Monday, February 13, 2017

Liberty House


Liberty House, at 112th and Broadway, is vanishing after 49 years in business. And it's no ordinary local shop.

photo: Jed Egan, New York magazine

It is the last of its kind, a small chain of New York shops first organized in 1965 by Abbie Hoffman and other civil rights workers in Mississippi to sell goods made by poor women of color, with the profits going back to the original communities, and to support the Civil Rights Movement.

I talked to co-owner Martha who told me the shop will shutter at the end of April. They'll be having a sale until then, from 20% to 50% off.

This time, it's not the rent. "People aren't shopping," Martha said. "They're going online. It's convenient. They tell me, 'I can sit at home and shop in my pajamas.' But people have to shop local or else there won't be any stores anymore."

photo via Liberty House Facebook page

The second-to-last Liberty House shuttered in 2007, also on the Upper West Side. It was a victim of rising rents.

Back then, a customer told the Times, “I don’t know how you stop these people. They’re throwing everyone out right and left, and it’s going to be a neighborhood of Duane Reades and Godiva chocolates. This store should have made it.”

Said one of the shop's partners, “The diversity of people, both incomes and interests, has lessened and we have more of what we used to call upwardly mobile people, who shop online or drive to malls, or get in cabs and go to Barneys.”

At this last Liberty House, Martha asks everyone to go up, buy something, and say goodbye to this piece of New York's history, a shop dedicated to liberation and economic justice--something we need now more than ever. They say farewell on their Facebook page:


Scout said...

It does, from time to time, still amaze me how quickly technological developments change the quotidian aspects of the way we live. I certainly miss browsing book and record stores (watching a scene in Tower Records in Hannah and Her Sisters recently made me very nostalgic); but I know those things are gone like the dinosaurs and mastodons.

Ms. said...

Dear Scout WE are the dinosaurs and mastodons and we didn't know we were for sale to the highest bidder. Every vanishing diminishes us, not just this City. I refuse to shop on line.

savenycjobs said...

Yes, it is the rent and the lease renewal process that is responsible for this and every small business closing. Since former mayor Giuliani established a Republican Trickle Down economic policy which favors big real estate profits, and carried on by Bloomberg, every small business owner has had NO voice in government to protect them or address their real problems. Real problems like short term leases, increased landlord's property taxes they are forced to pay, illegal extortion, rent gouging and growing Ecommercial and big box competition. An anti small business policy carried on by today's fake progressive lawmakers. The commercial lease renewal process in NYC is so one sided that when even the very best long established businesses expire, they struggle to survive. If this business and others were given rights and protection when their leases expire and a government that addressed their real problems , they can survive.

Julie said...

Nothing will change the hands-on experience of shopping in person for art-to-wear, not even Etsy. Size and fit challenges require knowledgeable and sensitive staff. I wish they could stay, even though I shopped there only a few times a year. Liberty's House's uniqueness tempers the mall-ification of Broadway around Columbia U, plus they have unique and classy gifts. There are similar stores in NJ, especially my sister's, which goes back to the 60s, right over the GW Bridge in downtown Englewood = LA PUERTA DEL SOL EAST, 15 East Palisade Ave (201) 568-3222. Call ahead -- she's been cutting back, but is usually open Tue, Thu-Sat. Nothing has Liberty's House's history, though. Think I need to get a new scarf ...

Tal Hartsfeld said...

A sign of the times.
Change isn't always for the better. It just is what it is.

Unknown said...

I am so sorry to lose Liberty house. I started shopping there when it was located at Bdway and88th St. I have many beautififul and unique items I purchaced there that I will keep forever including clothing scarves, bags of all kinds, and indigenous sculptures that I will keep forever. I will never forget his one of a kind store. Change is not always for the better. Dale

Patty Villanova said...

As a native born New Yorker, I mourn the loss of Liberty House and every other unique specialty shop in Manhattan that has been forced out of business for one reason or another. I lived in the East Village during the late 1960s through the 1980s and remember well all the funky boutiques that thrived all over town during that period. I had my own business back then producing hand painted and embellished clothing and accessories and there was quite a demand for such things before the massive influx of cheap imports that changed the face of retail forever.

Today there are so many things that work against shops like Liberty House- it's like a perfect storm. The biggest and worst thing is online shopping and the worst of that is the so called "smart phone" that has utterly destroyed the shopping experience with its tiny screen that can never do justice to the merchandise that's displayed. People of all ages have become addicted to their screens- they don't call it "digital heroin" for nothing- and this is part of why real world experience is no longer valued.

Liberty House was a gem, such a special place with beautifully curated merchandise from some incredible artisans like Suzanne Punch, whose amazing hand painted silk scarves were a staple. Someone mentioned Etsy, but I can tell you that there is simply no substitute for going to a shop, interacting with the staff, touching the merchandise, discussing it, trying it on, etc. It saddens me to think that people would rather sit in front of a stupid screen in their pajamas than get dressed and partake of the amazing treasures that the City has to offer.

Like JOni Mitchell said- you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

PEC-NYC said...

I loved this store. I found so many sweet, unique outfits for my niece and nephew. I'm so sorry to hear they're gone.