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My trip to New York Central Art Supply

I have just completed the first half of my summer vacation. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to let you in on something valuable I learned during my travels – it is quite possible to lose your passport within 1 hour of landing at your destination. And your cell phone. And your husband’s passport. Enough said.

So here I am in Holyoke, MA – the night before day 1 of my Julie Chen class. As I sit here on my lappy, the Tour de France is playing on the television. Life is good.

Exterior of New York Central Art SupplyWhile in NYC during the past few days, I was fortunate enough to achieve one of my paper geek goals – I made a visit to New York Central Art Supply. I had been hearing about this place for years – lots and lots and lots and lots of paper. Just when I feared that I had finally hit a vacation without a possible paper purchase (no paper in the Virgin Islands, meh), my streak remains intact (you can read more about my vacation paper streak in this post).

I was prepared to do some very unnecessary spending. I had great hopes as I walked up the narrow staircase to the second floor where their paper department was located.

Once I got upstairs, I was greeted by very loud Sex Pistols music. There were three sales staff located behind a desk, talking amongst themselves. No one said hello to me. This is one of my biggest peeves. While I do prefer to shop without being pestered, I like to be acknowledged upon entering a store. It’s good manners.

I don’t like to be cranky when I shop for paper. This makes the spendy feelings go away. It makes me even sadder when I lose an opportunity to get paper geeky with someone else. I was forced to browse their paper selection in silence. Meh.

[wipes a tear away]

Then I saw the sign that said something along the lines of the following:

We only take out paper for people making purchases and not for those who just wish to view it.

HUH??? So I can only look at it if I agree to buy it?

Then I saw the next sign:

Go ahead and talk on your phone in here. It’s not rude.

Now I’m not a fan of people talking on phones in stores, but geez. If you’re going to say that, you might as well put up a sign that says: Just put your money on the counter and go home.

So, on to the details. Prices are a bit less than what you’d pay at Kate’s Paperie (which is within walking distance from this location) and the selection is bigger. They claim that if they don’t have the paper, then it doesn’t exist. Well, I did find a number of papers at Kate’s that weren’t at NY Central.

Their paper samples are attached to large moving panels on the wall – they’re basically mounted like a big book and you turn the pages to see the samples (like those poster display thingies). This setup makes it hard if more than one person wants to look through the samples. When you move one of the panels, you risk smacking someone further down the wall.

They also sell bookcloth, but you have to ask to see the sample book because it’s not out on display. Their bookcloth prices compare to Hiromi Paper and their selections are almost identical.

I finally walked out with some paper and 2 yards of gold Japanese bookcloth. As I made my purchase, I got no smiles from the woman who helped me. Another peeve.

To sum it up: if you are in NYC and are dying to see the place, go for it. If my visit was typical, then do not expect any assistance while in the store. I did hear them answer questions from some shoppers, but they weren’t exactly friendly. You’re best off knowing what you’re looking for in advance. If you’re someone who needs a lot of hand-holding, then this is not the place for you.

Would I go back there? Probably not. And I like to shop at independent businesses. But if you can’t give me a reason to come back (good customer service), then I’d rather shop online.

6 Responses to “My trip to New York Central Art Supply”

By Lee Kottner - 8 July 2008 Reply

Wow, you must have caught them on an off day. They’re always friendly to me. I enjoy the staff there a lot. Most of them are artists themselves and more knowledgeable than Kate’s people and happy to answer questions. I don’t know anybody, including Kate’s, that leaves more than a sheet or two of their expensive paper out for people to finger and dirty up. That’s what the samples are for. And NYCAS has good sized samples of all their paper. By contrast, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rifled through Kate’s beautiful paper wall to find an unmangled clean sheet to buy, and they’re a lot more expensive. I think this might be why, too; they must have to write off a lot of stock to damage. Obviously, NY Central Art supply doesn’t have the room for Kate’s kind of paper wall, but their paper is always pristine. I always try to go during the week, which is possible for everyone, because it’s a lot less crowded.

Sorry you had such a bad experience there, but if you’re going there for paper, not conversation, it’s a great place.

