John Gotti, notoriously stylish as he was, never craved a rhinestone piglet. For years he walked past Charles’ Place at 234 Mulberry Street, on his way to and from his Ravenite Social Club, “but he never patronized us,” Charles Elkaim, the shop’s owner laughs. Now the former Ravenite is a snazzy shoe store and, after 18 years on the block, Elkaim is packing up his dinosaur necklaces and monkey ear bobs and bejeweled bat bracelets and closing next week.
When Charles’ Place opened, there was a parking lot across the street and FBI agents regularly cruised the neighborhood, which for decades had been known as Little Italy, the Nolita moniker being far in the future. Word of mouth and articles in places like Le Figaro and Japanese Bazaar spread the news about Charles and his hand-made creations—no one can set a garter on a miniature Betty Boop’s thigh like Elkaim—turning his shop into a destination for quirky collectors.
Once Charles’ Place looked out on a parking lot. Now the lot is gone, replaced by an upscale fashion boutique and a quiet, tasteful Ricky’s (which is, for all its dark wood shelving and a sign that reads “natural for the mind, sprit and complete body,” in the end just a Ricky’s). Elkaim and his wife, Yvette, who, in their 41 years of decorating animals, have built a fan base that includes Jade Jagger, herself a jeweler, say they will operate their business over the Internet, but one worries—when asked for their Web address, they confess they don’t have one yet.
In the end, there are few things sadder than a special little shop closing. “It’s a nightmare,” Elkaim sighs. “We’re even getting rid of our beautiful cabinets.”
And indeed, it is a nightmare—one we feel a tiny bit responsible for, if only because we were initially enthusiastic about the shifting retail landscape in Nolita. Our pulse always quickens when new boutiques open, and because we are possessed of a particularly slow learning curve, it never really sinks in that inevitably these darling shops will gobble up grocery stores, shoe repairers, and quirky one-of-a-kind holes in the wall that sell cartoon earrings.
That said, we aren’t all that upset to find that the gigantic Salvation Army at 69 Spring Street has vanished. Not being particular fans of Sally Ann (we never find the great things others seem to turn up) it takes us a minute to realize that it has been replaced by a place called Pylones. We are immediately taken with a kitschy faux-vintage souvenir pillow in the window, hand embroidered with scenes of Paris, which is actually just the sort of item lots of people manage to find at thrift shops for, like, $7. Alas, this one is a depressing $150.
We are ashamed by the rapidity with which we fall for the whimsically-patterned French sugar bowls, toasters, radios, flasks, ash trays (the French still smoke), and other goods rendered in dazzling, high gloss baked enamel. Given the fact that they flaunt cow-skin spots, hallucinogenic bubbles, and other designs not usually found on common household items, the prices—a toaster is $69—seem quite reasonable (especially when compared with a $150 cushion).
But not all the frankly silly merch is costly. A mermaid bottle opener—didn’t know you needed this?—is $24; the frog tape dispenser—another must have!—is $14, and the perfect summer house gift, the twirling spaghetti fork—yes! Bring this and of course you’ll be invited back!—is an extremely palatable $12.