By Albert Samaha
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"I knew it was going to work when I had three different butchers come in and ask for jobs," says Dave Ortiz, the Dave behind DAVE'S QUALITY MEATS at 7 East 3rd off the Bowery.
It may look eerily authentic, but the place is not, and never has been, a butcher shop: Despite an interior heavily dependent on metal meat hooks, Dave sells Nikes, not neck bones; hoodies, not hamburger. "I tried to make it as old-fashioned as possiblewe tiled the walls and made the paint look distressed." A refrigerator case bought at a restaurant supply house on the Bowery holds tees folded on cardboard supermarket trays, shrink-wrapped like lamb chops; a rack meant for sides of beef brandishes sweatshirts from the label Interracial that are decorated with what Dave calls "iconic images"portraits of Jimi Hendrix and Haile Selassie ($65).
So Dave, why meat? "I developed a graffiti tag when I was part of Zoo York, working at Washington and 13th Street in the meatpacking district. My tag was 'Meat'; my logo was a chicken leg." In any case, "It's supposed to be funny! I get so sick of all those art gallery boutiques; there are too many stuffy people in New York. I want to be that friendly butcher guy that gives bologna slices to kids."
To set himself apart from the legions of stuck-up retailers, Dave commissioned a changing room that looks like a freezer (his partner's dad is a general contractor, which helped a lot) and filled an old Coke machine with vintage sunglasses from Gucci and Stussi. But innovative interior design isn't the only thing that distinguishes Dave's Quality Meats from snootier stores, and it isn't only uptown boutiques that suffer from swelled heads: When we were lurking outside the store, Dave waved a hearty hello through the window, a distinct change from the reception we've gotten at other skate stores, where the zombie-eyed staff didn't deign to look up from a tape loop of boarders to explain anything about their wares. (And truth be told, we needed helpthe iconography of skater gear remains a little foreign to us.)
Still, even Dave isn't entirely immune to the lure of the art world. The window display, currently two mannequins wearing white butcher coats, rubber boots, and the store's own DQM tees, will soon be replaced by an installation Dave is working on which is meant to be a commentary on the shopping public's obsession with sneaker brands. "I'm going to pickle a bunch of rare shoes, put them in a jar in the window, and people can watch them come apart."
If Dave's shop is a skate store disguised as a butcher, LUSH is a soap shop pretending to be a grocery, albeit a grocery with chandeliers. Wildly popular for years in London, the company, which says its cosmetics are handmade (whatever that means), has opened its first New York branch in the heavily traveled if hardly glamorous neighborhood of 34th and Broadway, in the same building that houses that weird Daffy's you have to get to by elevator (1293 Broadway).
Dave's has a Coke machine full of sunglasses; Lush's refrigerator case holds seaweed masks packaged in what look like yogurt containers. The Tricomania solid shampoo, displayed as if it were hard cheese, is a whopping $34.14 a pound (but who'd buy a whole pound?); the Banana Moon soap, sliced like a salamithe shop will cut you a hunkis $28.61 per pound; the Fever massage bars, like overblown white chocolate candies, are $10.20 each. Though we are not ones to languish in the tub (have to get out and go shopping!), the big draw here is the bath bombs, which the store claims will cure everything from anxiety to achy muscles.
It may be located in the heart of Herald Square, but there is something fiercely British about Lush. After all, would an American store call a bath bomb Waving not Drowning? Though Lush offers no further explanation, this is in fact a play on one of our favorite poems by Stevie Smith, which reads in part: "Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning:/I was much further out than you thought/And not waving but drowning."