I hate brawling over brands. In the 1980s, I was shopping for an industrial sewing machine. Juki seemed to be the brand I saw in nearly every factory, so this is what I asked for. "Does it have to be a Juki?" the salesman asked. "No," I responded, "it does not have to be a Juki, but that is what I want." Lest some may think this was a salesman just being helpful, it is not. His question is business code for I don't have what you want, so let me sell you what I have. or I'd rather sell you something else. I bought the Juki.
Recently, we were still prototyping bags (see story here) and I was now in need of zippers. I only know one thing about zippers - YKK. A coworker called out, "What's the deal with YKK? Is that a brand or something?" Yes it is. The brand used on virtually every quality sewn product. Samples or not, that's what I want. Why ask for trouble?
I called a favorite notions supply shop in the garment district, Steinlauf and Stoller. They did have zippers, but not heavy duty. It occurred to me we had fabric vendors near my office in the Lower East Side. A call to Zarin Fabrics referred me to Oshman tailor supplies. Oshman's website had small display ads for top brands including Gütermann (thread) and YKK. This looked like a no-nonsense operation. Armed with samples and a camera, I was off to Oshman Brothers, not only to get the sewing supplies I needed, but perhaps to get photos and a story as well.
Arriving at 88 Eldridge, I knew this was the type of place I had hoped for - the awning stated "Third Generation Family." The window displays looked like they had not been touched in three generations, but this was a good omen.
I have no idea how this type of place is perceived by someone who has not frequented the business or industrial supplier in New York City. It is not a necessary condition for authenticity that a place have this dreary, drab look and feel. A place selling top quality industrial supplies has a customer base whose only concern is getting those goods. Sales, marketing, displays and imaging has little or no effect on the savvy commercial buyer.
I was helped by the lone salesperson, Elaine Leong, who I learned was the wife of the owner Oshman, whose grandfather and grand uncle started the business in 1936. When I showed approval of their thread choice, Elaine proudly showed me their inventory and told me they stocked all 600 colors of the Gütermann line. She also asked if I had worked with continuous length zippers before and when I said I had not, she brought out scissors and hardware and gave me a live tutorial.
Elaine's style is not that typical for a New York City industrial supplier. There was no upsell or hard sell. She only sold me what I needed - a total of $12.35 for zippers, zipper hardware, bobbins and needles - and spent more than the time necessary to attend my needs. She was quite pleased when I told her I would be doing this story - she fished out her only remaining antique business card (see photo here).
Oshman Brothers is the type of unique, specialized business supplier that reflects New York City's greatness. Many business owners travel here for places like this. They know they will find a broad range of quality supplies, often unavailable elsewhere. There's business to be done, everyone is on the same page and there's no brawling over brands :)
Note: Thanks to Elaine for being such a wonderful mensch.