It’s unusual for things to stick around New York City. In a place that’s constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly striving to be the best and the boldest, it is understandable that the pressure is great. The city, at most, is a complicated love affair offering you treasures in the form of new favorites…restaurants, boutiques, coffee houses, galleries, apartments, friends, jobs… you lose your heart, you fall in love, you grow to need them and then one day they are gone. It’s life lived bittersweet, but in an environment that constantly strives to out do itself, it’s to be expected. To Ms. Jeannie, that’s what makes the city wonderful. It’s addictive and adventurous and mysterious. It’s here one minute and gone the next. But every once in awhile you get lucky, the city gods smile upon you, and one of your favorites winds up sticking around for many, many years and many more beyond that.
Such is the case with the whimsical vintage china and kitchen shop, Fishs Eddy, located at Broadway and 19th street. First opened in the mid-1980’s by Julie and her husband, Dave, Ms. Jeannie first discovered it thanks to her brother, who had purchased a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer there, and then went about telling all of New York how wonderful of a place it was. Like her brother, Ms. Jeannie was smitten right away. Having just moved back to the city, from Seattle, it reminded her a bit of the market stalls in Pike Place, where everything was a feast for your eyes in that simple, unearthed presentation way that spoke a straightforward this-is-what-I-offer language. It also reminded her a bit of the one day sample sales, she had just started frequenting with her girlfriends. These were sort of “secret” sample sales where you had to be on “the list” and show up to a hush-hush location where designers opened trunks of clothes in near empty buildings and let you rummage through one of a kind fashions that were just retired from the runway or design studio. Of course these were deeply discounted clothes in waif sizes but you couldn’t help but feel like an adventurer among all those fabrics and that you being offered something rare and unusual.
So how does one such store manage to make it in one of the toughest cities in the world for more than 25 years? Clearly it’s good business practices, but also there’s more to it then just operating the nuts and bolts of every day. Ms. Jeannie caught up with Julie to discuss all aspects of selling china in New York City. Here’s what she had to say…
Julie: After college I moved in on west 15th street. Dave was working at his cousin’s shop called the Wooden Indian. It was this quirky little store at the end of the block, they sold restaurant glassware and some dishes, along with a lot of peculiar stuff. It was a fixture in the West Village and a lot of cool artists and locals shopped there. Dave was working behind the counter, and well, the rest is history. I had graduated from Syracuse University and knew a little about Syracuse China-a major American manufacture of restaurant ware located near the campus. Dave knew a lot about restaurant dishes and glasses. He also knew how to run a shop. So he left his job and we opened our own store. The more we went out searching for dishes and glasses, the more we learned about these incredible factories and the manufacturing process and the wonderful people behind it.
MJ: How did the Fishs Eddy concept come about to begin with? If I understand correctly, Fishs Eddy started with your barn discovery of old restaurant ware back in the 1980’s. Did you know that you were specifically looking for dishes that day or did it just happen to work out that way? If you had stumbled upon a barn full of old lamps do you think you would have then been in the vintage lamp/lighting business?!
MJ: When you opened up shop in 1986, did you find that people got the mix and match concept right away or did you have to educate them about all the whimsical possibilities?
MJ: I was first introduced to Fishs Eddy through my brother who had bought a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer from you guys. That was was 20 years ago and I still think about that creamer! Is there one item like that from the early days that brings back a sense of nostalgia for you?
J: Hmmmm that’s a hard question because there are so many. The one pattern that I get very nostalgic for are these fantastic little cups made for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant in the city. They were designed by Alexander Girard and had a fabulous design that was so 50’s and strikingly modern. The best part is that we’re working with the Girard family and bringing those dishes back! I still can’t get over that we’re producing a pattern that we found sitting in a basement 25 years ago, and who knows how long they were sitting there before we rescued them!
