Streams

Niche Market | Ribbons

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

(Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market will take a peek inside a different specialty store and showcase the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Hyman Hendler and Sons
21 West 38th Street
New York, NY 10018

Hyman Hendler & Sons specializes in vintage ribbons—but it wasn't always so.

At the peak of the business in the 1950s and 1960s, Harold Hendler, son of the original owner, would sit at his kitchen table and sketch floral, striped, plaid and novelty ribbons at all hours. Then he'd pack his bags and fly to Europe, where he'd tour the old mill towns and contract thousands of ribbons for production.

Back at home, he’d enter his shop on 38th Street in the millinery district, where he served designers including Ralph Lauren (a tie maker in those days), Oscar de la Renta, Adolfo, Scaasi—those who dressed "the women who lunch."

"We became known as the ribbon kings," said Michael Weisman, 71, the current owner and son-in-law of Harold. The store, which began as a pushcart driven by Hyman, a Russian immigrant on the Lower East Side in 1900, has grown to encompass one of the world's largest and most unique collections of fine ribbons, in a staggering variety of colors, patterns, textures and widths.

Like a monarch of a forgotten kingdom, Weisman sits surrounded by his riches, slowly selling off his stock of gems. Most of the ribbons in the shop are now a minimum of 30 years old. "The quality of the ribbons today are just the same as they were when we first made them. The ribbons, they do not disintegrate, nobody really knows to look at a ribbon when it was produced," he said.

The tale of New York's fading garment industry has been told many times: the textile industry moved overseas, American and European mills closed, and the majority of zipper, button and ribbon shopkeepers of Manhattan's fashion district were casualties. Fashion trends also became more minimal, requiring fewer ribbons.

Still, there is a niche for these ribbons. Hyman Hendler & Sons continues to sell its stock of taffeta, velvet and satin ribbons to interior decorators, Broadway costumers, small-scale shoemakers and New York designers who produce samples in the city before sending the prototypes off to Asia.

To his dismay, many of the ribbons Weisman sells simply aren't made anymore. To cut costs, mills have diminished the number of colors they will combine for a ribbon. "The six color jacquard makes the whole ribbon, if you just look at all those colors combined, that's why the ribbon is beautiful. You start taking colors away that's just a run of the mill piece of ribbon," he said.

The top selling ribbon isn't the rare $90 a yard, exquisitely puffed jacquard ribbons, rather it's the grosgrain (ranging from $2.75-$19.50 a yard), a type of ribbed ribbon with a sawtooth edge that is easily manipulated into trim for draperies, shower curtains, belts and hems.

On a recent weekday, Nicole Callahan, 26, strolled into the store with a bag of fleece pajamas. An employee of a New York sleepwear company, she needed ribbon drawstrings for the PJs, which the company will display during February's fashion week. "I'm just putting some finishing touches on some things. I knew I needed ribbons so I came right here because this is the place for ribbon!" Callahan spent an hour fingering the texture, peering at the color and measuring the width of various ribbons, and ultimately spent $130. But if the pajamas sell, Callahan said, Hyman Hendler’s won’t get the contract. The company will go to production in China.

A project of extremely small scale production drew Ella Lang into the store. This young woman wanted a yard of ornate ribbon to decorate the top part of a tallit for her upcoming bat mitzvah.  "I wanted it to be still kind of traditional, but I wanted it to be purple and blue and with no words and to design the little corner pieces myself. I sew a lot," said the twelve-year-old, sorting through shelves of spools with delight.

Weisman, who has worked at the shop for 44 years, would like to sell his treasure trove of ribbons and retire, but said no one in his family is interested in going into the trade. So for now, like the generations before him, Weisman works every day, selling one yard of ribbon at a time.

 

Interview with Michael I. Weisman, owner of Hyman Hendler & Sons.

How did the store get so specialized in the ribbon business?

The business started with my wife's grandfather. It began on a pushcart on the lower east side, like a lot of businesses started. He started originally with millinery, actually I think he was doing millinery in Europe before he came here. Millinery supplies and it led to hats, hat bodies, and ribbons. And we're a ribbon specialist, that's what we've done over the years.

Around the early ‘50s, my father-in-law, Harold Hendler, started to travel in Europe, in certain manufacturing towns in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain. He traveled quite a bit, finding mills and we contracted with them to produce for us....He would go through their collection, and pick out specific items that he liked, and go ahead with production. Then this particular mill would take the yarn that we chose and they would take it to a mill, in some cases it was somebody's home, it was a cottage trade, if they had one loom it was a one-loom home. If they had two looms they were getting to be known as maybe a factory. So it took quite a while to produce these items. In one case, one of our manufacturers that we did a nice business with, it took them about three months to produce maybe about 1,000 yards of our satin ribbon that we brought in from France. But they don't exist anymore, they're gone. Today, all you're looking at primarily in satin ribbon is either nylon or polyester. Except Asia produces silk, inexpensive silk satin.

What kinds of ribbons do you sell?

From the basics — grosgrains, satins, velvets —we have probably the largest selection of velvet ribbon in the world today at our warehouse in Woodside. The novelties that we have start with very simple stripes of a hundred percent acetate made in the United States to our complicated stripes, plaids in grosgrain, to taffeta ribbons with picot edges to floral ribbons with scalloped edges, and straight edges to polka dots. A lot of jacquards that we have done over the years, jacquards that are filled, some people call them trapuntos. We really have more specialized ribbons than what anyone else is doing today.

Most of our ribbons are minimum 30 years and older. We made them. We made them over the years. We contracted with the mills in Europe. We had to make large stocks and we always assorted the color range, and you never guess right in colors.

