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Broadway Silk has been serving Astoria’s crafty crowd for eight decades

The Depression-era business has found itself catering to a new clientele in recent years.

Sarah-Beth White runs Broadway Silk Store in Astoria

Sarah-Beth White runs Broadway Silk Store in Astoria with her mother, Pearl Gould. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Astoria’s past and present are woven together seamlessly at the Broadway Silk Store in Queens.

Its old-fashioned sign hearkens back to a time when streetscapes in New York City were filled with unique mom and pop shops.

But even after 80-plus years, the rows of colorful fabrics, sewing tools and funky jewelry have kept Broadway Silk a vital destination for customers new and old who are interested in crafting their own clothes, a slipcover for a chair and other projects.

“I’ve had young women come in and say they have upholstered their whole couch by watching YouTube,” said Sarah Beth White, whose great-aunt and great-uncle opened Broadway Silk. “There’s this whole DIY mentality. It’s nice to see that creativity in younger people.”

White runs the shop with her 87-year-old mother, Pearl Gould. Neither are exactly sure when the store first opened.

“It opened during the Depression,” said White. “It was actually a wedding gift from my great-uncle to my great-aunt. The story, according to my mother, was that he was a carpenter and constructed all the shelves and counters himself.”

The shop has retained the original interior, decorated with family antiques like a typewriter, sewing machine and reel-to-reel tape player.

Astoria was traditionally known as an enclave for Greek, Italian and Irish immigrants. In more recent years, the Latin American population has increased, along with immigrants from the Middle East.

“This has always been a diverse neighborhood; we have customers from all over the world,” said White. “In the old days, people didn’t buy their clothes. They made everything. They would go home for the summer and buy things for their whole village.”

Broadway Silk is virtually around the corner from Kaufman-Astoria Studios and has supplied materials for costumes and designs on set.

When White’s 18- and 20-year-old sons were younger, they would sell handmade jewelry outside the store.

About five years ago, White decided to add jewelry and accessories to the inventory.

The shop now has an eclectic collection of rings, necklaces, bracelets and other items selected by White and her daughter, Elanna. Some of the pieces are handmade by local artists.

“We would see these stores in Vermont that were a mix of fabrics and homespun, crafty accessories,” White said. “We started little by little looking for interesting things we could sell. We like things that are unusual, outside the box.”

They also keep the jewelry moderately priced, with most pieces in the $10 to $20 range.

The store does sell silk fabric, but its biggest seller is cotton prints that customers use for clothing and home decorating.

Most of the cotton offerings are $5 a yard, while wool and velvet can cost closer to $20 a yard. Everything in stock is hand-selected by White.

People also flock to the store for sewing notions or tools, which can be tough to find.

White said Broadway Silk’s personalized services helps set the store apart from larger stores.

“We can help with measurements, help figure out what direction they want to go in,” said White. “People come in with a picture on a phone and an idea or a concept, and we can help with all that.”

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