24 years ago today, I was on my (considerably younger) hands and knees, refinishing the old wooden floor boards of my soon-to-open LEO Design store at 413 Bleecker Street. It was a big leap for me—leaving a good job, newly-signed coop mortgage in-hand. My entire life was changing. In the ensuing (nearly) quarter century, many other things have changed, and yet, some things remain the same.
Greenwich Village—and Bleecker Street in particular—changed enormously during my tenure. Once the province of one-off mom and pop businesses, Bleecker was soon to become a magnet for corporate-owned designer name chain stores. Sure they were hip, or at least they carefully marketed that image. But the international conglomerate Louis Vuitton/Möet Hennessy's first boutique augured an irreversible change from Bleecker's previous eclectic (and Bohemian) neighborhood shopping village to an over-priced shopping strip, with all the brand name stores one might see in an upscale, luxury mall. I called it "The Bleecker Raton Mall." Every morning, come opening time, I came out to sweep my sidewalks and noted the dwindling number of shop owners who did the same. Not once did I see Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren or James Perse pushing a broom in front of the shop that bore their names. I wonder if they even knew the name of the elderly woman who lived upstairs, over the shop.
The Village changed in other ways, too. When LEO Design opened in 1995, the neighborhood still was populated with the aging "outcasts" of suburban America—those "edgy" high school rejects who had escaped their small-minded hometowns to find sanctuary amongst other open-minded people. Artists, writers, drag queens—they all brushed shoulders in the local laundromat (yes, on Bleecker Street!). By the time I pulled-up stakes, the cliques of nighttime revelers were no longer social migrants—they had been voted "Most Popular" and "Most Likely to Succeed." Worse yet, they all went-out for the night wearing the exact same hairstyle.
At this point, gentle reader, you may be wondering: "Feeling bitter?" In truth, no. I had a really good run. I employed, traded with and befriended many wonderful people. I showed myself that I could do it right and make it succeed. I'm not bitter. And my Manhattan life (especially the Chelsea coop) transported me to a wonderful new life (and old house) in Pennsylvania. I believe I have been divinely guided through the most important transitions in my life and this passage is no different.
And some things have stayed the same. Amongst them, my love for American matte green pottery. On opening day, when I first unlocked the shop doors to the neighborhood, I had a nice collection of matte green pottery sitting atop my china cabinet display case. They were amongst the better sellers in my store—and thus was born a love affair that has lasted to this day. The piece above, made by Roseville in Ohio circa 1910, is just such a piece. Please click on the photo above to learn more about it.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248
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