By Pia from Sweden - 5 August 2009 Reply

Sometimes the people at New York Central are rude, sometimes not. I’ve just got off the phone with them and realized they can be rude on the phone too, go ahead give them a call ask them a few questions about their paper stock. I wonder how many questions they can take. They’ll probably tell you that YOU are being rude.

But your right, when that rudeness hits you it really can bring you down. Especially when you’re working on something you are putting a lot of time and energy into, heaven knows how complicated some projects may get, the people at New York Central don’t need to make it worse. They should understand that, New York Central is an *art* store. This is sensitive matters to some people.

Sometimes I have to like tiptoe around in New York Central when I feel my presence alone is gonna annoy them, I duck behind art supplies and wait until they ask me if I need help, and even then I have to make sure they mean it. Every once and a while I’ll march in there with the biggest grin, smiling and happy to see if I can spread the joy, but with no luck, otherwise it’s only temporary. Maybe we all need to up the dosage on smiles?

But then again, sometimes you can chill and chat with some of the people there, some of them are really nice. For example the basement is super chill (quite the opposite of the 2nd floor paper section), the workers there are sometimes napping in their seats or giving each other massages, dim light can induce such friendly sluggishness. If you meet the owner, you’ll think you’re going nuts, the owner is King Nice -he’ll get you anything you want, he is there when it opens. They need to train up more people like him, people who go out of their way, call it old fashioned. I guess it’s that extreme “nice AND mean” aspect that can also drive you nuts: Here’s some sweet candy…. NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM and don’t come out till I say so!

I think the reason they can be rude is because they have a good selection of most product and they are in a convenient location. Count em 3 art departments in the area, Cooper Union, Parsons, and NYU.

Maybe the customers are to blame? I can see how working with artist of all kinds can be a little too much, especially New York artist, they come in all sizes and colors!!! Let me tell you! If you don’t believe me read that little sketch book they have xeroxed above the entry into the paper department. It’s some New York Central’s worker sketches of customers… Although some are stereotypical while others verge on being racist there is probably some factual tidbits gleaned from working there. I bet the workers think those sketches are soo funny and cool – gah! If you ever see some one sketching, as they would prefer to do, it might be a cute portrait of you-(and free unlike the kind you get in Central Park)!

P.S. You know who is (or was) worse? Tallas, the restoration and book making supply store in New York. If New York Central feels rude, then Tallas was super rude when they were located in Manhattan. They hated customers, they were NOT set up for browsers. You had to know what you wanted the second you stepped in the door, otherwise they wouldn’t speak to you and point your to their mammoth catalog -they have a selection to die for. They’ve recently moved to Williamsburg Brooklyn and actually one guy seemed nicer there, maybe they are lonely now? Or did he just want to go home and paint?

By elissa - 7 August 2009 Reply

Pia –

I’m sorry to hear that you also had bad customer service at NY Central. I find it interesting that it’s been a year since I wrote this post and yet the problems at the store continue. I was hopeful that perhaps things would improve.

At least it’s good to know that the owner is nice. If he wants to retain his customers, then he has some staff training in his future.

Elissa

By elissa - 8 July 2008 Reply

Lee,

I was definitely impressed by the size of NY Central’s samples. I would much rather have samples available for pawing and clean full sheets available for purchase. To better serve more customers, perhaps they could have another smaller set of samples in binders that could be moved when the store is crowded?

Elissa

By Mary - 17 July 2009 Reply

Elissa, I’ve had the same experience everytime I visit there. I know some teachers who love it, but the place and the staff doesn’t encourage that “paper love” experience.
If you’re ever in Minnesota, Wet Paint in St. Paul truly does have the largest paper department I’ve ever encountered.

By elissa - 17 July 2009 Reply

Mary –

Not that I wish my experience on anyone else, but I’m glad I’m not alone. I just don’t understand how in this economy, a small business wouldn’t put a strong emphasis on customer service. How else could they compete with online stores?

An independent business needs to provide something that a customer can’t get anywhere else – and I don’t mean product.

Elissa

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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