BY GABE HERMAN | Retail business on Bleecker Street has been struggling for many years now, but there are some independent stores that are hanging on and trying to keep Greenwich Village’s neighborhood feel alive.
One such shop is Inaya, a jewelry store at 215 West 10th St., just a few doors east of Bleecker Street. It was started by sisters Inna and Anyuta Zelikson, who design the jewelry themselves.
The sisters came to New York with their parents in 1991 as political refugees from Belarus. They started this business 17 years ago by taking their products to local fairs and markets, and have now been at the West 10th Street location nearly 13 years. There is also a second location in Grand Central Terminal.
Inna recalled that when the store first opened in the Village, there were still many small businesses in the area and a relaxed vibe.
“With some time, everyone has left,” she said, noting that big brands came in and then left soon after. “This is a neighborhood. It’s not Fifth Avenue.”
The influx of big brands led to increased property taxes, Inna said, and customers left the area as more retailers closed up shop.
“Unfortunately, people don’t realize there are still shops here that are independently owned,” Inna said. She noted that the store has struggled and is trying to hold on. “But we’re still here and we love it. Things have changed and we’re hoping they will change back, or at least for the better.”
Inna said she would rather not complain, and instead focus on the positives of having the store.
“I’m happy,” she said, “I get to do what I love. We get to create.”
Inna and Anyuta design the store’s jewelry, which puts out three or four collections every year. Right now, they are gearing up for their holiday offerings.
The store uses high-quality, natural materials, including gold, silver, gemstones and special one-of-a-kind pieces that can be carved ruby or precious pearl. The store’s name was recently changed from Innasense to Inaya, which is a combination of the two sisters’ names.
The store is a small space, and it has enough of a customer following to stay in the area, Inna said. Some people will tell her they’re surprised that the shop is still there. “I thank them,” she said, “and say, ‘it’s because you keep coming back.’”
“I love this area,” Inna said of the Village. “It still has the neighborhood vibe. I see kids growing up, I hug my mailman. Every day it’s great.”
While the Grand Central location gets very busy, Inna said it’s a treat to work in the Village shop, where the pace is mellow and she can spend more time with customers. “We try to help people find the perfect thing,” she said.
Inna makes sure to support other local businesses too. “I try to leave as much of my money here as I can, because the neighborhood needs it,” she said.
Surviving at the Village location remains a struggle, and Inna described the 12 years there as a rollercoaster ride. Two years ago, they sisters decided they had to leave, and it felt awful, Inna recalled. “It was like losing your home,” she said.
But they were able to reach a deal with their landlord to stay. Inna said they are lucky to have a decent landlord. Their property tax is basically the same as the rent, but she said the landlord said they could just pay the rent, which allowed them to stay.
“It’s a major issue,” Inna said of the high property taxes. “Speaking to owners, it’s truly something that can do a business in.” She added, “It doesn’t seem like it’s a fair system. There has to be a better way.”
The store’s lease is up in two years, and the future is uncertain. “The hope is to stay,” Inna said, “but that means a lot of things have to happen. People have to see us and we have to be able to afford the rent.”
“People should come see us because we’re women-owned, we’re immigrants,” said Inna. “We truly love what we do and we’re thrilled to be part of this amazing city, and contribute to its diversity and creativity.”
Inna added about staying in the Village, “We have a spirit and fight for things, and we’ll keep doing that as long as we can.”