When New York City artist Andy Warhol created paintings and prints that would change the pop art world forever, he needed talent, imagination, and perseverance; but he also needed supplies – lots of them.
"He bought tons of stuff, said Steven Steinberg, owner of New York Central Art Supply, Inc. "I've known those guys since the sixties, he added, referring to Warhol and pop artist James Rosenquist, who painted the giant patchwork piece F-111. In fact, for 105 years the family-owned East Village store has provided both famous and aspiring artists with the tools and service they have needed to carry out their visions. It's why the same business has stood at 62 Third Avenue while the neighborhood surrounding it has changed.
In 1905, Russian-Jewish immigrant Benjamin Steinberg opened shop in a four-story tenement in a predominantly Jewish and German section of town. "It was very much an archetypical immigrant neighborhood, said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The store stood one avenue away from the soon-to-come Yiddish Arts Theatre and amidst various buildings etched with Deutsche. Benjamin took the name after the famous Northeast merchandise train, the New York Central, because, "My grandfather wanted something important-sounding, said Steinberg.
Actually, Benjamin's store wasn't far from a station stop, as unglamorous as the Third Avenue El was. "It was terrible, Steinberg said of the aboveground line that rumbled up and down Manhattan's east side, shading the streets below. "Then one day it all came down, he said. "You could see the sunshine.
However, despite the nuisance of the rails, New York Central's location would prove to be ideal. By the 1960's, creative minds started to move in. "It was where artists and musicians that couldn't afford the [West] Village came, said Berman. "They left the center and started to enjoy the neighborhood. The store became a "go-to spot for Warhol, Rosenquist, and Larry Rivers. Today, accomplished professionals such as Jeff Koons and Francesco Clemente still order supplies on a regular basis.
Then during the 1980s, young adults attending schools such as New York University and The Cooper Union started piling in, initiating a sharp increase in student population. "We realized what we did have near us, said Steinberg. "We were right in the middle of the fine arts school district. The observation was mutual. Many professors have recommended New York Central's wide selection of world papers, exquisite paints, and even squirrel-hair brushes to students. "I'm loyal, said 22-year-old artist Al Baio, a recent graduate of The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. "I'm really picky about the paint I like to use; nobody has it, but they do.
In many ways, New York Central is an artist's art store. Every one of Steinberg's staff is a working artist, who provides information and advice to customers. Baio added that this matters when she is choosing materials. "They're always really helpful here, and it's good to be helpful, she said.
New York Central seems to have caught itself in the eye of a perfect storm. As Berman pointed out, there is a strong demand for these kinds of businesses in the area. "We see that in the neighborhood there are a bunch of stores and shops that serve the arts-based customer, he said. "I think that's a big part of why those that have held on have.
New York's East Village is no stranger to seeing stores close for the last time. On Second Avenue, all the remaining miscellaneous trinkets and antiques offered at Love Saves the Day has recently been boxed up. And while you can no longer join the sweaty mosh pits at CBGB's, you can buy a pair of $200 John Varvatos Bowery jeans at the same location. Still, New York Central is one of the few places left that has not been forced out. "We're the only store left, said Steinberg. "We're the last of the Mohicans.