Upper East Side Shoe Repair Shops
(For names and locations, see the Neon Shoes set on Flickr)
I’m dealing with a lot extra-curricular crap at the moment, including heartbreak and a dead fridge, so I’m a bit behind on everything, including Project Neon posts. I’ll try to catch up over the next few days.
First up: a couple of weekends ago I went on a photo walk on the Upper East Side. I was particularly hunting one of my favorite types of neon signs: shoe repair shop signs.
I know they’re probably off the shelf as often as custom made (and I usually vastly prefer custom neon), but there’s something so charming about the giant shoes, even when they’re anatomically imposible. I also love how New Yorkish they are — we need a lot of shoe repair with all the pavement pounding we do.
John’s, (which I made a proper visit to last year) above, is probably my favorite for it’s colorful minimalism, but Sam’s is great, too, especially when you see it together with the other half, also featuring curly eses. The giant Andrade loafers are also excellent. So many great neon shoes, boots, heels, and more.
I know there are a jillion more of these signs, both on the Upper East Side and elsewhere. I need to have more neon shoe walks to hunt down as many of these as I can find. Unfortunately as you can see above, many of them are behind bars by the time darkness sets it, so it may be next winter before I really get the photo set filled in properly.
Last night I bundled up, packed my binoculars, and subwayed over to Battery Park to see the comet. It was frigid, but the sunset was lovely, and I made the happy discovery that the Colgate Clock is back on over in Jersey. So an expedition there soon if I can work out the logistics. Or maybe I’ll wait until it’s a *little* bit warmer.
(in the Upper West Side on Broadway between 105th and 106th Streets)
I’ve got a couple of posts I’m hoping to have time to get to this weekend, but first I’d like to say thanks to Lisa Hix, for the Project Neon interview she’s written for Collectors Weekly. Thank you, Lisa, for making me sound vaguely coherent!
The photo above from Riverside Liquor on Broadway is one of my favorites (as you may have guessed from its inclusion in the Limited Edition Prints). When I stopped by for a visit last weekend, though, the sign was looking a little the worse for wear:
It’s still a great sign, but I do hope it gets repaired soon. Speaking of repairs, I also stopped by Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, hoping that the removal of the scaffolding from the building meant they had maybe fixed their neon. Alas, no luck.
Riverside is a small liquor shop with an indecipherable (at least to me) cataloguing system. You’re best off asking for help, which was what I ended up doing. I was buying some blended scotch to try scotch & soda — believe it or not, I’ve never had it! — as part of a new project of mine, A Culinary Companion. (It’s a writing project, not a pictures project, about food & literature.) I was surprised to find both scotch & soda and brandy & soda very pleasant. Not as forceful and warming as the straight up liquors, but neither were they just watered down nothings. More just a gentler form of drink, refreshing with the bubbles. A pleasant accompaniment to a lazy afternoon.
Anyway, the staff at Riverside were friendly and helpful, and there was a steady parade of patrons from all walks of life. The sign is a bright spot on broadway, with the classic mazey infill that I love. I’ve said before that pink isn’t one of my favorite colors (I guess I’m not a very girly girl), but pink neon is just fantastic.
OK, I’ll be back later this weekend with more neon news, links, and photos. See you then!
(in Williamsburg on Grand Street between Graham Ave & Humbolt Street)
Alas I am not doing any scuba diving these days (I’m strictly a warm-water diver and anyway not in any shape for athletic activities at the moment), so this isn’t a proper neon visit post, as there isn’t anything I need at Stingray Divers, but I was very much in need of a pick-me-up this evening, so I took a short walk up Grand Street in my neighborhood and took photos of a few local signs including this one. A short walk is all I’m up to for now, but the earlier evenings are getting me antsy for a longer neon expedition. Hopefully soon!
By the way, there are currently a total of 938 Project Neon Tumblr followers and RSS subscribers. When the total hits 1,000 I’ll have a big give away of items from the Project Neon shop, OK? OK!
John Shoe Repair
(On the Upper East Side on 67th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)
The cobblers of New York City are a wonder. Operating out of shoe-box sized shops, each packed with the detritus of a lifetime of repairing our worn-out footwear, the enable us to keep pounding the pavement in style. There must have once been so many more of them, in the era before sneakers and the rise of disposable fashions, but there are still a good number today. And a good number of them have neon signs, usually small skeleton signs hanging in the window like this one, but with a wide variety of shoe types from boots to high heels. When winter comes (these one-man operations (are there any women cobblers in New York?) tend to close early), I’d like to finally take a shoe-neon-only walk, and gather a whole poster’s worth of neon shoes.
