Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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: Annie Ju (left) and Melissa Scott
Occupation: Owners, an.mé /ahn-may/, Boutique for Kids and Families.
Location: 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave
Time: 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 26

Melissa: I was born in Flushing, Queens. I’ve been down here in the East Village since 2004, with my husband. I now live two blocks over. When we first moved into Manhattan, we moved to the Upper East Side because of my job, but both my husband and I hung out down here prior to that, and so we said, ‘Hey, let’s try it,’ and now we’re raising our child here.

Annie: I’m from Taiwan and I live in Queens. I came here in August 1995, right to high school. I came here for English and for design school. I have always been in retail. I have always been working in boutiques. That’s what I’m most comfortable in — nothing corporate, always small business. I did this, but I did it for other people. This is our first venture together.

M: We worked together prior to this, over 10 years ago. We worked together for six years.

A: We wanted to have the shop here. Melissa lives here and we always loved this area. We were looking and then this space became available, because the previous owner had to cut his lease short, and we jumped on it over a year ago. We were like, now or never.

We both like the physical store, because we had a vision for how we wanted it to look. A lot of people said, ‘You should do it online. That’s what it’s all about right now,’ But we like the interaction with people. We like to create a place where people can come in comfortably with their kids and pets and they can touch things and feel things before they make a purchase. That was the whole idea behind it. We want the toys to bring people in and to come to the neighborhood. Then chances are they’re going to shop with us and then go next door. We feel like it’s a group effort.

M: This block is great, and we hope there will be more stores opening up that will be mom and pop. We’re for the young and for the young at heart. Most of the clothing is all new and we source globally. Then the toys, some are vintage throwback toys, and some are new.

A: People can come in at all ages and relate to a certain part of the store. We have a lot of big people coming to buy our toys.

M: You mean adults.

A: Big people!

M: We have a whole bucket of 1980s GI Joes. It’s always funny, the mom will drag the family in, the dad will sigh, ‘another shop,’ and then he’ll see it and be like, ‘Yo, I had those!’

A: I’m a collector, so I collect a lot of stuff along the way. I have a little bit of a problem. It’s a good problem to have… I’ve been told.

Aside from going to trade shows and finding new brands, we also support a lot of local artists, and mostly East Village-based artists. They’ll come, ‘I design cards, would you be interested,’ or bibs, dolls. We are always open to look to purchase from local designers. We work with quite a few.

M: It has been a lot of work, but it’s been a slow and steady progression, and we’ve had a lot of return customers, which is great. I think that’s what sets us maybe apart from others, is that we’re both shoppers. We like to go out and see what’s happening. We like to visit other stores. We see other kids.

We try to find what people want, and be unique in a sense, because we don’t need to compete with Amazon. We also pride ourselves on if you come in with your child, the next time we’ll remember you, and we’ll remember their size. Even from when we started, people who came in with their newborns who are now walking, it’s a progression and we hope to stay with them.

A: That’s also the biggest reason why we wanted a physical store. That relationship with people. [Compared to] big box stores, that’s why I feel like it’s so much harder to have a brick-and-mortar shop, because you need to work so much harder just to find a special something, because that’s what people want.

We also create events for parents. Halloween is going to become a tradition because that was around the time that we opened the store. Last Halloween was awesome. We had gift bags for the kids and wine for the adults, so everyone was happy. And once in awhile we hold events in the store to promote local artists and designers.

M: We just had a book signing with a local mom, a friend of mine who just illustrated her first children’s book. We had the signing here and all the kids came and were running around. We also try and we reach out to all the local schools, or as many as we can. They come in and they ask for donations for their school auctions. We try to donate and give back as much as we can. We also work with NYC Mama’s Give Back.

A: They usually have events at the Henry Street Settlement, where they distribute goods to the moms in need.

M: In this neighborhood, it’s phenomenal raising a kid, because there’s such a sense of community here. My son went to EV Tots and we met a great group of people. Now he goes to Children’s Workshop School, and we’ve continued on with that great group of people. We rely on each other almost like a family. ‘Can you pick up this person,’ you know. It’s nice to be able to. Sometimes we have other parents who come like, ‘I just need to rush to the butcher can you just watch my kid for two minutes?’ We always joke that we’re a boutique slash daycare. We like having the kids in here.

We also always joke that my son is a good salesman, because he’ll come in and start showing people products. I actually had a woman leave after having a 10-minute conversation with my son, and I was like ‘oh man,’ and she came back and was like, ‘He sold me. I’m going to get this.’

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

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