Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Eva Dorsey
Occupation: Co-owner, Jane’s Exchange, Children’s Resale & Consignment Shop
Location: 191 East 3rd St. (between A and B)
Time: 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1

I was born on Jane Street in the West Village. I’m a native New Yorker but I didn’t stay long. My dad was a teacher and we had to move out to Connecticut. I came back several times for short periods before finally settling here in 1986. I decided to finish my degree in Theatre Criticism at the CUNY graduate center.

I moved to 7th Street and Avenue B because of the affordability. Heroin and cocaine were sold big time on 7th Street there. The big guy was right across the street from me and he got away with it for so long because he ran a dojo. What he’d do — it was really smart — was he kept all the kids off the street instead of going into gangs or this or that, but he was selling drugs at the same time. If my mother would come to visit in her car, he would carry her suitcases. He decorated the street for Christmas with the lights and did little parties. He kind of wined and dined the block and then at the same time was doing all this stuff.

I remember the big drug bust in the mid 1990s. I was right there. It was huge. They did it at midnight. They had helicopters light the street. It looked like it was three in the afternoon. There were so many helicopters and all the drug guys were lying down on the street. The Feds, I guess, came in from the roofs. It was a huge bust and pretty incredible how fast they did it and how well planned it was. That bust changed my street for years to come. The street was no longer protected by the drug dealers and ironically became more unsafe.

I became pregnant, which was a shock because I had been “diagnosed” as infertile after a number of attempts with invitro fertilization. I was very excited because I had wanted to have a child. I was adjunct teaching at Hunter College and working on my dissertation. I thought, I can have a child and work on my dissertation — of course I didn’t.

In preparation for my baby, I discovered consignment shopping because I didn’t have money. I discovered these consignment stores, but they were all on the Upper East Side — and they weren’t that cheap. It occurred to me that we could use a children’s consignment store downtown. There seemed to be so many families in the East Village. I thought that maybe I could start one as a single parent, be able to have my daughter with me, and make a living that way. That was 21 years ago. I was scared to death because I don’t come from a business family at all. When you enter the business world and know nothing about it, it’s a little overwhelming.

Before I started Jane’s Exchange, I created these silly little flyers saying, "If I open a store like this, would you bring me stuff and would you shop there?" I got very good feedback from people. I had little savings and was very fortunate when Anna Pastoressa, owner of Cassia, a vintage store named after her daughter, rented me half her store for a very reasonable amount on the corner of 7th and B. It was thrilling when people arrived with bags of clothes and toys – mostly donations to help open the store. Eventually Anna and I ran Jane’s Exchange together. This was 21 years ago. Then in 1999, I lost a lease but gained a great business partner, Gayle Raskin, who is still with me after 16 years.

We are a children’s and maternity consignment shop. People make an appointment to bring their things in, we sell them, and they get 30 percent of the sale to use as credit for the store. We don’t pay out. I used to pay out a long time ago but forget that. Our accountant said keep going with that and you’ll be out of business. It’s been a lovely way to raise my daughter and have it such a community-based place. I’ve met great, unbelievable people. We get all these different economic groups in, but just a lot of these lovely people who have been in the neighborhood for years.

The other nice thing is ... with environmental issues going on now, it helps kids to understand the idea of recycling, because they are literally bringing their own things in. Sometimes it’s not easy for a child to part with something, but we explain to them how it works and I think that’s a good thing to learn at a young age. You don’t throw out what can be used by other people.

Unfortunately, our current lease is up as of June 2016. We’re just announcing it now to our customers. This is our third location. We keep losing our leases. That’s the story. These stores can’t maintain anymore. Stores like this, it’s the end, period. Everyone asks why aren’t there more. There aren’t more because of real estate. I don’t know what’s going to happen, like everyone else, but it is highly unlikely that we can move again should our lease go up beyond our means. Like many small businesses, we simply may not make it. If this happens, I think it will be missed.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

the final paragraph of this story is so true and so sad

Anonymous said...

It's laughable that people think drug dealers protected the neighborhood. Laughable and sad at the same time.

Anonymous said...

