Monday, October 11, 2004

Shopping Sherpas 

Malcolm Gladwell posits that some people are connectors and others are mavens. Connectors tend to straddle multiple social groups and naturally connect people to each other in the natural course of events. (Want to know who's a connector? Join a professional networking site and see who you find.)

Mavens are folks who develop an encyclopedic knowledge of something and love to share that knowledge with others. I'm a bit of both. And there's nothing that I love more as a connector than to connect other to a particular type of maven: the expert salesperson.

There's nothing more frustrating than asking a salesperson in any type of business and having them simply turn the question back to you. Think about it. You're in a restaurant and you ask the waiter for an opinion and he says, "It's all great!" Or you ask a salesperson in a high end furniture store for their opinion and she says, "I don't know. Do you like it? Does it go with what you own?" ARGH. These people have no reason for being. The customers of whichever particular business they happen to be occupying space in are getting zero value.

I'm not saying that I want someone to SELL ME. I just want to have an interaction with a knowledgeable person whose opinion might add some interesting perspective to the sales process. This then, is a paean to a few professionals who earn their keep.

Cheese Elf: Peter Kindel at Artisanal (32nd & Park)
Peter Kindel clearly loves his job. His eyes seem to sparkle at the simple thought of cheese. Helping you to find the right cheeses for your cheese course at Artisanal is an art and he is its happy master.

Kindel smiles and spews forth helpful descriptors to help your palate predict what might please it. He doesn't shy away from using non-literal, but very helpful words. One cheese described on the menu as "short, sharp, stinky" he embroidered with an updated description: "I'd have to say that's it's beyond that now. It's downright mean."

It is a pleasure to be helped by one who takes a real joy in helping. Ask if he's there when you go.

Lighting Mensch: Ed Silverii at Lee's Studio
Got dark corners? Want an attractive and unique lighting solution from someone you can trust? Ed Silverii is your man. He's nice, totally honest, funny, but with an unmistakably through-and-through, streets-of-NYC style. (Talk to Ed long enough and you'll find out he's seen quite a few things in this city beyond the crazy, too-much-money-for-her-own-good customer that someone in this kind of establishment has to deal with regularly. Ed knows NYC from a life full of experience. He even goes way back with the Reverend Al before he was a figure on the national landscape.)

Beyond being a mensch and an interesting guy, Ed is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful with finding the lighting (and furniture) to make your home one of a kind. He'll tell you when it makes sense to spend less money and when it really makes sense to spend more.

Go up the escalator and ask for him by name!

Mistress of All Eyewear: Hedda Szmuk at The Eye Man (B'way & 84th)
You need eyewear? Hedda is your answer. Why is she so great? Because she's highly opinionated and extremely adept.

Hedda will find you an excellent pair of frames within minutes. And then if you want to continue, she'll spend as long as you like finding other truly excellent options. As you explore the spectrum of spectacles available, you will be treated to Hedda's saucy commentary along the way. Our friend Christina had so much fun shopping there that she bought three pairs of frames!

You should also be forewarned that if a pair doesn't look good on you, Hedda might just snatch them off your face and absolutely forbid you to buy them. That's one of the things I treasure in a salesperson: someone who's willing to override my momentary foolish attachment to something that does not flatter me.

I have so much fun shopping with Hedda that sometimes I invent excuses just to drop in and say, "Hi". Go, have a laugh and get yourself some groovy glasses.

Furniture Jedi: Norman Teitelbaum at Maurice Villency
Time to furnish your apartment with real furniture? No more IKEA? There are lots of good options around NYC: Pompanoosuc Mills, EJ Audi, Lee's Studio and Scott Jordan, for a start. But at Maurice Villency, you can get unparalleled service - especially if you ask for Norman! If you couldn't tell by any other means, his knowing smile quickly indicates that Mr. T has been around for a loooong time. He knows what contortions we go through in choosing our furniture and he's here to help you if you will let him.

With zero pressure, Norman will glide you around the store, responding to your descriptions of what you think you require. Each new piece of information you give him narrows the field until he's got it down to a science. And if you can't find what you want at MV, he'll steer you in the right direction elsewhere. Every visit to Norman is a treasure. I bring ALL of my friends.
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