Did your father in law design most of the ribbons in the store?

Yes, he designed the ribbon line. It was his baby. He loved doing it. I remember my mother-in-law used to say to him, because my father-in-law worked on the kitchen table, she used to say to him, "Harold. We have to eat dinner. Please, take all of your—I won't say it—out of here! This was his puppy and he loved it. It gets in your blood. I really love it but it gets frustrating after a while. When you can't get at the people. We used to go through the buildings — of Seventh Avenue, Broadway — and cold canvass. You can't do it today, because security won't let you walk through the buildings. So, how do you find the customers, you try to call them on the telephone. Today, the telephones are all answering machines. And try to get through to the design department of a particular company, it's very difficult.

Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Michael Weisman, owner of Hyman Hendler & Sons.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Nicole Callahan, shopping for ribbon.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Michael Weisman, owner of Hyman Hendler & Sons.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Michael Weisman, owner of Hyman Hendler & Sons.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Grosgrain for sale at Hyman Hendler & Sons.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Ella Lang shopping for a ribbon to sew on her tallit.

Tags:

More in:

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [12]

Andy Lau

Wonderful pic, wonderful writing. I can't help to read your next post. By the way, Would you like to wholesale Ribbon from World's Largest Ribbon Manufacturer, we have 19 sizes, 196 colors with thousand styles of Grosgrain Ribbon, organza ribbon, satin ribbon and other ribbons as well as bows for choice. All of them are sold with bottom price assured. Our customers include LV, Chanel, Disney, Playboy, Boss and many other famous brands.

Website: http://www.yamaribbon.com

Aug. 30 2012 09:36 PM
Yama Ribbon

Wholesale Ribbon from World's Largest Ribbon Manufacturer, we have 19 sizes, 196 colors with thousand styles of Grosgrain Ribbon, organza ribbon, satin ribbon and other ribbons as well as bows for choice. All of them are sold with bottom price assured. Our customers include LV, Chanel, Disney, Playboy, Boss and many other famous brands.

Website: http://www.yamaribbon.com

Aug. 09 2012 10:27 PM
Yama Ribbon

Wonderful pic, wonderful writing. I can't help to read your next post. By the way, Would you like to wholesale Ribbon from World's Largest Ribbon Manufacturer, we have 19 sizes, 196 colors with thousand styles of <a href="http://www.yamaribbon.com"><strong>Grosgrain Ribbon</strong></a>, organza ribbon, satin ribbon and other ribbons as well as bows for choice. All of them are sold with bottom price assured. Our customers include LV, Chanel, Disney, Playboy, Boss and many other famous brands. Trust me, we won't let you down!

Website: http://www.yamaribbon.com

Aug. 09 2012 10:24 PM
phyllis howe from NYC

How does one let you know about a specific niche market store?

Apr. 08 2012 11:27 PM
Melissa from New York, NY

Idea for future show:

My son was recently diagnosed with celiac sprue and I was very happy to learn about this store: www.g-freenyc.com

Not wildly interesting, but does reflect the both the increasing rate of diagnosis of celiac disease and a new "health food" trend.

Jan. 30 2012 02:30 PM
Mary Buckley Sutton from Tennessee

Hyman Hendler is the very first place I go when in NYC. The ribbons are exquisite, elegant, stunning! You cannot imagine my delight when Mr. Weisman saw my choice of ribbon to line a belt of vintage moleskin and exclaimed his approval! Of course my favorites are in glass cases and behind the counter. Having a small collection of these ribbons is like owning a bit of fashion history. I spend all I can there, and then I walk up the Avenue of the Americas to window shop on Fifth. This shop is the mecca for lovers of fine ribbon.

Jan. 27 2012 12:21 PM
Patty Mann from Nyack, NY

Felt pajamas? Surely you mean flannel. I would not like so sleep in felt pajamas.

Jan. 25 2012 01:57 PM
Kathy Anastasio

I really enjoyed this piece! I sew and do needlecrafts, but unless someone is a sewist or crafter themselves, they have no idea the difference a top quality ribbon, yarn or fabric will make. As an aside-I think that the edging on the taffeta ribbon he was talking about is "picot" not "pekoe".

Jan. 25 2012 12:59 PM
Linda Zimmerman from Connecticut

LOVE this store. Way back in the late 1970's my first job was a shopper for then Eaves Costume Co. I spent many days at Hyman Hendler looking for just the right ribbon for a certain Broadway costume. As a young creative person myself, I lost myself in that store. The ribbons were every where and I just swooned! What a wonderful article to bring me back down memory lane on 38th St. The whole street was fabulous!!!!

Jan. 25 2012 11:31 AM
Nicole

Reading and listening to this article, I remember à store on Broadway near Spring, this store was a cavern of Ali Baba, with rows of shelves full of buttons in boxes, ribbons of all sorts you could just look through boxes trying to match that lost button. A cat was roaming through the aisles...now there is CB2, Victoria Secret ...

Jan. 25 2012 09:03 AM
Susan Boothe from Ocean Gate, NJ

I heard the audio piece while I was reading this and it was nothing in comparison to the written word. Really nice piece!

Jan. 25 2012 08:47 AM
Dee Lederman from Manhattan, NY

Shame, the word is millinery i.e.,hats, NOT millenary, i.e., one thousand years. Are you really so young that you do not know the difference? My mother was a milliner, nothing to do with one thousand years.
I guess you never heard of spellcheck or thesaurus, etc.,

Jan. 25 2012 07:59 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Sponsored

Latest Newscast

 

 

Support

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public

Feeds

Supported by