The drug dealers actually did keep ther blocks safer, but not out of the goodness of the hearts. They did it to prevent customers who had a wad of cash on them from getting ripped off. They did it to keep the cops off their blocks so they could keep doing business. They did it because it made good business sense. They had lookouts who kept watch over their blocks 24x7, so there was always someone watching in case something happened. Now all you've got is drunk bros, ex-pats and trust fund babies, and none of them is going to look out for your safety.

Kayla said...

The background information in this piece is interesting, however I think the demise of another small business due to rent hikes is the focus.

My home away from home, over the last 21 years may shutter it's doors?!

This saddens me, as it's been a part of my own personal history, having worked there on and off since Eva opened. It would be nice to think that Eva has decided to close the business because it is time, not because the rent will skyrocket Jane's Exchange into oblivion. Just another small business that may be added to Jeremiah's Vanishing NY. --Kayla

marjorie said...

Oh, Eva, I am so sorry to read this. Thank you for creating such a comfortable, safe space for new moms in the EV. The first time I ever breastfed in public was at Jane's Exchange on Avenue A! (that was almost 14 years ago.) I really felt sad when my kids outgrew the store -- I felt as though we all grew up there.

FWIW, here's a piece I wrote about the shop back in 2012:

Eva and Gayle (and Kayla!) I hope that if you do have to close down you will find new and wonderful projects. What a loss for our neighborhood.

Unknown said...

Eva, everyone in the neighborhood hopes you find a new home.. We all need you!!

Gojira said...

528 East 11th Street between Aves. A and B, in an HPD-owned building, has a double storefront that's been empty for years. They are looking to rent it at well below market rate. If Eva is interested I could get her the contact information for the site.

Anonymous said...

#SaveNYC! #TakeBackNYC!

If you haven't already done so, please sign the petition that is trying to help small businesses here:

There's more information on what you can do here:

Eva Dorsey said...

Gojira, Yes, please do! That would be wonderful!

VH McKenzie said...

I shopped at Jane's Exchange when it was on Avenue B and 7th and remember both Eva and Anna (have seen Cassia grow up to be a talented singer, too). I think we all had our girls around the same time and it was such a great gift to have a kids' thrift store just a few blocks away.

I wish you the very best of luck, Eva, in maintaining your business here in the neighborhood!!

Anonymous said...

Jane's Exchange is such a valuable asset to our community. I wish there was a more unified voice for those of us that make the East Village our home . This sweep of all the reasons we chose to make it the place we raise our families and new focus on serving people that live here for 1-4 years is despicable.
I love reading Eva's whole story, I have only known bits and pieces in the years I have shopped there. (starting on ave A , I think they were in the "frat" penthouse building) Eva and Gail are the kind of people that make our community so special.

Scuba Diva said...

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous said...

It's laughable that people think drug dealers protected the neighborhood. Laughable and sad at the same time.

It's the same way the Mafia protected Little Italy. True.

Anonymous said...

At that time in the E.V. , he kept that block safe. Amazed too!

Anonymous said...

Ageed! Please stay!

XOOTRMAN said...

Eva represents what the EV used to mean. A "NEIGHBORHOOD"

Anonymous said...

I have been going to Jane's Exchange for so many years. Eva knows her customers, she knows our kids. When I bring in stuff for an appointment, I invariably end up staying just to catch up; she's smart, kind and it's always a pleasure to see her.

Jane's Exchange embodies the true spirit of what a neighborhood store that serves the community should be. Although I had to move, ending up within blocks of another noted kids consignment shop, I still bring all my stuff to Jane's Exchange. It may be more of a hike, but unlike other kiddy "boutiques", it's devoid of the pretense and insane prices.

What has happened in the Village is depressing. It's ironic that certain people think that the neighborhood has improved simply because the drug dealers have been pushed out. At least there used to be a sense of solidarity. Now it's just a greedy, capitalistic nightmare of entitlement.

Gojira said...

Fake Gojira comment at 1:40 PM. Eva, I WILL get you the info and have it to you by some time next week.

nygrump said...

The drug dealers have not moved out, they have only moved to liquid format. The big difference is people used to get their dope and move along, now they want to hang out and show off their cell phones and discuss cell phone things.