For me, New York (certainly the West Village) would not be the same without Tea & Sympathy, run by owners Nicky and Sean since 1991.
At Tea & Sympathy the staff and the atmosphere are as authentic and enjoyable as the towering afternoon tea. There are rules to follow—Nicky’s Rules. They’re posted on the door and on the menu, so there’s no excuse for non-compliance. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, just do what Nicky says and we can all enjoy a peaceful meal.
I’ve been a semi-regular since my 1995 arrival in the Village. In those first few years, I sublet and house-sat my way around the neighborhood. My best friend lived just around the corner. Busy as we thought our lives were at the time, we somehow had hours a day to spend at a tiny, window table drinking potfuls of tea and eating platefuls of finger sandwiches, laughing a lot, crying occasionally, and waiting for Rupert Everett to arrive so we could pretend not to notice and prove, if only to ourselves, that we were legitimately true and cool New Yorkers. We were thrown out, but only once, for inviting a friend to join us after we’d been seated for a while (Nicky’s rule #2). Rookie mistake.
We now return with our daughters who, as toddlers, were weaned on Ribena, Victoria Sandwich, and scones and jam, and as teens, have graduated to tea, Scotch eggs and bangers and mash.
We’re sadly, acutely aware that there are precious few Village spots that have remained constant through our youths and into the burgeoning adulthood of our children. It’s news to no one that maintaining a small business in the city is a challenge that only seems to be growing more intense.
Last fall the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) came back into the spotlight, debated before City Council. Articles on Manhattan Retail Blight abound—a quick Google of that term will send you down a rabbit hole of finger-pointing at greedy landlords, Amazon, and the Real Estate industry, asking you to contemplate terms like ‘ghost town’ and ‘death of retail’ and to consider the merits of commercial rent control and vacancy fees for landlords.
As a long-time Villager who also happens to work in real estate, I know many business owners as well as many landlords. The conflict cannot be distilled down to Good vs Evil. As is almost always true, the problem is complex and the solution not a quick fix. And that brings us to….Crowdfunding? At the moment, yes.
Check out a great, recent article from Thrillist here which features Tea & Sympathy’s current campaign and poses the question: “Should locals support crowdfunding for small businesses?” (If the answer is ‘yes’ for you, click the box at the top of this post.)
For my part, I’m choosing to be mindful of frequenting the old-time, neighborhood favorites as often as possible: Dinner with my family at least once a week at one mainstay or another (paying in cash), and holding as many business meetings as possible over afternoon tea with those clients whom I trust not to violate Nicky’s rules—Especially rule #1: “Be pleasant to the waitresses—remember, Tea & Sympathy girls are always right.”