Volume 75, Number 36 | January 25 - 31, 200

Hip kids’ stores and salons are West Village’s new cutting edge

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

The West Village has been steadily changing over the past few years, as young, well-off couples flock to the brownstone-lined streets. Many of these young couples are having children, and stores have been springing up to accommodate the stroller-pushing crowd.

In the summer of 2004, Creative Visions, a gay video and bookstore, closed its Hudson St. store. At the time, owner Vincent Migliore blamed the closing on the rise of national chains and the gentrification of the Village, both factors, he said, that made it difficult to pay the rent.

The vacancy left by Creative Visions was filled a year later by Belly Dance, a store that sells self-described “hip maternity clothes for stylish moms-to-be.” Belly Dance is part of a recent trend of maternity clothes — which in the past were shapeless and utilitarian — reflecting the mother’s prepregnancy style. Many fashionable designers have come out with their own line of maternity clothes that look just like their regular lines but are roomier, and Belly Dance carries trendy merchandise like Citizens of Humanity jeans and Michael Stars T-shirts.

Belly Dance is part of an emergence of hip boutiques — many of them clustered along Hudson St. — catering to new Village mothers and their children. Gone from the West Village are the sandal makers and gay bookstores, replaced by vintage furniture stores specializing in kids’ rooms and high-priced boutiques selling $100 cowboy boots for the crawling set.

Across the street from Belly Dance is a children’s hair salon, and within just a few blocks are five different stores each with a different take on pricey children’s gear. A pharmacy just for children, Kids Rx, is set to open soon on Hudson St. between Charles and W. 10th Sts.

The West Village has been in the process of becoming gentrified for some time now, as evidenced by the rise in chain boutiques on Bleecker St., such as Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren. According to Itzaskun Garay, manager and associate broker at Citi-Habitats, a residential real estate firm on Perry St., the West Village has become one of the most, if not the most, expensive neighborhoods in New York. In an area where studios are routinely sold for almost half a million dollars, the stores reflect the high-end rents and the new families that can afford them.

“It used to be more gay and now it’s more families,” Garay said of the West Village. “Young professionals and Wall Streeters with money have been moving into the West Village for the past few years. Because of the community feeling, it is a great neighborhood to raise a family in. This has been a gradual process, but in the past year or two the stores have really been catching up and catering to the clientele.”

Dana Rywelski, the owner of Doodle Doo’s, children’s hair salon on Hudson St., saw the neighborhood change firsthand. After getting a master’s degree in early childhood education, Rywelski was a nanny on Perry St. for four years. Her salon has been open for six months, and has been successful so far. Kids get to sit in a toy-car-shaped barber chair, watch movies and get sparkles put in their hair once it has been styled. The salon also offers mini-manicures, educational toys, art kits, clothes and birthday parties. Doodle Doo’s has already hosted a number of birthday parties, and the format ranges depending on age. The youngest birthday child was turning 2 and the celebrants got their hair styled, pizza and cake, art projects and mini-manicures. Another recent party was for nine 9-year-olds, who got manicures and pedicures.

“I saw a need for a children’s salon,” said Rywelski, noting that there are a lot more children in the Village now, with “more coming every day.”

Peanut Butter and Jane, also on Hudson St., was a pioneer when it opened 25 years ago. The store sells children’s apparel such as dresses and bibs designed to look like tuxedos.

“When the store opened in 1981, the owner was a visionary,” said manager Timmie Reilly. “All of a sudden, the West Village has become a family neighborhood. Now there are as many strollers on the street as people and dogs.”

“When we opened in 2002, the only other children’s store in this neighborhood was Peanut Butter and Jane,” said Stephane Gerbier, who together with his wife and another couple own Yoya, an upscale baby store on Hudson St., and Yoyamart, a children’s store on Gansevoort St.

Stephane and Gena Gerbier and Christina and JD Boujnah opened Yoya in 2002, and just last summer the baby boutique expanded to include designer children’s furniture. In 2004, the couples opened Yoyamart, which caters to older children and their parents, especially dads. The store has been described as “designed for fathers by fathers,” and this indeed was part of the goal.

“We want to make shopping fun for kids and their parents, but especially dads, because they often get bored,” said Gerbier. The store features Japanese robot toys and gadgets, cushions shaped like Andy Warhol’s banana from “The Velvet Underground and Nico” album cover, and apparel and footwear by fashionable brands, such as Puma and Diesel, as well as a big-screen TV and a DVD and CD selection designed to please cool fathers.

Gerbier also felt the neighborhood needed stores catering to kids when he opened. Despite those who might bemoan that “the Village is losing its edge,” four years later, as the number of families continues to increase, it seems like this need for shops catering to children is on the way to being fulfilled.

On a Thursday afternoon in Doodle Doo’s, as a local 3-year-old was having the finishing touches done on her hair, a young woman wandered in looking for a present for her newborn niece. As Rywelski and the mother of the small girl tried to think of where to send the new aunt, they came up with half a dozen suggestions: “Well, Disco Lemonade is across the street, and Peanut Butter and Jane’s is up near 12th and….” The list went on, and the aunt left, more overwhelmed than when she came in.

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