Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 -15, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Rebecca Solomon, left, and Shirley Solomon

Sisters find their way back to map-and-print shop

By Caitlin Eichelberger

Following a five-year hiatus, Pageant Print Shop, specializing in affordable antique prints and maps, is returning from the virtual world to the real. The store’s latest bricks-and-mortar location, 69 E. Fourth St., between the Bowery and Second Ave., opens this week, and is the fifth in its 50-year history.

Pageant closed in 1999 when its Houston St. rent was raised steeply. The business continued online and became a regular at city book fairs and the Union Square Holiday Market. When opportunity knocked on an East Village block, second-generation owners Rebecca and Shirley Solomon, decided to once again relocate their inventory, better suited for selling in a physical space. 

“You can see how much stuff we have,” Shirley said, motioning to the 15,000 items lining the shop’s freshly painted, butter-colored walls. “We just can’t do that on the Internet.”

The items are divided into various collections, including botanical prints, anatomical plates and political cartoons. The type and size of prints vary from a postcard of Abraham Lincoln logging to a large 1890 chromolithograph of fall fruit. Rebecca and Shirley expect the New York City collection to be the most popular, and it is a personal favorite of their own, rounding out their home collections. Maps and views from all across the globe, however, are also available. A homesick Midwesterner or displaced West Coaster, for example, can buy a map of Cleveland or St. Louis, San Francisco or Los Angeles to hang in their New York City home.

The shop’s prices are reasonable. “We know our market,” Shirley said. “We know how to buy and sell low priced.” The most expensive item currently in the shop is a $350 map of 1860 New York City, while most other prints run from $5 to $50.

The inventory is constantly changing as the Solomon sisters seek new goods to buy and sell. They go “anywhere and everywhere,” Rebecca said.

“We have a knack for acquiring; we know how to find stuff. But I’m not going to give you our trade secrets, now,” Shirley added. 

Buyers have from near and far sought out the shop. Shirley recently mailed an illustrated book about Buenos Aires to Argentina through the online used-and-rare books portion of the business. It was the only one of its kind the buyer could find online, Shirley said. Rebecca once sent typeface prints to Sweden. 

The Solomon sisters sought out space on the Fourth St. block of renovated tenement buildings for over a year. In August, they finally signed a lease. “It was a shell,” before replacing the floor, repainting the walls and installing new lighting, Rebecca said of the new shop.

“We refused to settle for fluorescent lighting again,” Shirley said, remembering their former locations. 

The original Pageant, a bookstore, opened in 1946 on the renowned Bookseller’s Row that stretched along Fourth Ave. from Astor Pl. to 14th St. A passion for reading and writing drew owner Sidney Solomon, Rebecca and Shirley’s father, to the book business when he returned from World War II. As young girls, Rebecca and Shirley spent almost every holiday from school working in the Ninth St. shop. When their father died in 1986, Shirley continued the business.

“I got away for a couple of decades,” Rebecca said.

Because buildings on the shop’s new block are run by a nonprofit housing corporation, Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, that is committed to small businesses, Rebecca and Shirley are optimistic about their future on Fourth St. “But anything can happen when your lease is up,” Rebecca said. Other shops on the block include a vintage clothes store, Centricity, and an instrument store, Keshav.

“Everyone on this block marches to their own drum,” Shirley noted. “So we’re not sure what our hours will be yet.”

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