Rising Rents Shutter 40-Year-Old Gramercy Antique Shop

By Heather Holland on March 18, 2014 7:27am 

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 Irving Barber Shop Antiques is closing and putting its 1,000-item inventory into storage, owners said.
Irving Barber Shop Antiques
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GRAMERCY — An antiques shop that opened in Gramercy more than 40 years ago is shutting down because of rising rents, the owners said.

Arlene and Simon Kahn launched Irving Barber Shop Antiques in 1973 and have bounced between several spots in the neighborhood over the years in search of affordable space.

But when their rent recently rose to $4,000 per month for their latest spot at 132 E. 17th St. near Third Avenue, they finally decided they'd had enough.

“The rent is eating into everything we take in, so it doesn’t work,” said Arlene Kahn, who has lived with her husband in the neighborhood for decades and on a recent afternoon was sorting and packing high stacks of porcelain trinkets, vintage magazines and costume jewelry in the store.

“We’ve been schlepping from place to place, and now we’re paying $4,000 a month, and it’s small and it’s not convenient either,” Kahn added of the snug 10-by-30-foot space. “It’s a big loss after that much time.”

Irving Barber Shop Antiques is offering 20 percent off on its thousands of items — including everything from a handmade pottery lamp for $300 to a Victorian mustache curler with a silver handle for $5 — for the next two weeks.

The Kahns plan to shut down by the end of the month and put all remaining merchandise in storage.

The shop's landlord could not immediately be reached for comment.

The antiques store first opened in a former barbershop on Irving Place and was named for the barber pole that remained out front. It stayed there for about 10 years before moving to 21st Street in 1983 because of rising rents. The shop then moved to its current 17th Street location four and a half years ago.

The shop’s clientele was initially made up of mostly costume and prop designers. Now, the majority of its dwindling sales come from longtime, loyal customers, Kahn said.

“They’ve kind of followed me,” Kahn said. “I knew a couple before they got married, and now they have grandchildren.”

Over the years, the Kahns have collected thousands of items through donations or by buying them at antiques shows they attend on weekends when the store is closed.

“We always have to have new,” Arlene Kahn said. “If you don’t have new, then [customers] will not come.”

“People who inherit things they don’t want, they’ll call me and say they just inherited a whole household and they don’t know what to do with it,” Kahn continued. “I’m not sure I know what to do with it either, but I try.”

The collection includes a turn-of-the-20th-century oversized print of Carnegie Hall by the Brown Brothers and a 1936 edition of Woman's Home Companion magazine, in addition to glassware and American pottery, Kahn said.

Kahn is still hoping to reopen somewhere in the neighborhood, but a hunt for spaces along Third and Park avenues turned up nothing cheaper than $6,000 a month.

“We’re moving as fast as we can get out,” Kahn said.

Gramercy resident Kati Meister, who has shopped at the store for more than 30 years, was sad to hear of its impending closure.

"I'm devastated," Meister said. "I got all my favorite cookie jars and vases there.

"It's always fun to come here because you never know what you're going to find."

Irving Barber Shop Antiques, 132 E. 17th St., is open Monday through Friday from 1-6 p.m.

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