Volume 74, Number 32 | December 15 - 21, 2004

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Marilyn Appleberg is one of the proprietors of the 1-year-old Acquired Taste vintage shop at 220 E. 10th St.

Vintage shop is activists’ latest local improvement

By Vicki Cameron

A photo stylist lingers over a daunting array of vintage rhinestone jewelry before finally selecting numerous pieces. She then rifles through racks of clothing until finding her prize: a hot-pink, gem-studded evening gown epitomizing 1930s chic. Her mission — a very specific one — has forced her to choose carefully, as the dress and accessories will adorn a famous actress during a photo shoot for a New York magazine article promoting the actress’s upcoming star turn on Broadway. The look not only needs to be stunningly elegant but, most importantly, of the right era. Luckily, she has come to the right place.

Then again, so has the local pooch who drops by for her always available dog biscuit treat as well as the beat cop checking in before continuing his rounds, and neighbors wanting to share a bit of gossip, peruse the goods or just say hello on their way to tackling daily errands. Obviously, there’s more than just baubles, bangles and beaded gowns to be found at Acquired Taste, which opened at 220 E. 10th St. last September.

The brainchild of proprietors Marilyn Appleberg and Susan Leelike, the store epitomizes a great solution for two avid collectors whose apartments are way too small to hold everything their lifelong passions have led them to amass. “You buy one thing, it’s after you get the second that they have babies, and then you’ve got a collection,” Leelike says. In fact, their individual “progeny” create such a yin and yang for buyers that Appleberg originally considered naming the shop “Shmattes and Tsatskes.”

“Acquired Taste,” however, seems to best reflect their distinctive yet remarkably complementary pursuits. While Leelike favors rhinestones (which her grandmother got her hooked on when she was 13), embroidery, handwoven blankets and anything made with blue glass, Appleberg’s eye is usually drawn to vintage clothing, hats, gloves, kimonos and cocktailpartytype chic. At any given time, the store’s offerings (which can change daily) might include such items as a 1920s pin worthy of adorning a Marlene Dietrich chapeau, retro designer dresses or a traveling bar set perfectly suited to the predilection of “The Thin Man’s” Nick and Nora Charles (not to mention Asta). Indeed, their tiny storefront is so crammed with an amazing plethora of glitz-’n’glam from bygone eras that many first-time visitors acknowledge they can’t take it in all in one shot. Fortunately, most vow to come back.

And return customers suit Appleberg and Leelike just fine, as their joint venture brings full circle a staunch commitment to contributing to the betterment of the East Village, where both women live and have been social activists for decades. Having immigrated to Manhattan from Queens in the mid-1960s, Appleberg moved into what her father termed a “run-up” (as opposed to a “walk-up”) because he considered her new neighborhood so dangerous, eventually she became head of the 10th and Stuyvesant Sts. Block Association, which sought to maintain the East Village as a low-rise, mixed community (a struggle that continues to this day). She also honored the best the Big Apple has to offer by penning such tomes as the “I Love New York Guide” and “Romantic NY,” was instrumental in gaining state and national designation for the St. Mark’s Historic District, organizing a concert series presented with the Third Street Music School (offered every Thursday during June and July) and establishing not one but two local parks to pay homage to 2nd Avenue Deli founder Abe Lebewohl, whose murder eight years ago robbed the neighborhood of its “Mayor of Second Avenue.”

For her part, Manhattanite Leelike cofounded GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), an organization formed to preserve affordable housing, counter the effects of substandard healthcare and ensure that local resources like the Ottendorfer Library and Sirovich Senior Center were preserved. It was due to these efforts that she was appointed to Community Board 3 and, while singlehandedly running a word-processing business for 13 years, helped to create the E. 10th St. Block Association — a driving force that ended a longtime drug-trafficking problem that plagued residents who lived between First and Second Aves.

While both distinctively individual women maintain highly visible profiles in the neighborhood, they are now completely focused on making their partnership succeed. “We want this to be a sort of vintage general store,” Appleberg avers, reinforcing the idea that their mission has been to create a place to congregate as well as celebrate things they love. And when asked what sets them apart from other East Village antique/collectible shops, Leelike responds, “There’s a warmth here that’s different from other stores.” As if to reiterate her point, one of two twentysomethings, who have giggled and carried on about the innumerable things they’ve tried on and/or bought in the store, asks Leelike, “Where do you get all this great stuff?”

“From our closets,” Leelike says.

“Soooo cool,” the twentysomething gushes. “It reminds me of playing in my grandmother’s closet when I was a kid.”

“Can we come back and play again?” the other twentysomething asks.

“I certainly hope you will,” Leelike responds.

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