After nearly 50 years of activity, the precious East Village store is closing its doors. After nearly two years of pandemic struggles, combined with a dispute between owners, the loss of her husband and her own health issues, owner Saroj Goyal decided closing the store was the best choice. .
“Every moment is special here,” said Goyal, 72, as she sipped hot tea one December afternoon. Every now and then she would interrupt the conversation to help a customer who had been walking around, sharing suggestions and telling them to check out the store’s Instagram.
Goyal and her husband, Purushottam Goyal, emigrated from Delhi, India in the 1970s. It was her idea to open the business in 1977; the store quickly became a slice of Southeast Asia in Manhattan.
For decades, the couple traveled to India to find unique items to sell. “My husband walked from village to village to collect all these things. It had a very unique taste, ”said Saroj Goyal, picking up a hand-beaded textile.
In September 2019, Purushottam Goyal passed away, a loss that still pains Saroj Goyal every day. The store now holds several memorabilia from his life. “My husband made me laugh so much in this room. All day, everyday, we’ve been together for 50 years in this store, ”Goyal said in tears.
There is a portrait of Purushottam Goyal hanging high on the back wall and a book filled with handwritten tributes to him from customers at the checkout. “The world is a little worse off with his death,” wrote one person. Another: “We miss your presence physically, but your spirit is all around this place. ”
In addition to mourning his loss, Saroj Goyal had to figure out how to run the store; administrative affairs were the domain of her husband.
Saroj Goyal at his Dress Shoppe II in the East Village.
In February 2020, she called her landlord, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association II, to discuss the rent. Cooper Square operates low-income housing co-ops on the Lower East Side; the rents of these buildings are subsidized by the income of the commercial buildings of the company. Goyal made a phone appointment with someone in the office, but when the time came, she said, no one showed up.
Later that month, a representative from Cooper Square came to the store unannounced and demanded a lump sum payment of all missed rents, Goyal said. Soon after, the pandemic arrived and it was difficult for the store to garner sales for several months. Then, in February 2021, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. About four months later, in June, Cooper Square sued her for over $ 265,000.
“We’re sad to see Dress Shoppe go, but we have to remain a tax-solvent project,” said Dave Powell, executive director of Cooper Square. “We respectfully but categorically dispute Ms. Goyal’s characteristics regarding the interactions she has had with staff. Powell added that the Dress Shoppe occupies their largest retail space. “So not having a renter paying rent in this storefront was a big blow to the financial health of our cooperative,” he said.
Meanwhile, Goyal’s story caught the attention of the internet.
In December 2020, Nicolas Heller visited the store and wrote about it on his Instagram page, @newyorknico, which has over 760,000 followers. “When I do these posts, the reaction is always positive, but some companies resonate more than others. With this one there were so many people commenting with memories of shopping there, from Saroj’s husband, just great anecdotes about the store, ”he said.
Model Bella Hadid reposted the photos of Heller, writing: “Please, please let’s visit @dressshoppenyc and Ms. Saroj Goyal to show her loving support !!! She has dedicated her life to this profession and we must remind him how important it is!
Saroj Goyal with one of his regular customers outside his Dress Shoppe II store in the East Village.
Brandon Stanton, the creator of the Humans of New York blog, which has more than 17 million followers on Facebook, wrote an article on Goyal in July. “When I met her, I was very touched by her story and her kindness,” he said. Being kept out of the inner workings of the company, Goyal left it in a vulnerable position, Stanton added, which his readers sympathized with. “Many people have recognized the similarities in their own cultures, or the interactions between their own older parents or women in their lives.”
He said he also helped negotiate a deal between Goyal and the owner, and they came to an agreement that Goyal would pay Cooper Square $ 130,000 and abandon the store by the end of January. Stanton launched a GoFundMe to collect donations for Goyal, which raised nearly $ 500,000.
For the store’s many loyal customers, the announcement of its closure is touching.
Nadine Hanson, 30, first discovered Dress Shoppe II in 2014, the year she moved to New York. “I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and was exposed to very little South Asian culture there,” she said. Hanson, a waitress, eventually became close to Goyal, and the two even spent Christmas Eve together in the store in 2020. “I feel like she’s part of the family now,” Hanson said. .
“The East Village is changing so much, has changed so much, and that’s another nail in the coffin,” said Jenny Goldberg, a 39-year-old therapist. “Dress Shoppe was a place I could always come in and be greeted with love and stories, tea offerings. It was a small shrine in the middle of the busy city.
Kate Mueller, 28, a graduate student who worked part-time in the store, said her favorite memories there were the long conversations she had with Goyal. “In between helping to organize things, we would sit down and talk about life,” she said. “It’s these types of stores that are the lifeblood of this city.”
Now, Goyal’s goal is to sell as much of his inventory as possible before he has to vacate the property at the end of the month. She has an Etsy store, which Hanson helped her set up, and she plans to start her own online store to keep the business alive.
But Goyal will miss the brick and mortar shop. “I like talking to clients and dealing directly with them,” she said. “I am very grateful to the East Village, to my clients who have given me all their love and support. ”