36 E. 11th St., New York City
Once Upon a Time Antiques is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shop tucked in an incongruously modern (read: New York University-area) stretch of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. But once you walk inside, there’s no missing warm, welcoming owner Kitty Savage or her eclectic selection of objets d’art: baby spoons, paper valentines, picture frames, bronze dachshunds…and, of course, centuries-old earrings, brooches, necklaces, bracelets, rings, cufflinks, and more—all lovingly and invitingly assembled under glass cases.
Yes, Everything Is for Sale
“In a store this size,” she says, gesturing around the space the size of a walk-in closet, “you pretty much have to try to sell everything. I’m honestly interested in everything I sell. I love the frames, I love the little objects, I love the little Austrian bronze animals—I’m crazy about them!—the perfume bottles, so I’ve always sold it as well as the jewelry. People ask all the time, ‘Is everything for sale, or is it just the jewelry?’ They assume that’s just window dressing for the jewelry.” Her selections go from about $250 to $15,000.
Okay, Not Everything
Those velvet-covered, silk-lined custom-made -jewelry boxes may be old and fraying, but they’re simply too precious to part with, explains Savage. “Years ago I had a customer who bought cufflinks from me. So I took them out of the box. And he said, ‘Oh, I have to have the box.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t sell the boxes.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, I’m not buying the cufflinks.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ And he said, ‘And you will never see me again.’ And I said, ‘Uhhh, okay.’ That was it. I get people who really ask and beg, but the boxes are just way too hard to find. I’ve been collecting them for 28 years. That’s what I display in.”
“I sell a lot of frames for wedding gifts. I try to usually put a picture in them. I buy them at flea markets—wherever I see them. I look for pictures that I like.” Pointing to a 1940s-era portrait of a soldier, she says with a laugh: “Somebody came in the other day and asked me if it was my son. That one came in the frame, and I’m sure that was original to the period.” Gesturing toward another: “A horrible photograph, but I bought it from the person who inherited it from the family. She just, I guess, didn’t care about her family.”
“There are a lot of people in the business who don’t care about the jewelry. They’re just looking at how big is the stone, what’s the price, what can I get for it. They could be selling pork belly futures. If I were choosing to do something just for the money, I don’t think the jewelry business would be it.”