, my desire to open an independent boutique was informed by my experiences as a young woman, because I frequented unique and small shops to discover my own style. I have always loved vintage, even as a young child, because it went hand in hand with the notion of collecting – not to mention the thrill of the hunt for beautiful pieces!
What makes Edith Machinist so unique? There is a heavy emphasis on merchandising stories that make pieces come alive, and help clients see their beauty. One of my shop mottos is that a lonely item sitting on a shelf can transform into something much more when it pairs with other pieces in a color story. The visual merchandising possibilites are endlessly exciting for me. So, I try to have every nook in the shop provide a little feast for the eyes with a moving visual story.
Shopkeeper Edith Machinist
What’s your favorite thing about being an independent shopkeeper? I love interacting with my customers. Having had the business for many years now, I’ve been able to follow and keep in touch with customers through stages of their lives. With some clients, there is a feeling that we have grown up together through the years, and the store “taste” has evolved along the way. I love that New York clients are some of the smartest and most stylish people anywhere, and they really appreciate individualistic dressing. They also keep you on your toes as a shopkeeper to constantly deliver the tightest, best line-up you can and aren’t afraid to give you their feedback and two cents. By virtue of having the shop in New York City, it’s made my shop stronger, because there is a level of quality and excellence that this city and its inhabitants demand. I wouldn’t rule out having a shop somewhere else, but it certainly wouldn’t be the same, and I would try to carry on that level of New York excellence anywhere I went. Another favorite aspect is that I sell a lot to TV and movie productions for their costumes/wardrobe, and it’s always gratifying if I get to see shop pieces being worn on the big screen!
What are your favorite shops? Top Hat – Anytime I want a thoughtful gift, I come here for their unique selection largely sourced from Europe and Japan. Sunrise Mart (at its original location on Astor Place) – Ride the elevator to the second floor and enter a magical grocery store of cooked and dry Japanese goods with late nighttime hours. Goods for the Study – Analogue writing heaven with jars of pens, pencils and notebooks lining the walls.
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
The last few years, the reports around retail were often grim, and as a shopkeeper, I sometimes felt I was paddling against the digital current. But, during this ongoing pandemic, I think there was a light bulb moment for many people about what they missed and stood to lose, if their local brick and mortar – whether they be cafes, diners, boutiques – ceased to operate. Most of us small business owners have always understood that the heart of what we do is not just commerce, but, giving people an experience, and ideally an intimate experience that sparks some joy.
I think customers are now understanding a little better what there is to be gained from that in-person experience after going without it for a while. We all reflected on those small businesses we would be sad not to see on the other side of this.
It’s been heartwarming to feel the emotion from customers when they come in after months away during the pandemic. They missed that pleasure of stepping into a little world and being immersed in it. They missed that human interaction that is tied to a place and locale. I would argue there is no digital platform that can match that alchemy!
In a city like New York that relies heavily on walking, I think small shops will not become obsolete. New Yorkers and tourists are reclaiming their rituals of wandering, exploring, and finding shops and eateries to get lost in – nothing better than that! Remember too that we, New Yorkers live in cramped apartments, so much of our social lives is experienced outside the home.
Bricks and mortar are often those anchors and vital meeting spots that really define a New York neighborhood and foster a sense of community. During the height of the pandemic, New Yorkers felt the deep loss of not having these gathering spots available, and there was no life in the streets with the local shops shuttered. Now that they can visit their beloved spots again, I believe there is a clearer connection in peoples’ minds that a vibrant city is tied to having a vibrant landscape of unique, small businesses.
What are your hopes for independent shops as we emerge from the pandemic? After languishing in sweats during the pandemic, people are excited to dress up again and express their creativity through dressing!
I think clients have done some reflecting this year about their consumer habits, and many have expressed wanting to embrace a slower and more thoughtful form of consumerism, and supporting small and local retail are important ways to achieve this. Also, people are moving towards more earth friendly consumerism, and vintage and secondhand with their low environmental impact pair well with this meaningful movement.
Also, there has been a bottoming out of commercial real estate in New York City, with not only small businesses that have sadly closed, but the big retailers that have left as well. I believe strongly that after this challenging period, a cycle of renewal is coming. I see parallels of the yearning to rebuild Manhattan’s downtown after 9/11 and what the city is experiencing now.
Coming out of the pandemic, there is cautious optimism about there being some long-term commercial real estate price corrections, and that means there are opportunities for new small entrepreneurs to take a chance in this city that there weren’t before! I believe there will be an exciting new crop of small businesses on the horizon, and we are seeing some of that already.
104 Rivington Street, New York, NY