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Jewelry Designer Moves Into Controversial Gramercy Storefront

By Mary Johnson | August 27, 2012 6:50pm

GRAMERCY — A long vacant storefront in one of the swanky buildings ringing Gramercy Park has finally found a tenant that the neighborhood’s residents approve of: a jewelry store specializing in rare gems and serving customers mostly by appointment.

Karen Karch, who has been designing jewelry for more than 20 years, moved into the space earlier this month after leaving her longtime shop on Mulberry Street.

Karch said she is still putting finishing touches on the new store at 38 Gramercy Park North, a building with about 35 residents that several weeks ago was the site of an attempted purse snatching. But so far, her reception among locals has been warm.

“We love being here,” Karch said in a recent phone interview. “And everyone has really liked the work.”

The new retail tenant fills a space that restaurateur Cole Miller once eyed as a tapas restaurant and wine bar.

But residents in the neighborhood launched an aggressive campaign to thwart the incoming establishment, claiming it would bring unwelcome crowds and late-night noise.

The State Liquor Authority agreed, and in January 2011, the agency denied Miller's liquor license request.

"Everyone who sent a letter, signed a petition, attended a community board meeting, testified, volunteered time or donated money to this worthy cause can take pride in today's victory for Gramercy Park,” said Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, at the time of the SLA’s vote.

For Karch, the space appealed to her because of its semi-seclusion, despite being near bustling hubs like the Flatiron District and Union Square.

“I like that we were able to find this space that has a real private feeling to it,” Karch said.

And the residents of the vocal neighborhood — including those who live above the first-floor boutique — have welcomed the new addition, noting that a high-end jewelry shop was a much better fit for the quiet, historic neighborhood than a bar.

One resident of 38 Gramercy Park North, who declined to be quoted by name, said he couldn’t be happier about the building’s new retail tenant, particularly the pride the designer has taken in remodeling the space.

Karch, who also does a lot of custom jewelry design work, spent months renovating the space, which is now sparsely furnished with two long display cases and two separate seating areas.

In her work, Karch uses black diamonds, ice diamonds and cognac diamonds — none of which are treated with heat so that the natural coloring can come through — alongside other materials such as pink coral, Canadian jade and blank onyx, said Lisa Tregnaghi, who has worked with Karch for about a decade.

Karch is known for her engagement rings, Tregnaghi added. And each bejeweled ring — which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to more than $100,000 — is designed around the individual stone selected, making many of the pieces in her collection one of a kind.

“They’re all quite special,” Tregnaghi said. “It’s something as unique as [our customers].”

In addition to her rings, Karch is known for using horns, hearts and roses throughout her work — all of which are finished with aggressive details. Her hearts, for example, are entwined in metal or fastened to chains with claws.

“I don’t like pieces that are too feminine. So there’s always like a masculine, feminine feel to them,” Karch explained. “It’s taking something that is sort of sweet and giving it a little bit of edge.”

Karch said that she is looking forward to meeting more people around the neighborhood in the coming months as she adds finishing touches to the store.

“We wanted to be somewhat off the beaten track,” Tregnaghi added. “And we definitely wanted something that was private.”