Wednesday, March 2, 2016

After 54 years, Barbara Shaum Leather has closed


[Image via GVSHP]

Barbara Shaum, the legendary local shop owner who also happened to be the first woman officially admitted into McSorley's in 1970, died last Sept. 17. She was 86.

In 1962, she opened her first handmade sandal and leather goods shop on East Seventh Street two doors down from McSorley's. She lived in an apartment behind the shop. In 1985, the landlord sold her building, and she eventually found a new workshop-storefront at 60 E. Fourth St. between Second Avenue and the Bowery, where she worked until shortly before her death.

The shop had remained open off and on until Monday, when it was cleaned out...


[Photo by Derek Berg]

We're told that while she had various apprentices through the years, she didn't leave any instructions about a business-continuity plan upon her death.

As for her well-documented entry into McSorley's, here's a feature on Shaum from The New York Times in January 2015:

At the time, Daniel O’Connell-Kirwan, the manager of McSorley’s, invited Ms. Shaum to be the first woman through its doors.

“Danny called me and said, ‘Barbara, would you come over and be the first one in?’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Well you got Sara on the other side,’ ” referring to another local shopkeeper, Sara Penn.

And so it was that she, and then Ms. Penn, became the first women let into McSorley’s. “I put on a big straw hat, and I walked in on Danny’s arm,” she said. “It was a big milestone.”

According to her obituary, the press attention about McSorley's troubled her. (Never mind that she said she’d been going there after hours for years.)

She wanted to be known for her own principles, for her impassioned stands on equal pay for women, on affordable rents for small businesses. She was an activist. Encouraged by Councilwoman Miriam Friedlander, she and other Lower East Side small business people of that era struggled hard against rising rents, nevertheless losing ground year by year.

Upon naming her a Village Award recipient last year, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation wrote:

Barbara Shaum has contributed to the quality of life in the East Village through her creativity and her determination to keep her small business alive and thriving for more than half a century...

Here is a short film from 2005 about Shaum and her shop...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Over many years I had sandals and belts made by Barbara. How sad that a passionate perfectionist like Barbara could not find someone to carry on the business in the manner she approve of.

Anonymous said...

Alas, that is the problem with 15 minutes of fame - you end up being known for those 15 minutes and not for what else you did in your life.

Dan C. said...

My then roommate made that film, "Barbara Leather" (that's my tattooed leg in the beginning. I'm in the credits as "Foot") I've lived around the corner from her shop for decades and I remember being enthralled when my roommate recollected the stories she told him. I'm glad she has this tribute.

Anonymous said...

an amazing person like this passes , 4 comments . post something about a new building , ya-all go nuts . very sad.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I ever heard of her and this shop and I've lived in the area for 12 years. Well that sucks! If I had known about it I would have frequented it often.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what Anon 9:13 means about 15 minutes of fame. Barbara's life was defined by much more than the breaking down of McSorley's restrictions on women. Anyone who purchased sandals, bags, belts, or other items from her will remember her dedication to excellence.

Scuba Diva said...

At 11:59 AM, Anonymous quoth:

This is the first time I ever heard of her and this shop and I've lived in the area for 12 years. Well that sucks! If I had known about it I would have frequented it often.

There's always the legendary Native Leather [formerly Natural Leather] on Bleecker just east of 6th avenue; they'll make you custom sandals from a tracing of your foot and they've been doing it since before you were born. Many, many famous and infamous people have passed through their doors and had their feet traced there.

I have two pairs of hippie sandals from them; one pair was chewed up by my springer spaniel and they were able to restore them to wearable condition. (He had even chewed off the big toe from the left one.) Said sandals are now old enough to vote and probably drink. And they'll always do repairs on them.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anon 11:59, if you have been living in the East Village for 12 years and never noticed Barbara's leather store then you probably weren't looking very hard at your surrounding. Posting a lament that had you known about it you would have frequented her store is a hollow post. The store did not close because in twelve years you never bought something from her. It closed because, sadly, Barbara didn't make any plans for the continuation of her store after her death.

Anonymous said...

I stopped by the store to inquire about getting an old leather camera strap handle reaffixed to a wooden camera, one of her assistants helped with a solution, it worked out well and was affordable. Seemed like a cool shop, the old lady seemed a little prickly but decent, maybe that's what happens when you get to be in your 80s, or maybe that's just how she always was, I remember she seemed to smoke like a chimney ... anyone know how she died?

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed Barbara smoked. Yes indeed she could be prickly. She died at her home in New York at 86. I am sorry if you are looking for a cause of death Anon 3:35 to validate some idea you have about her smoking. If you are interested in learning more about this remarkable woman, I suggest you paste the following link into your search engine (or whatever the proper term is). One bond we had whenever I purchased something from her was that she knew I had done Freedom Democratic Summer. Our generation of activism is slowly receding into memory.


http://gvshp.org/blog/2015/12/09/barbara-shaum-1929-2015/

Anonymous said...

She was an icon - this is so sad. I was in her shop very shortly after she passed. One of her assistants told me that she would try at all cost to keep the shop open. I guess the powers that be didn't make it easy for her. There are probably others who will make custom sandals but I doubt they will be the quality of what came out of her shop. RIP Barbara Shaum