“This whole block is suffering.”
Standing behind the counter at his small Greenwich Village shop, House of Cards and Curiosities, James Waits surveys the changes that have affected many businesses in the area. “It’s a combination of things. Rent is a factor.”
House of Cards will close its doors on May 31 after more than twenty years in business. Stocked to the ceiling with cards, gifts, and curios, the shop — located at Eighth Avenue and Jane Street — is just one of a growing number of small mom-and-pop businesses in Lower Manhattan that have been forced to close their doors due to rising rents.
House of Cards and its neighbors also have been forced to endure three years of construction to replace and upgrade water mains along Eighth Avenue, and the closure of nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital in 2010 (luxury condos will soon take its place) didn’t help the shop’s cause: Waits says customers would often stop in to buy cards and gifts to bring to patients, and the hospital employed a lot of people.
The shop — which famously boasts, “Never a Hallmark, here!” — opened in 1994. Waits, 65, had previously managed a store across Eighth Avenue that sold magazines, books, and cards — “a classier convenience shop,” he calls it. He began working there in 1980, “so I’ve been on one of these four corners for 35 years.” The owner of that shop opened a card store in House of Cards’ current location in 1992, and when he died of AIDS in 1994, Waits took over and made it his own.
After taking over, Waits brought in an assortment of oddball gifts and novelty items and, most notably, fossils, which he also collects personally. He bought the myriad dinosaur teeth, shark teeth, and ammonites — spiral-shaped shells that housed marine creatures many millions of years ago — from Maxilla and Mandible, which billed itself as “the world’s only osteological store” when it opened in 1983. (It closed in 2011.)
Waits says he plans to close the shop’s doors for good on May 31. Until then, everything except the cards is 30 percent off. Here are our favorites; go find (and buy) yours!
*Note: Everything listed below is 30 percent off; prices listed do not reflect the discount.
TV Dinner Gumballs
Day of the Dead Skull Purse
Wiener-Dog-Shaped Salt and Pepper Shakers
Collapsible Drinking Cup
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 17, 2015