From pushcart vendor to trendy home decor destination, Zarin Fabrics has anchored New York’s Lower East Side in all its incarnations. When he was nine, Bobby Zarin’s father let him call out “three yards for a dollar” behind a pushcart. Today, thanks to a turn on “The Real Housewives of New York City,” tour buses stop at the store Bobby created.
“We have certificates from four different mayors that we were the founding fathers of the Lower East Side,” Bobby told Hamptons.com. He and his brothers created the warehouse store. His kids, David and Jennifer, turned it into a glam showroom. Wife Jill put it on the map. The reality stars are recognized all over the world. In London, Spain, and Australia, strangers shout out, “How’s the fabric business, Bobby?”
Now, the Zarins will have something to sell tourists that they can carry on a plane. Just in time for last minute holiday shopping, Jill and Bobby opened a home decorating showroom on the Orchard Street entrance of their block long warehouse with a bold faced bash. Poker queen Beth Shak, interior designer Cathy Hobbs, Kelly Bensimon, Cindy Barshop, Meera T. Ghandi, Tabasum Mir, stylist Phillip Bloch and Vanity Fair scribe George Wayne trekked downtown to help celebrate (with Josh Wine, Western Honey Pepper Whiskey and hors d’ouevres). Housing Works received 20 percent of the evening’s sales.
Those who know what Zarin is all about, needn’t worry: the store may look high end, but the prices are still rock bottom. “We don’t advertise that we are a discount store,” said Jill Zarin, “but you can see things that are in the D & D for $150 a yard for $30 a yard here, every single day.”
As a young boy, Bobby’s dad let him stand outside the small Zarin store to watch over the stands. If he could make a sale, all the better. “All of Orchard Street was lined up as far as the eye can see with these pushcarts selling stores’ wares,” Bobby recalled. Later, as a Special Education Teacher, Bobby would come downtown after school, where he met everyone in the industry.
“I never thought, in a million years, that I would end up in the fabric business,” he reminisced. “But through a twist of fate, I had a tremendous opportunity to do work in other countries selling fabric, got tremendous contracts and ended up in the business.”
It was Bobby’s idea to create the fabric warehouse. In those days, the business was jobbed out to salesmen carrying huge books, groaning with samples. Hard to believe, with all the warehouses today, that Zarin was the first, anchoring the decorating center that emerged around them. “When things got tough in the 80s and 90s and everyone moved to 19th and 20th Street, we dug in,” he said. “It was our tradition to be on the Lower East Side. And now it’s paid off: the neighborhood came back bigger and better than ever.” Today, their artisanal store, curated by Amber Falk, sits among hipster restaurants, cool clubs and coveted apartments.
The showroom is available for outside events, beginning with fellow “Housewife” Kelly Killoren Benison’s holiday bazaar party (Monday, December 21st). Can a decorating reality show set among its second floor fashionable fabrics be far behind?