MJ: One of the most fun things about visiting Fishs Eddy is your store displays – with the old crates and big bins of bits and pieces, it makes everything feel like a constant discovery. Like we’ve unearthed a treasure that you might not even know you had. That’s great design! How do you come up with your display concepts?
J: I tell our visual people that if it looks as though they spent any time at all thinking and strategizing about how a display looks, then the display is going in the wrong direction. We aren’t decorative and we aren’t “fluffy.” Every fixture in the store has a purpose, opposed to other stores that put random and useless props out to set a mood. Our dishes and glasses are what sets the mood and I think that kind of straight forward merchandising gives customers a lot of credit. People are very creative if you give them a chance.
MJ: Design-wise, who or what inspires you?
J; Without a doubt, Todd Oldham! We approached Todd a few years ago thinking this guy is never going to call us back…but he did! Todd is truly a talented and brilliant designer, watching him in action is awe-inspiring. We’ll be talking about how to lay out a graphic or something like that, and Todd will just see something that is totally unexpected, but it’s always right!
But what inspires me even more is that Todd is most unpretentious, giving and wonderful person ever! His partner Tony is the same way. Todd overseas the Charley Harper estate and could have given that design to anyone for dishware. God knows a lot of people would have killed for it. But he trusted this small business to do the best quality. He doesn’t make decisions based on how much money he could make. I‘m inspired by Todd as a designer, and just as much for the person that he is. How many people can you say that about?
MJ: What is the most exciting item you ever discovered on your buying sprees and where was it from?
Side note: To see a fun quick little video of all the “hidden” doors, vaults and prohibition- era trickery inside the 21 Club click here.
MJ: After 25 years in the business, do you think you have seen it all when it comes to china patterns? Is there a holy grail of patterns that you are anticipating?
J: One of my favorite stories is when a customer took a photograph of the Fishs Eddy sign on the highway on route 17. They sent the photo to us and said “did you know they name a town after your store?” That town was founded about three hundred years before we were!
MJ: I absolutely love antique ironstone pottery and get so excited when I come across a piece. The older, more aged and imperfect looking the better – if it has a crack or a chip it is absolutely perfect! What sort of pieces or brands get you so excited like this?
J: I love any dishes that have the original guideline markings under the glaze. There was this guy named Ray who worked forever at Shenango China factory and he signed off on all the sample plates. So we have lots of these plates with Ray’s signature. He even doodled on some of them!
MJ: What is your most favorite piece, or collection, in the shop right now?
MJ: Is it ever nerve-wracking to be around so many fragile things?
J: We’ve broken some pieces of our collection that, after the damage, I just have to go and hide under a rock for a few hours -but at the end of the day, they are dishes.
J: We do get a lot of celebrities. The one person I might have frozen in star “struckenness” is Bill Clinton, who came in a few months ago while I was out to lunch, of course.
MJ: If you could sit down to luncheon with anyone famous, alive or dead, who would you chose? And what would your place settings look like?
J: Gloria Steinem is one person. I sat a few rows behind her once when I went to Carnegie Hall with my father. I only watched her for the entire concert. Anyone who speaks up for gender equality is someone I want to have lunch with. And then there’s Hank Williams because I love county music. I know, I’m a big walking conflict of interest because it’s not like county music preaches gender equality.
J: Marcus Samelsons Red Rooster, Joseph Leonard, Perla, Prune, Maialino, La Bernadine….too many to name!
MJ: If one of our readers was visiting NYC for the first time and you were their tour guide, what five places would you take them and why?
The other day when Ms. Jeannie went over the year in review, she mentioned making a batch of cinnamon-nutmeg scones. If you don’t recall, here is what they looked like:
Blog reader, Amy, wrote in to request the recipe agreeing that such a simple treat would be the perfect partner to mull over one’s thoughts with. This recipe is an easy one and made even better by adding home made jam on top.
