Today is a seminal day in the history of Newel, a 4th generation family business. We have officially planned to not operate out of that location today, the first time since my first summer job working at Newel in 1969. With our original store in 1939 on 47th Street and Second Avenue, additional 49th Street locations, the 53rd Street building has had an incredible run for our success and survival; and how has the industry changed in the last 46 years?
My personal perspective on this special day is both saddened by the memories, but buoyed by the prospects and opportunities that now abound. Somehow the location was never really optimal for either selling or renting our stock. Packed in on 6 floors and in a Mid-town East “Siberia”, rarely did anyone ever “walk” to Newel? It was just out of the way and Sutton Place wasn’t exactly Times Square for a taste of New York City. Yes, it was residential, totally.
Of course when we first moved there it was a different time and place; the fine and decorative arts industry was dominated by dealers. When we took our first space in this location the New York Antiques Center, on the 1st floor was the largest in the City. It had entrances on 53rd Street and 54th, a city block long with a motley collection of dealers and activity. Unbeknown to most of those dealers and the buyers who frequented the Center, my grandfather warehoused his vast inventory on the 2nd floor, directly above it. I remember the expression of Peter Wilson, the esteemed English gentleman who positioned Sotheby’s to where it is today; how had this collection stayed under the radar?
It did because Newel focused on renting period pieces to the entertainment industry, simulating on the stage and in the movies and TV, sets that needed authenticity and not to those who bought for their own decorating or collecting purposes. That one specific purpose allowed the Company to never quite be a part of the antiques trade, and the dealers whose welfare was measured by buying and selling only. Oddly, about the time Newel consolidated it various warehouses into the 53rd Street location, the “hey-day” of the rental business had passed even though having a single location under one roof was finally achieved. It would take perhaps 30+ years for that part of the business to accelerate. Selling would need to supplement growth in revenue.
The 1980s and 1990s must be considered the “go-go” years for antiques and the decorative arts. Everything and everyone who participated in the market enjoyed an unfettered strong demand, across the board. Housewives could open a store with their first European buying trip, paying anything and selling for double and more. Mistakes were hard to make. We rode the wave too, but it all came crashing down after 9/11. The Millennium of the 21st Century changed what and how people want to buy, and it isn’t anything and everything that you offer, unless of course it was Mid-20th Century.
With that said, we had to hunker down to survive and had the good fortune of a rising TV and motion picture industry in New York City. Today we are enjoying the robust strength of the entertainment industry and the need for “content” in the many new mediums of entertainment and business. Also, as a design influence, Mid-Century isn’t what is use to be although it is now part of contemporary design that is starting to engage period pieces as distinctive and unique objects. This latest observation has brought Newel to a crossroads. We want to both sell and rent, but to do so successfully requires attention to both business models.
Today we set up shop to sell our items in a newly renovated showroom at 306 East 61st Street, joining other dealers to showcase and display what Newel is and has always been. Our Long Island City location houses the entire collection and is rental ready. We can supply period interiors for the fantasy of your own living room or simulating the White House for the TV show Madam Secretary. Now, with 2 dedicated locations, we can service both of our business sides.