Located on the corner of 19th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, Fishs Eddy is a home goods store with a special secret. The business started in 1985 when native Staten Islander Julie Gaines and her husband Dave Lenovitz rented a hole-in-the-wall shop in Gramercy Park. From there, they quickly moved to a busier street in the West Village and then, in 1990, to their current home just south of the Flatiron Building.
While the store is now famed for its handmade vintage plates and sarcastic mugs — their best selling item was a mug with “Good Morning Asshole” written on the side — the name Fishs Eddy was chosen before they knew what they were going to sell. They got the name while driving through a small upstate New York hamlet called Fishs Eddy.
In search of cheap products to buy and resell, Julie and Dave went down to the restaurant supply district in the Bowery to purchase some wholesale glassware. Puzzled by their request for a pickup truck load of glassware, the owner of King’s Restaurant Supply said they could check out his sub-basement. Down there they found a stash of thousands of soot-covered handmade dishes from the early 20th century. There was everything from durable cafeteria wear to exquisite pitchers and glasses used in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s original dining cars.
The owner told them that it was all garbage and would be thrown away, but to Julie, these plates were “love at first sight.” She asked the owner if she could take the plates off his hands, and he instantly obliged. The owner also told Julie that all the other dozen Bowery suppliers had just as many dishes in their sub-basements.
Learning this, Julie and Dave now had a mission: find and save all the vintage cookware they could get from the Bowery’s rapidly dwindling restaurant suppliers. They had wanted to start a business for years and even had a name ready, but now they had a reason to get started.
Day after day, they would head down to the Bowery and load more dirty plates into their pickup truck. Over the months, they amassed a collection of thousands upon thousands of pieces of vintage cookware from the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, Fishs Eddy was rapidly escalating in popularity. The store was featured in New York Magazine, and they started serving customers like actress Diane Keaton.
By the 1990s, the business moved into its current home in the Flatiron District and they began making custom designs and manufacturing items for large-scale distribution. This was the era of the “Good Morning Asshole” mug. But even while their business was expanding operations, they continued to store thousands of vintage, high-quality cookware items in their secret museum on the second floor of their shop. Julie calls Fishs Eddy “the smallest museum with the biggest gift shop” because of their hidden second-floor stash.
Since the pandemic, Julie has shifted the business away from high volume wholesaling and back towards its roots as a reseller of beautiful century-old kitchenware. But Fishs Eddy isn’t just a 36-year-old small business in the heart of Manhattan. It is also a secret museum that holds a massive slice of New York’s industrial heritage. Of course, it is also the home of Julie’s quintessentially New York family, which you can read all about in their illustrated book Minding the Store.
To this day, Fishs Eddy remains on the corner of 19th Street and Broadway. The store is open for business, but the museum on the second floor is closed to the public. That is, unless you join us for a tour. On March 5th & 25th and April 8th & 16th, Julie will give a special tour of the museum to a group of Untapped New York Insiders. You’ll get Insider access to Fishs Eddy’s hidden museum of historic china atop their Flatiron store, hear the story of how Fishs Eddy became NYC’s premier retailer of amazing dishware for 35 years from the owner herself, look through hand-picked New York-themed china from locations now long gone, and learn the dying art of hand-painting china with the actual molds and patterns from decades ago. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not a member yet, join now (and get your first month free with the code JOINUS).
Behind the Scenes at Fishs Eddy Hidden Dish Museum
Next, check out The Filming Locations for The Gilded Age on HBO