I dropped my shoes off this afternoon with John. I inadvertently wore through the heels (and nearly through the soles) last winter. I hope he can fix them. I’ll find out tomorrow. If he can, it will have been a bargain — $5!
Half of his tiny shop was filled with a massive shoe lathe that looked like some kind of intricate contemporary sculpture. The other half, more assemblage, featured piles of hardened glue, scraps of leather, and bits and pieces of this and that, with assorted pliers and punchers and whatnot here and there. I would have been claustrophobic to spend too long there, but for a brief visit it was wonderfully quiet and private and soothing, all earthy browns and cozines, with the iconic pink and green shoe glowing softly out the window. Here is New York, alive and busily industrious.
PS: Happy birthday to my mom today!
PPS: Did I tell you? I started a new project to explore New York by daylight: apicnicineverypark.tumblr.com
UPDATE: Shoes look great! When I picked them up, John told me, I think, about his forthcoming trip to Athens (where he apparently hails from), where it is even hotter than it is here, though of course everyone leaves the city when it gets too hot, or goes swimming (communicated largely through miming breast stroke). He is very nice and an excellent cobbler and you should take your shoes there. Oh, and be prepared for the overwhelming smell of shoe polish when you open the door.
Today is the last day of the big sale at the Project Neon shop! Use the code NEON25OFF for, you guessed it, 25% off everything — photos, posters, jewelry and more. Get your neon merch today:
Ardente Supply Co.
(On Valley Street at Eagle Street in the Valley neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island)
On the way to Olneyville, following some excellent directions suggested by Google (I never would have deciphered that tangle of streets so well myself), we passed this great sign for the Ardente Supply Co., purveyors of plumbing, heating, and lighting supplies. It’s like Google knew it should route me past any nearby neon.
The street was dark, the sidewalks bare, and the motorists speeding past seem to pay little heed to the glow. So interesting which businesses in which neighborhoods decide to host a lovely neon sign like this.
The combination of neon red and just slightly turquoise green is fantastic, as is the very idiosyncratic and lovely script on the right, a perfect counterpoint to the bold ARDENTE. It’s common to see block letters paired with script like this, but I think I’ve only ever seen the proper name in script (and usually with fully joined-up cursive letters), not as here with the proper name in block letters and the remainder in a script with loose but separate letters. The circle period is a nice touch, too. So happy I came across this! What other hidden gems are hiding in Providence & the rest of Rhode Island? One more fun find coming later tonight…
St. Mark’s Bookshop
(In the East Village on 3rd Avenue at E 10th Street)
So last night, because this is what I do, I went to look at neon. Since I wanted to get home before the annoying people took over the city, I didn’t go too far, but instead went to visit some old friends in the East & West Villages. The real instigation for the walk was to visit, probably for the last time in its current location, Rocco Ristorante:
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reports that Rocco’s last day will be January 2nd, though they are looking for a new location (and it sounds like they’re taking the sign with them!) I didn’t have time to stay for dinner, and when I stopped by they were busy decorating for New Year’s Eve festivities, so I didn’t want to bother them for a drink (and I’ve already written about visiting). I *really* hope they find a new home nearby soon.
I wandered around after that, ending up at St. Mark’s Bookshop, in the East Village. I’ve been meaning to stop by here as I know they’ve been struggling lately. Happily they made it through the latest crisis, but I know times are tough for small, independent bookstores. And they happen to have a nice neon sign.
Sadly, the neon is behind a thick wall of plastic (hence the slightly blurry look above), but the lettering is great — look at how the secondary lines giving the letters thickness kind of dive in and out of the words. And so nice that they made the apostrophe blue to contrast with the green. I do wish St had its period, but the book-like stacking effect of the words just about makes up for that. And the green & blue combination is cheery while still feeling dignified. The bar of white on the side (outside the plastic) is a bit odd, but adds a kind of rakish asymmetry that makes it even more unique.
