Drug dealers prowled Downing Street back then, and graffiti scarred many buildings in the southwest corner of the West Village.
"This is the only thing we could afford," Soriano said Wednesday afternoon.
Nearly 20 years later, in an area that includes multimillion-dollar homes and two outposts of the celebrated restaurant Blue Ribbon, Soriano is preparing to close his jam-packed 33 Bedford St. shop because of a rent hike.
The Lively Set, which overflows with eclectic 20th century lighting and furniture, will close its doors in mid-May after the previously below-market rent for its space more than doubled, he said.
"The rents caught up to me," said Soriano, who declined to disclose the exact amount now being asked for the space, which includes sea foam-green metal grates on the windows.
The building's landlord could not immediately be reached for comment.
Soriano, a Chelsea resident, found most of the items in the store — like a 1940s chandelier made with droplets of bright yellow Italian Murano glass ($3,750, down from $7,500) — at antiques shops and estate sales near his native Ohio.
"What's hot in New York might not be hot in the Midwest," he explained.
Once he finds a gem, like mid-century Danish modern chairs covered in pale blue fabric ($3,000 for the pair, down from $6,000), he has them refinished and reupholstered.
Currently, everything in The Lively Set is marked down 50 percent until the shop closes.
Soriano said he's in the initial stages of searching for a new location. While he would prefer to stay in the neighborhood, near customers he's known since their now-college-age children were pushed down the street in strollers, he's considering lower-rent neighborhoods like Red Hook and Hudson Yards.
Wherever Soriano opts to move the store, he's looking for a place with character, like the old black-and-white tiles and tin ceiling in his longtime shop.
"I can't see myself moving into a new-floors, new-plaster type store," he said.
Soriano, whose partner Lohr died in 2006, is also considering joining forces with another business, like a vintage clothing shop.
"I'm hoping to reinvent myself," he said. "People rewrite their endings all the time."