It takes about 30 seconds to walk through the shoe-box-sized space that houses Honeymoon Antiques on 6th Street, but owner David Brockman, 60, has managed to fit hundreds of clothing items onto the racks. At each step, you can feel the chiffon, lace, and silk brush against your arms. And when you speak to David, the inside of the store sways from feeling cramped to cozy.
Honeymoon specializes in vintage statement pieces from the 1890s to the 1990s, such as a black silk dress with a rhinestone diamond in the middle, a teal blue chiffon gown, and a metallic, silver and gold checkered coat. But the ethereal interior is hardly emblematic of the store’s history. It has weathered four previous disasters – and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, David left New York for a trip to his family farm in Lamonte, Missouri that was intended to last three days. He ended up staying for three months, only returning a few weeks ago to gauge the status of the city.
He explains, “I’ve only been open about three weeks to even get a sense of, is anything coming back here?”
David doesn’t ask this question lightly, as he considers himself a veteran of disasters including the dot com era, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and the housing crash. The shopkeeper has faced losses through each of these disasters, the worst occurring just days before 9/11. He had put together a deal to sell vintage pieces worth $30,000 to European customers visiting New York, who fled the country after the World Trade Center attack and neglected to pick up the clothing they had intended to buy.
Yet, David has persisted and kept his store alive through each disaster. He attributes his work ethic to his childhood on the family’s farm, where he began doing farm work at the age of seven. “Right now everyone is like, ‘You gotta hustle,’ and it’s like, that’s all I’ve ever done.”
Nearly 30 years ago, David moved to New York with the dream of becoming an artist. He got his start working as a film scenic, which primarily entailed painting film sets at the direction of the art department. The thrift shopping he did in his free time ultimately led to his career. “I ended up getting bags and bags and bags of clothes. And when my last film ended I did not want to come back to New York and work for the guys that I had worked for…I think my mom always had a dream of having a store…and I just brought everything I had. My mother was a big antique collector and thrifter and auction person.”
His mother loaned him enough money to open, in 1990, a small shop selling mid-century modern furniture and lighting with a dash of clothing. The shop, on Avenue B, had such an eclectic mix of commodities that in 1998 the New York Times recommended it as a destination for “vintage goodies.”
David laughs as he explains the transitions his store went through to get from selling furniture to vintage clothing, saying, “I get bored easily!” Three years ago, he moved the store to a new location on 6th Street. In addition to selling vintage clothes, he designs and hand makes pieces himself, using vintage fabric, and working one-on-one with clients.
“The inspiration has always been my customer. What they’ve established and how I could feed them ideas. It’s a lot based on what they did, what they’re doing.”
These customers tend to be visitors from other countries, fashion week buyers, trade show attendees, and even film set employees looking to dress their stars. At the moment, business is not exactly booming. Used to having regular customers who make regular purchases, David now goes days without anyone entering his store. “For three days in a row no one even came in…I went to my bank the other day for advice – they considered this neighborhood blighted already…I went to say, ‘What was your opinion about me trying to stay open?’ and she said, ‘My opinion is that you close in 30 days.’”
David has seen firsthand the “explosion in the real estate market outside of Manhattan” throughout the pandemic. Since many of his customers have moved away, David presumes they will do their business at shops closer to their new homes rather than those in the city. Compared to 2019, he’s lost 80 percent of his business due to the closure of his store during the pandemic and the cancellation of trade shows.
But as he continues to discuss the current status of his store, David’s tone changes to one of optimism and hope. In the middle of the pandemic, a client made a purchase from David that has allowed him to keep his doors open, and his inventory is stocked through the next year.
He says simply, “I feel just blessed.”
And David has never been one to quit. He negotiated with his landlord to keep his shop at a reduced rent until at least January, and, ideally, past then. “I don’t have any projection because I just don’t know. I mean, I have a hope that this is New York City and it always recovers…I feel like I can make it to the other side.”