The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. ~Salvador Dalí
Anita Goldberg ne Stern’s maternal grandmother used to take her down to the docks where Grandma Flora negotiated with merchant seamen (in five languages) for goods they’d brought in, especially jewelry. Some was sold to friends, neighbors, family—some kept. She loved the excitement of the hunt. “I loved pretty things. And it was an adventure!” As a girl, Anita began her own collection with Bakelite—from Woolworth’s. It was the start of a lifelong passion. Perhaps a discerning eye is in her genes.
After the 1929 debacle, Anita’s parents were forced to adjust their privileged lifestyle. Mrs. Goldberg secured a job with the milliner Lily Dache. Mr. Goldberg had several businesses eventually going to work for his father who owned the prestigious Mayflower Hotel near Columbia University. The work ethic was passed on.
Anita’s first job was doing the payroll for dress factory piece workers at fifty cents an hour after school. Her father found out and made her quit. She majored in merchandising at Brooklyn College, married her childhood sweetheart (they met in Hebrew School) and went to work for Abraham and Straus.
In the early sixties, Anita and her husband Marc used to love poking around yard sales, flea markets and antique stores in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey. His interest was clocks, hers, jewelry. It would be eight years before children arrived, so they were free to explore. “My husband was very out-going and liked people. We made friends with shopkeepers.”
Having taken time off for three children, Anita joined, and then found herself running, children’s wear factories in the South, out of Long Island City. It was the seventies. She was a good business woman. Still is. Anita has always done her own bookkeeping. “Everything is mathematical; math comes easily to me. I have problems spelling cat, but calculus is easy.” Then China happened. Most manufacturing moved overseas and Anita was out of a job.
In 1990, Michael Dezer had what was then the original concept of a vertical mall that would become The Chelsea Antiques Center. Anita and her husband went in to discuss the possibility of taking space to finally realize her dream of dealing in jewelry. Dezer showed them an ideal spot on the sixth floor near the elevator. “I told him I didn’t have any showcases. He said I could have anything in the basement.” The showcase behind which Anita stands today at This ‘n’ That, is one of those originals. She’ll never give it up.
There was no question of needing stock to open. Anita brought in her own sizeable collection, combining it with her sister’s, her cousin’s and her aunt’s. Shades of Gilbert and Sullivan. It was meant to be. She’d already thoroughly explored the market as a private buyer, developing excellent judgment and quite a bit of expertise. Her husband made a good living. Everything she earned was put back into the business.
Anita worked seven days a week. The “shop” expanded several times. Her husband’s television service and repair business was in Brooklyn, so for the first three years, he shepherded their children wherever they needed to go. On weekends he’d sit with her all day. She prizes Marc’s Chair, which sits in a backroom.
Ten years later, the center was sold off to become condos. Her husband became ill, and after forty years of true loving partnership, died in 2000. Anita took a temporary space, then moved to her current one at 124 West 25th Street. She proceeded to fill every possible shelf, counter, cabinet, drawer, wall, and crevice with things she found pleasing and/or interesting dating from the turn of the century to the present. “I like what I like.” There are many many THOUSANDS of items. In addition to every imaginable style of jewelry, This ‘n’That carries lighting fixtures, candlesticks, vases, silver, perfume bottles, figurines, and unusual handbags.
“People found ME.” Jewelry from the shop has been featured in dozens of international publications, graced the runway of an astonishing number of designers, accessorized fashion shoots and been seen in films. Much of the jewelry from Cher’s current movie, Burlesque, was acquired at This’n’That. Anita is often asked to help style.
“To me jewelry is a true indication of history. Everything in jewelry reflects the time. Queen Victoria set the fashion for black pieces—Mourning Jewelry—when Albert died. That was Victorian jewelry.” I learned that women featured on older cameos have thicker necks than those more recently made and that two heads on a cameo indicates one older and rarer still. We noted the difference in wrist sizes over time.
Anita has traveled all her life both for pleasure and to shop. At seventy, she continues to do so, often with her eighty and sixty-five year old siblings, their spouses and/or her gentleman friend. She’s filled with curiosity and thrives on visual stimulation. “Even the poorest of women looked wonderful in India—everyone wore colorful saris and lots of jewelry.” In Nepal, she was impressed with the hand carved wood framing on architecture. “My sister and brother are Leos and I’m a Scorpio. We’re all extremely strong people…raised to be confident and independent.”
The shop began with a seven day-a-week schedule. Twenty plus years later, it remains open seven days a week. Anita likes to be accessible so her customers don’t have to plan a visit. “Oh my goodness, I first walked by the store one day five years ago and had to come in.” gushes Nancy Evers, a regular patron. “You just don’t know where to look first. I zero in on large and glitzy—but Anita has everything and there are good bargains.”
Anita herself works Saturdays and Sundays, driving in from a 1908 Victorian three-story house in Brooklyn purchased thirty-five years ago, to a pied-a-terre in the city. The rest of the week, the incredibly knowledgeable Monique is at hand.
“I’ll do this the rest of my life. I left the business to Monique. My kids have no interest and Thank God, no need.” Anita Stern is a happy woman doing just what she wants, surrounded by beautiful things. What more could one ask?
Read Alix Cohen’s story on This ‘n’ That in Shopping Around.
All quotes are Anita Stern
Photos from top:
Recent photo of Anita by Fred Cohen
Anita and her grandmother
Anita and Marc in London, 1989
Anita at Chelsea Art & Antiques Center, 1991
Recent photo of Anita
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: A pub in Tribeca
Favorite Place to Shop: Marshall’s
Favorite New York Sight: Empire State Building with its changing lights
Favorite New York Moment: July 4th fireworks
What You Love About New York: Energy in the city that never sleeps
What You Hate About New York: The new bike lanes