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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button (in the Gilded Town)?

So where do you find a button for sale in the middle of the biggest city in the nation?  OK, Mood doesn't count -- and after all, my husband and I live on the Upper West Side, which, for you non-New Yorkers, is miles from the Garment District.  So, when hubby finally decided last Saturday that his winter coat was really not optimized for use when every single one of its buttons was broken, we set off on our quest.  It couldn't take long, could it?  After all, this is the Greatest City in the World.  You can find anything here.

We started with our dry cleaner; back in California they always had buttons they'd sew on for you.  No dice here, though he did offer to sew them on if we brought them to him.  A bit of a surprise, but no big deal.  Next, the spousal unit insisted on going back to where he bought the coat, a mid-range clothing chain named after a derogatory term for a democratically-challenged Central American Republic nation.  I could have told him they wouldn't stoop to selling replacement parts for their own products, but he insisted, and so we dutifully trooped in and then out, predictably empty-handed.  But never fear.  We're on the Upper West Side.  Surely there'd be a fabric store.  A notions store.  A five and dime.  Some man on the street.

Nothin, for block after block.  Plenty of cute little sewing kits (well, a few) but no actual buttons.  After thirty minutes or so, my eagle eye saw a sign from a second floor window for a yarn shop -- that would do it, for sure.  And indeed it did -- if your idea of buttons were little stones that would serve as delightful decorations on a sweater.  Not exactly the thing.  Up and down Broadway we walked, for what seemed like miles (though not as far as the Garment District).  Finally, my eye darted down a side street and I saw what looked like a neon sign of a spool of thread.  And there it was -- the dingiest tailor shop I had ever seen in my life, with so much junk in the front window I thought at first it was, in fact, a junk shop.  It wasn't -- he was a tailor all right.  And most importantly, he had the buttons we needed.

OK, so what's the point?

New York City is a really awesome place to live.  The cultural amenities are staggering, the food choices are overwhelming, Central Park is stunning, and you don't need a car.  And it's safe safe safe -- certainly a lot safer than when I was a college student here so many years ago.  But still ... No buttons?  It's times like last Saturday when I'm made most aware of how things have changed, at least in this city, maybe in all areas that have "improved" so much over the last twenty years, and maybe more generally.  Is it a good thing that dumpy little tailor shops have been forced out of the neighborhood by rising rents?  Honestly, most days of the week I'm happy with the results.  But what does it mean that it's hard to find a button in some neighborhoods?  Maybe clothes have become so relatively cheap that people in our neighborhood (and places like it across the country) just throw something out when it loses an ostensibly easily-replaceable piece.    Goodness knows there are enough Banana Repu mid-range clothing stores around to supply that type of demand.  And I'm not so myopic as to forget that there's some at least arguable benefit in this for nations that earn money producing the stuff we throw away so readily.  But maybe throwaway culture has its price.  Or maybe this is just romantic slumming.  I dunno.  All I know is that I'm glad there's still a watch repair place down the street.  But of course there is that Swat chain watch dealer down on 72nd.

Posted by Bill Araiza on November 19, 2013 at 06:29 PM | Permalink


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We struck out on the Duane Reade (and CVS) stores we tried. Maybe times have changed -- or maybe different stores have different stocks (wouldn't necessarily surprise me but I don't know how they operate).

Posted by: Bill Araiza | Nov 20, 2013 11:00:23 PM

I would never have this problem, because I don't own a winter coat, but should the problem arise with a shirt or sweater (well, I don't wear button-down sweaters...come to think of it, I can't recall the last time I wore a sweater) or the one jacket I own, I need only look to my drawer of buttons, as I routinely cut off the buttons from old or ruined shirts and other items of clothing that have buttons on them before tossing them out. No doubt after I'm gone someone will come across these buttons and wonder why I saved them. Until they became fashionable, thrift shops in this town would sell old jackets and coats for a few dollars, and these often had wonderful buttons on them, sometimes worth the price of the garment itself. As to the sewing part, I have to call upon my dear wife.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Nov 20, 2013 7:14:42 AM

Like Anon above, I was going to point out that Duane Reade, which is _everywhere_ in Manhattan, sell buttons. (Where I used to work there were literally 4 Duane Reades w/in 3 blocks of each other. That was right by the intersection of Duane and Reade, but still.)

Posted by: Matt | Nov 19, 2013 9:15:21 PM

Ah, but your odyssey may have to continue. I recently struggled to find a place to buy a heavy duty "tapestry" needle, the implement you may need to sew those buttons on a heavy wool coat.

Like you, I pondered the significance of a dearth of clothing repair items. Yes, we are a disposable society. But I also wonder if it is not -- as with the rise of take away food establishments -- a function of the changing nature of women's work.

Who has the time to sew buttons anymore? Perhaps this is why the dry cleaner was certain that you would need him to perform the task even once you found the materials.

Posted by: Ann Marie Marciarille | Nov 19, 2013 8:24:00 PM

Duane Reade sells buttons

Posted by: anon | Nov 19, 2013 7:57:31 PM

"But what does it mean that it's hard to find a button in some neighborhoods [in New York]?"

That only New Yorkers would expect to find a specific kind of shop by just walking until they come across one.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 19, 2013 6:58:30 PM

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