The bookstore inside leans heavily to political and academic writing, but has a great design section and a well-curated fiction section. Books are given room to breathe, with many turned out to face the browser so you don’t have to spend your entire time there with your head tilted to the right, squinting at spines. I spent a pleasurable half-hour or so browsing around, and while they didn’t have everything I had been thinking about looking for, I came away with two novels (The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell) I’ve been thinking about reading for awhile now. I don’t often let myself into bookstores as I have waaaay too many books in my house (and way too few bookshelves) as it is, plus a compete inability to leave a good bookstore empty handed. But St. Mark’s Bookshop is worth it. Happy memories of other books I’ve bought there intermingle with the many possibilities around, and I always walk out feeling like I’ve just sat through a particularly interesting class that introduced me to a new way of looking at the world I hadn’t quite thought of before. Long live St. Mark’s!
Updates on this & that:
I noticed while walking past the future new entrance to Gonzalez y Gonzales (they’re still remodeling the interior) that there’s a letter in the window stating that they have Landmarks approval as they’re not altering the facade significantly. So, alas, that must mean that the beautiful old sign is going to be inside. I’m glad they kept it, but disappointed it won’t be freely visible from the sidewalk.
Heartbreak is, oddly, closed for renovations (according to a sign in the window). They just opened not long ago, and the whole building is pretty new — I wonder what needs renovating? It’s one of my favorite new signs. I love that heartbreak literally breaks around the corner. I hope they reopen soon!
In case you missed it, nyneon.org has a rundown of the signs we lost in 2011.
Project Neon posters & prints are available for sale on Etsy.
I’m in the midst of a couple of additions and updates to the Project Neon app. If you have any suggestions, please let me know! Due to downloading issues I have to limit the size of the database so I can’t add too many new signs without removing some, but if enough people lobby for a particular sign being added, I will definitely consider it.
I got the wonderful new book, Polish Cold War Neon, by Ilona Karwinska for Christmas. It’s beautiful!
I added 2 new sets on Flickr: one of a few of my Project Neon favorites (in case you don’t have time to look through 859 — and counting — photos), and one of animated gifs, some of which were used in the online version of today’s New York Times article. For the animations, you have to view the original size, otherwise Flickr just shows a still. Right click on any photo and choose ‘original.’
It looks like next weekend (January 7th & 8th) will the the last weekend for the Project Neon show at the City Reliquary, so head on over!
Capitol Fishing Tackle Co.
(In the Garment District on W 36th Street btwn Broadway & 7th Avenue)
First of all, thanks to everyone who came to hear me ramble on about New York neon last night. I was, I will admit, a little nervous about whether anyone would show up, whether anyone would be interested in what I had to say, or whether anyone would throw rotten fruit. But no, no one threw anything and people clapped and even chuckled when I said funny things. And it was a packed house. And it was actually fun to talk all about neon. So thank you! And it was great to meet more neon fans in person — always a pleasure.
I took yesterday & today off of work with some pretense to myself of a) preparing for the talk (check) and b) maybe getting going on some holiday things. Well, I kinda failed at part B, but, guys, I finally FINALLY made it to Capitol Fishing Tackle! I’ve been wanting to see this sign lit since shortly after I started this project, when I just walked by on my way somewhere else in time to see the sign dark and the gate rolling down. It closes pretty early (especially in the winter when fishing season isn’t really at its peak around here — does anyone ice fish in NYC?) and subsequent attempts to rush out of work and across town in time all failed. Then the days got longer and the nights got shorter and WHAM! Daylight Savings Time happened and I had to give up hope.
Until now. To be honest when I took today off I had a small thought in the back of my mind that maaaaybe I could plan a neon mission to tackle this sign, so to speak. But of course who knows what the weather will be a couple of weeks later, right? And then, yes, it turned out to be a rainy day. But just before sunset I noticed the rain wasn’t raining so hard, so I grabbed my camera, a plastic bag, and a larger waterproof bag to stow everything and hopped the subway to Midtown.
