By Sabina Mollot
On Third Avenue, a furniture shop specializing in antique and vintage furniture has just opened for business - or reopened. It depends on how you look at it.
Though the shop, Gramercy Vintage Furniture, has technically only been open for the past seven weeks, employees there have indicated they prefer to see it as a return to the community after a two-year hiatus.
It was in May 2009, when the longtime salespeople at a vintage furniture store run out of Calvary Church learned that the retail space was closing.
However, ever since the furniture store's departure, its former employees, along with a church volunteer and civic leaders, have been quietly planning its return to the neighborhood.
Gramercy Vintage store manager Joe Ercolino had previously managed the shop at Calvary for 14 years. It was there where he met Chris Rekhow, a church volunteer who was the church's treasurer, who'd later become the owner of Gramercy Vintage. Ercolino also met and worked alongside Peter Cooper Village resident Alex Young, who is now the assistant manager at GVF.
"My customers became my friends. For the past two years they've tried to find a place for Alex and me," said Ercolino, "and then I got a call that there was a store space available in Gramercy Park.
Two of those friends, who'd helped secure the deal at the new location, were Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, and Rev. Thomas Pike, the former rector of Calvary Church.
The reason for the neighbhorhood effort, according to Harrison, is that when the store closed at Calvary, it was almost as if the neighborhood had lost a community center.
"Whenever there was someone in need, they were always there to help them out," she said of the store's employees. "For years, people loved buying furnishings for their apartments, and were happy to donate their furniture as well, because they knew it benefited the church."
She added that after the closure, she and Pike began the search for another location to "bring them back to our community."
For Ercolino, who worked for the Salvation Army prior to his stint at Calvary, overseeing sales at five similar stores, there was no question about whether or not he'd accept the offer when it finally came from Rekhow to open a new shop.
Ercolino, who currently keeps a bible on his oak desk (one of several the shop has for sale), said the Gramercy Park community had become "my family," while he worked at Calvary.
Rekhow, who also owns another business, said he decided to open his own furniture store after being asked about it by former customers who missed shopping at Calvary.
The only reason it took so long to open Gramercy Vintage, he said, was the difficulty of finding an affordable space in the neighborhood. The new store, between 20th and 21st streets, not far from the original location, "is a dream come true," he said.
As for the prices of the goods, like 1930s armoires, mid-century desks and even a pantry from 1910, they're also similar to what they would have cost at the church space, Ercolino said. Along with some of the things he has kept in storage in a warehouse over the past couple of years, other items have been acquired from estate sales as well as from abandoned storage bins. New furniture arrives at the store every Thursday, and a couple of weeks ago, Ercolino also began taking items on consignment. The name of the store will soon change to reflect that, he said.
Unlike Calvary Church, the new store is not a nonprofit organization, but Rekhow said the store would give a percentage of every donation it gets to the Gramercy Park Block Association and those who donate furniture will later receive a tax deduction letter.
The clientele has surprised Ercolino. While at the old shop, the youngest clients tended to be in their 30s, the changing demographics of the neighborhood has led to him start serving the furnishing needs of 20-somethings. One Gramercy banker, he noted, buying several pieces of furniture, "couldn't have been older than 25." Then there are all the younger people moving into Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, who've been preferring to invest in vintage over Ikea.
"An educated customer is the best customer," Ercolino noted. "They can go to Ikea and waste their money on sprayed walnut or they can come here and buy something with character. "Something," he added, "that'll stand the test of time."
Gramercy Vintage Furniture is located at 250 Third Avenue and can be reached at