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On East 4th Street, there is a small store chock full of surprises, among which is almost certainly something you’ve been looking for. Perhaps you have blank walls and, after staring at them too much over the past year, have decided to do something about it. Perhaps you’ve always had a thing for children’s book illustrations. Or perhaps you’re just in the mood for exploration and unexpected discoveries. Whatever the case, our Business of the Month, Pageant Print Shop at 69 East 4th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue, should be your destination. This tiny shop, located on one of the more colorful streets in the neighborhood, contains over ten thousand unique items, most over a hundred years old. Here, you’ll find a great selection of maps and illustrations in a wide range of categories: New York, botanical, fashion, birds, landscapes, children, food, typeface, storefronts, decorative patterns, advertisement, magazine covers, and numerous others, some arranged by country, by illustrator, and by arts movement. Whatever your tastes, you’re bound to find something here at a reasonable price.
The store originated as a used and antique bookstore founded in 1946 by two WWII veterans, Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz, along the storied Fourth Avenue “Book Row,” where dozens of other used bookstores were located. Like many book dealers, Solomon and Chafetz started selling illustrations as a way of extracting at least some value from illustrated books that were too damaged to be sold as books. They would cut out the illustrations and pile them in a box for individual sale. Years later, one of Sidney’s daughters, Rebecca, would estimate that some of those prints would today fetch thousands of dollars. At the time, however, they were an afterthought. Some years later, the sisters, now older, did start organizing the illustrations and giving them a more prominent presentation. By then, the store had moved to a much larger location on 9th street, where it had a star turn in Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters.
After the Solomon sisters inherited the store, Shirley moved it to a smaller, more affordable location, and then in the early 00s, took it completely online. Only a few years later, however, she and Rebecca decided, swimming against the tide, that having a physical store was better for business. In 2005, they reopened in their current location in the middle of the Fourth Arts Block, with the Cooper Square Committee as landlord–which meant that their rent would help subsidize the affordable housing above the store. Because of the modest size of the store, the sisters felt it advisable to move away from books and specialize in prints and maps instead. This has allowed them to expend their selection. Their New York materials, for instance, now occupy multiple shelves, organized into city sections. Each section contains an array of maps, photographs, and illustrations of the neighborhoods in that part of town.
The store now also boasts substantial offerings by certain illustrators that the sisters favor. Notable among these is Tony Sarg, a puppeteer and illustrator (he designed the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade!), who created wonderful birds eye view prints of dynamic city scenes.
The shop’s clientele is as eclectic as its merchandise, ranging from collectors, students, and tourists who target the place as a destination to curious passersby drawn in by the boxes of $1 and $5 of New Yorker covers and sundry items kept outside the store.
Customers know or discover that the visitor from Chicago looking for a 1800s map of their hometown is just as likely to succeed in his search as the amateur kitchen decorator trying to find a lively vintage print of tomatoes to hang over the sink.
Customers, however, were hard to come by during the pandemic. One would think that being stuck in one’s apartment would inspire an impulse to beautify it. Apparently not. Business dropped by a third if not a half within a year. Cooper Square has made an effort to work with businesses to help them weather the crisis. This has allowed the print shop and some of its neighbors like Random Accessories (July 2018 Business of the Month) to stay, while others were not so lucky. Rebecca, however, has seen business improve and feels optimistic about the shop’s outlook.
For offering thousands of windows into the past and into the artistic sensibilities of bygone times, we are happy to name the family-owned Pageant Print Shop our August 2021 Business of the Month, during what is its 75th anniversary year. Stop by at 69 E 4th Street or visit their website.
What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc
Here is a map of all our Businesses of the Month: