Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Russian Souvenirs

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.

16 comments:

gabriel said...

Please please PLEASE visit the Judaica stores on Essex street some day... I would love to see Rabbi Eisenbach -- the sofer [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofer] at 41 Essex -- here one day, although I'd hate to bother him -- still, I peer frequently into his dusty below-grade windows, watching him repair Torah scrolls and other materials. Amazes me to the brink. See here for more...

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Back in the 90s got a whole mass of Soviet pins to hang on my chest, which I never had any reason to do. Lenin, Karl Marx and strangely Gorbachov who in a way had a little something to do with the fall of the Soviet Union. There were many Russian stores along 14th Street and Russian Souvenirs is the last one.

Anonymous said...

I am from Sydney australia and the russian souvenir shop was a highlight on my last trip to the apple

Goggla said...

Kudos for nabbing some pics. I ventured in there once, but the owner was sprawled out asleep on a lounge chair, semi-blocking the doorway. I leaned over him, trying to get a look inside, but his angry snores scared me, so I just took his pic and snuck away...been afraid to go back.

I like seeing this place, though. It's one of those familiar anchors of 14th St, one of the very few things that hasn't changed.

Streets of Stamford said...

That place is awesome for its crazy hoarder-like feeling. I always wonder how stores like that hold on with Manhattan's insane rent.

Ken Mac said...

lonely forests? I'm there, this is a classic stretch of 14th as well

EV Grieve said...

We need more cluttered little shops like this around...but today's generation of Ikea kids don't seem to want much to do with special stores like Russian Souvenirs.

ShatteredMonocle said...

An interesting shop for sure. From my experience he is definitely not a pleasant man. But he's good at what he does, which is strong arm you into buying things you don't need for too much money.

Jill said...

I am so impressed that you went inside. I know this store has been there since at least the late 70's when Stuyvesant was around the block and all the candy stores sold drugs with a bag of chips. I've always been fascinated by it, but never brave enough to go inside. There was another shop that shared the staircase with him, but my feeble mind can no longer remember what it was except that it was equally intimidating. Dusty jewelry or wigs.

Jeremiah Moss said...

it's funny we're all so afraid of this place! everyone should go in and conquer their fears of the Russian souvenir man...

Anonymous said...

I don't know, this souvenir guy sounds pretty rude to me. I love old New York, but I prefer the Bed Bath and Beyond robots, since at least they are polite robots. A store owner should be nice, not rude. He's probably losing a lot of business because of his attitude.

Bowery Boogie said...

i'll head here before going to kgb bar to get the full experience...

@gabriel, Rabbi Eisenbach's Sofer shop is so great. Equally amazed!

Ken Mac said...

went in last night, Alexander was charming. 20 year old Russian Christmas cards for $5 a pop.

Ken Mac said...

re Anonymous, Alexander was very nice to me. Explained everything in detail, the amber and birch laden artwork, he gave me the locations of the many postcards I bought, sold me an extremely old pair of sunglases for $10, and pointed at the photos on the wall, exclaiming "Dostevesky!" and other names I can't pronounce...

Jeremiah Moss said...

ken, glad you went in and got a warm welcome!

bxexcxkxyx3 said...

I went into this store today after lunch, and was only there for a few seconds. When the man (I didn't know him by Alex, because he didn't tell me his name, I think he was eating lunch and really did not want any people in the store) I looked at the walls and around the room and wondered how a person could possibly collect all that stuff. He seemed a little dissapointed when I left withought buying anything, but I had spent all my cash at lunch, and I felt bad for leaving a man who looked so nice emptyhanded. So I hope that one day, I will go back to this store, and Alex will tell me about many things on the walls and around the room.