Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing 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: Mark Seamon
Occupation: Owner, Love Shine, Artist
Location: 6th Street between Avenue A and B
Date: Monday, Feb 27, at 1 p.m.

Seamon recently announced that after 20 years, Love Shine, which sells handmade bags, accessories and gifts, is closing up shop at the end of March, and moving the business online.

I grew up in Long Island, about 20 minutes outside Manhattan. My mom lived there and my dad lived in the city, so I was sort of back and forth. I moved to the neighborhood in 1980 at 19 years old. My first entry into the East Village was a friend of our family who was living on St. Mark's Place. When I was still in high school, I was coming in to visit her a lot. That got me intrigued by the East Village. It was right in the heart of St. Mark’s during the prime music time. It was so cool – I thought it was the coolest place in the world.

I stayed with her for 6 months, and then I found the apartment with my sister on Sixth Street between 1st and A. I was in college, and it’s still the apartment that I’m living in now. It was really dicey. This side of Avenue A was pretty bombed out looking.

When I got out of school, I was doing my art, and the plan was in order to keep doing my art, I needed to get a job, so I started cooking. I was a chef for a long time. I went to cooking school, and after I got out I opened up a restaurants on 14th Street with two friends from school called Babette’s. That lasted about a year. It was a really fun place — I don’t regret it, but it didn’t work out.

Then I got into catering, and I worked for "Saturday Night Live" for a long time doing catering for them. While I was doing that, I got a job at a place called Florent, which was in the Meatpacking District, and I worked there from 1986 to 1992. The Meatpacking was still the Meatpacking, but the restaurant itself was actually one of the places that began the change, because it was a super-trendy place — it was a real destination spot.

From there, I worked in a couple other restaurants, and then I started getting involved with this business [Love Shine]. I got involved in a relationship with a guy who was a costume designer, and I was doing my painting, and so we did some traveling around Mexico. We actually spend two months living there, and while we were there we started making things together. He was sewing up bags and I was painting on them. Then we started giving them to friends and that started to turn into a little bit of a business. We were just working out of his apartment. Then a friend of ours had a booth at a trade now and we started selling them through there.

Fast forward seven years later, we had a little business selling to other stores and working out of his apartment, but then he passed away. At that point, I had this business going on but I had no place to work, so I was trying to figure out my next step - if I wanted to keep it going or not. I went to a party right down the block and I met this woman who was a real-estate agent in the neighborhood. She said, ‘I’ve got this really great spot, totally cheap and you can move right in.’

It was the space next door. It used to be Shaquille’s Reggae Record Lounge, but it was actually a drug front store. It was completely a front. It had a couple records in there. I knew the space just from living around here but had never went in. There were bullet holes, and then there were also these little cubbyhole spots where they would hide the drugs in the walls. But it was perfect. That was how the shop was born.

I figured I’d put all my bags in here, and my friends in Mexico were exporting stuff here, and I thought I’d decorate the store with all their things as well. That was 1997. I had that space for 10 years. The landlords changed over a couple times and my rent almost tripled in the time that I was there, so it was no longer that cheap. Then this space opened. It was occupied by a friend of mine who is a painter.

I do think that it was the people that lived here that made the neighborhood special. It was the diversity of the neighborhood - the Latinos mixing with the gays with the musicians with the Ukranians. It was just a big melting pot. There was a lot of art coming out of here and a lot of galleries back there for awhile. there was a lot of music. There was a big burgeoning gay and lesbian scene that was going on. There was a lot of creative energy and people trying new things. People homesteading apartments and buildings. There was kind of a sense of discovery and excitement. I think that shaped the community.

You could just be like, ‘Oh that’s a nice space,’ hang up a sign, and open up a shop, and your overheard was low enough that you could kind of make it work. We would do lots of events and have these parties and fashion shows on the street. There was an energy in this neighborhood that people responded to.

Over time, people just kind of lost interest in it. There wasn’t as much of the communal feeling. It was like the whole demographic shifted in a very weird way. I actually thought it was going to turn into better business. For some reason, I feel like we became less relatable. I think that maybe this place confused people. They weren’t quite sure what we were doing here. People used to work night jobs ... but then they were around during the day and walking the streets. Now no one’s around. It’s a ghost town during the day.

Our future is that we plan on moving our workshop into a studio, which is in my friend’s apartment right now. We’re going to work on expanding our online business. We’d like to continue to do stuff in the community if we can, maybe some markets or pop-ups. We want to stay here, you know, and we might reopen at another point if we can ever find a space that we could afford, but for right now we are just going to focus on the online. That seems to be the only part of the business that’s growing for us. The rest has been going down.

You can find Love Shine via their website as well as Facebook and Etsy.

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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insights Mark.

Gojira said...

I remember Babette, ate there several times. Good food, was sorry when it closed.

Mark, thanks for the shared memories; I should print them out and when people ask me why on earth I am nostalgic for the "dirty, dangerous, nasty" East Village of the past, give them your words to read.

Scuba Diva said...

We need to have a mall for all the displaced businesses; maybe we can build a barge and have it float on the East River.

Mark, you're the best tenant your landlord could have, and he's a weenie for not coming down in rent enough for you to stay.

Goggla said...

Thank you so much for Love Shine. Over the years, I've bought jewelry, cards and lots of fun gifts there. I really just enjoyed hanging out in the store as it felt like home. This is a real loss for the neighborhood and I hope you're able to get another storefront some day.

marjorie said...

Yes, Mark, thank you for being such a fun spot for so long. I still use an oilcloth tote bag I bought from Love Shines in 1998.

I wish you luck in whatever comes next.

Anonymous said...

Good story.

Florent -- Was that the place with the huge rooftop outdoor dining? Hmm, spent many a long night there if I am remembering right.