Believe me, it is nothing short of a critical mission that will make me take the subway to Midtown at rush hour on a day off. But I did it and dashed past the Macy’s Christmas windows and around the corner to Capitol. Before I could see the sign, I could see smudges of red and green light on the vans and trucks parked opposite. Could it be? Yes! Success! OK, I had actually called them before I left to see how late they were open (I think their hours are a little more regular before Christmas when people are buying presents), but still, you never know. I also wasn’t sure if the photos would turn out since I had my camera in a plastic bag (with the lens sticking out) which screws up the light sensor in the eyepiece a bit, and I was standing in the street since a FedEx truck was parked right where I would have liked to stand, but it all worked out. Hooray! Now to add it to the iPhone app…
I love this sign. Partly because I discovered it by chance, partly because I can’t believe I never knew it existed, but partly because it’s just a really nice sign. Red & green to get you in the holiday spirit (thought the green, charmingly, is just the slightest bit aqua), and lovely letters. Look at the C in Tackle. So graceful! And the C in Capitol is a little rakish. And I really admire the gentle infill of the red letters when they widen a bit. Also, that K! Perfect. Maybe my next project should be to make fonts out of neon lettering? Of course I know next to nothing about making fonts…
Anyway, I’m really glad this sign continues to light up the gritty Midtown streets, especially since Gray’s Papaya is no longer nearby. It’s just a block away from Mood Fabrics, so if you’re headed there, make a stop on 36th. You won’t regret it.
The shop is small but well stocked with fishing equipage of all kinds. I decided to get a colorful lure, not to actually fish with (I haven’t done that in a very long time), nor to use as jewelry as Patti Smith mentions doing in Just Kids, but to act as a Christmas ornament. I passed by realistic rubber frogs, hot pink abstract squid, and chose a Smithwick Suspending Pro Rogue, silver with a pink belly and big yellow eyes. Two different fishers came in to purchase actual expensive fishing gear, though, so I didn’t want to take up too much of the time of the two people working, but I did compliment them on their beautiful sign before leaving.
Curious about why “cutlery” is on the sign? You can read a bit about the very interesting history of this shop on their website. I wonder if the sign dates from when the shop was below the Chelsea Hotel? Maybe next time I stop by I’ll ask if they know.
There’s a great post coming up later tonight, but first a couple of announcements:
- The Project Neon shop is now fully operational over on Etsy. Take a look! I’m happy to take suggestions for additional photos to add, custom listings, etc. Just let me know (heyprojectneon at gmail). The perfect place to do your holiday shopping…
- December 3rd is the first birthday of Project Neon! To celebrate this, you can get free shipping from the Etsy store from now until December 10th. Just use the coupon code NEONIVERSARY at checkout.
- I’ll be speaking as part of Landmark West’s event series on Monday December 5th at at 6pm. It’s at 35 W 67th Street. I’ll give an overview of the project and take you on a slide-show tour of neon highlights around the city, and end by looking at some gems on the Upper West side. Q&A to follow. More information here, and you can buy tickets here. I hope to see you there!
I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for neon signs and other people who appreciate them, too.
Queens Wines & Liquors
(71st Avenue @ Myrtle & Forest)
I finally made it back to Queens Wines & Liquors this evening—third time’s the charm! I’d been once before to see the lights (what a great sign!) earlier this winter, but the next couple of times I went out to Ridgewood, Queens I somehow go the hours wrong. The sign’s so long (and with a small bonus Liquor & arrow up high) that it’s hard to make a photograph that really captures the brightness and glow, so I was eager to return, zoom lens in hand.
Behind the sign is a great liquor store, with a vast selection. I wanted something summery, and debated for awhile over St. Germain or Lillet, but in the end went with Pimm’s. I’m drinking some over ice in a little Turkish teacup now.
I’m not a huge cocktail drinker (I usually stick with beer) but a nice summer cocktail is a lovely thing (and summertime neon expeditions are a bit limited since so many things close early—and the trees are in leaf—but the days are getting shorter…) I’m sure I’ll be visiting several more bars & liquor stores before the summer is over! I had no I idea when I started this project that one side benefit would be an expanded liquor shelf.
In other Project Neon news, the iPhone app is proceeding apace, I’m working on fulfilling Kickstarter rewards (I just sent some more out and have a small pile here to send out this weekend), and I’ve added a little Shop page to the blog (though the shop actually lives over on Equals Architecture, one of my other web sites, so I can have a little more control over the layout than here on Tumblr). The shop is more of a test run for now than a proper online store, as I need to finish Kickstarter rewards before I can fulfill any orders, but when I’ve cleared the decks a bit I’ll expand it and get it all ship shape. (You’re welcome to buy photos & posters from it now, but orders will be put in queue behind the Kickstarter rewards.)