Now is as good a time as any to visit the Russian Souvenirs shop on East 14th Street. They're having a sale on fabric. 50% off. You need some nice, last-minute Christmas gifts maybe?
The place has been there for I don't know how long--a long time--and I love to look in the window, which is crammed with Russian army caps, military pins, nesting dolls, lead soldiers, gigantic fur hats, and a cluttered flurry of more and more stuff.
It took me years to work up the courage to venture inside, where the clutter continues. The walls are covered with paintings of dour-faced bearded men, sunsets, and lonely forests. In the back, there are racks and racks of clothing and fabrics. And all around, everywhere you look, the shelves are stacked high with tchochkes.
It's all quite tempting for browsers, but there is very little room to move around in. You have to step carefully.
Alex (described by New York Magazine as "the grizzled owner, a Leningrad native") probably has his hands full this time of year just wrangling the customers, trying to keep them out from behind the crowded main counter, where they sometimes wander.
I watched one young woman, after being told to stay out, push her way back there anyway, grabbing at dolls on an overloaded shelf until Alex shouted at her not to touch. She walked out in a huff.
Can you blame him? His supper of soup and brown bread was getting cold on its tray and he doesn't need such monkey business.
If you do decide to shop here, be ready to bargain. Alex is a haggler, and he's a serious man. A professional who knows his wares, he will not give you service with a smile, nor with a sneer. This is old Leningrad on 14th Street, not Bed, Bath, & Beyond where the robotic staff are programmed to utter a monotoned hello to you every five seconds. (Has anyone else been subjected to that insanity? Hello. Hello. Hello.)
The Russian Souvenirs shop is dark, stuffed, and awkward. You will probably feel uncomfortable there. But it's worth the trip, if only because there are few places like it--and more and more places like Bed, Bath, & Beyond.