Ms. Jeannie’s sister, Marianne, makes AMAZING jams and jellies. Those pictured above are the latest batch she just sent. It is a happy day whenever a box of goodies arrives from her. Mr. Jeannie Ology can hardly contain himself while the box gets unwrapped. This gift box included: Blackberry, Raspberry, Orange Cranberry and Italian Plum jams (Italian plum not pictured – because it’s already been devoured!).
Each jar holds a magnificent concoction of flavors – this one is cranberry orange.
Marianne picks all the fruit herself, in the Seattle summer months (aka the non-rainy season!), and then gets to work canning away. She also makes her own labels – so cute! She was a true Martha Stewart way before anybody knew about the actual Martha.
She’s actually really crafty in all the creative areas. When Ms. Jeannie’s other sister, Christine, got married in 2010, Ms. Jeannie and Marianne put together all the floral arrangements and wedding bouquets.
Their work space for the bouquet assembly was the hotel room floor the morning of the wedding. It was festive and fun to see a floor full of flowers. The arrangements came together with ribbon and laughter. It was frantic but in a good way and left such an edible memory – one of her favorites of the entire wedding weekend.
So, as you can see Marianne’s creativity knows no limits. From jam to floral arrangements – she’s a one woman wonder.
Back to those scones… Ms. Jeannie recommends, that once you remove them from the oven, you should add a healthy dose of butter and jam on top of each scone while they are still warm. Hopefully you are lucky, like Ms. Jeannie and have an excellent jam source too.
Makes eight triangle shaped scones.
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly grated whole nutmeg or ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 egg white, beaten to blend with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in processor; blend 10 seconds. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add sour cream. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead 4 turns to form ball. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Brush with egg-white glaze; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Transfer to baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.
Bake scones until tops are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer scones to rack and cool slightly.
Recently, RoseMary from Shasta Lake Shop on Etsy, also wrote in about the Royal Jackson china (pictured with the scone). This is what she had to say:
“FYI The Autumn pattern was discontinued in the early 1950s. I was married in 1952 and chose it as my fine china pattern. I was devastated when in about 1953 I received a call that the pattern was being discontinued. I had just a few pieces, probably a service for 6. Replacement services were unknown at that time. It wasn’t until 50 years later that I found someone on ebay who had many of the pieces. I bought everything he had. Now I can set a table for 20+ people with all the extra serving pieces. Homer Laughlin also made a matching pattern in semi-vitreous china. Don’t know what its called or much about it but bought a set to help fill out my pattern for a while.” – RoseMary, The Shasta Lake Shop
Ms. Jeannie loves hearing stories like these! She tried to do a quick search for the Homer Laughlin pattern that RoseMary mentioned but she couldn’t come up with anything yet. If you know what the pattern name is, please write in! This china is so pretty – Ms. Jeannie couldn’t imagine having an entire set. RoseMary is one lucky lady!
When Ms. Jeannie got married she didn’t register for one specific china pattern. Instead she registered at Fishs Eddy, which is a vintage/contemporary china store in New York City.
They sell a mix-match of vintage and antique dishes mostly from old hotels and restaurants, and then they offer some unique new patterns from designers like Cynthia Rowley too. Basically every time you visit – it’s a new experience.
So Ms. Jeannie registered for a color scheme (blue and white at the time!), which meant any piece of china that fell under those two colors was a gift in the making. Some people thought Ms. Jeannie was brave for being so whimsical in giving guests the “pick whatever you like” experience – but Ms. Jeannie thought of it as an adventure. Besides – there was nothing at Fishs Eddy that she didn’t like – so how could anyone go wrong? As long as it was blue and white – it was perfect!
And as it turned out, each piece that someone chose as a wedding gift, carried with it a little bit of personality from the gift giver. So it became a great memory stacked on top of another great memory. This is the kind of stuff Ms. Jeannie loves most about china. It’s not only the beauty of the actual piece – it’s the beauty of the memory that it represents too.
A big thank you for sharing your thoughts, dear readers! Ms. Jeannie looks forward to more conversations. Until then, happy reading (and writing!).