BARBIE-DOLL DIORAMAS DRAW GAWKERS TO LOCAL CLEANERS: ‘IT’S BECOME AN OBSESSION’

By Carol Tannenhauser

Summer is in full swing in the windows of Apthorp Cleaners on Amsterdam Avenue, between 78th and 79th streets, but it’s all happening at one-sixth the scale of humanity. That’s how big Barbie and her pals and the accessories that surround them are in the dioramas created by Debra Kravet – the owner – and her best friend Nora Nealis.

To the left, Ken (who sources say has reunited with Barbie after a lengthy breakup) is barbecuing, while his buddies recover from a round of golf, with beer, wine and cheese. (It looks like Brie and Jarlsberg, but at 1/6th the size, it’s hard to tell.) To the right, it’s beach volleyball, with a guest appearance by Farrah Fawcett.

“Ask your daddy who Farrah Fawcett is,” Kravet playfully told a little girl who inquired.

“Oh my God, I love it!” said one of a pair of girls passing by. “We’re cousins. We make it a tradition to come by and check out the windows. It makes our day.”

How old are they?

“18 and 19,” they laughed. “We were Barbie fanatics!”

“On Saturday night before we leave, we wash the outside of the windows,” Kravet said. “We can tell on Monday morning how popular they are by how many fingerprints there are and how high up they go. It’s nice to know we’re doing something people really enjoy.”


Debra Kravet.

But why isn’t Apthorp Cleaners in the Apthorp on 78th Street and Broadway, and why are there Barbies in the windows? The answer to the first question is familiar.

“My husband and I were in the Apthorp for 26 years and then the landlord sold the building in 2007 and our lease wasn’t renewed,” Kravet explained. “I don’t know why. We paid our rent every month on time. It sat empty for 3 ½ years, and then Tumi moved in. It was awful.”

The Kravets were determined to stay in the neighborhood. After nine months, they found their current location, where they have been for eight-and-a-half years.

“The Barbies started because we don’t look like a typical dry cleaner and people didn’t know what was going on in here,” Kravet said. “Nora had a large Barbie collection from her childhood and I had some, so we came up with the idea of featuring Barbie dolls in evening clothes, with signs saying, ‘We clean gowns,’ ‘We clean tuxedos,’ to get people in. Then, we did a wedding gown display and from that, the dioramas. We change them every two to three months.

“It’s become an obsession,” she laughed. She and Nora search the Internet for all things 1/6th the size of reality. They focus on the details because that’s what their audience likes best. “It’s fun being in the store, hearing the kids say, ‘Look! Look!’ Their faces just light up. Even the boys are really happy because we have sports going on.”

Like the rest of us, Barbie’s summer fun will last through Labor Day, when the windows will change.

You can see some of the displays on Instagram, including this fun one celebrating the Tonys.

#ApthorpCleanersBarbieWindows Apthorp Cleaners goes to the Tony Awards New Windows are in… Take a picture of the window and 😀#ApthorpCleanersBarbieWindows

A post shared by Apthorp Cleaners (@apthorpcleaners) on

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.

NEWS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. din says:

      We live near here and I always try to avert my daughter’s gaze. Barbie dioramas? Really? The one that stands out in my memory is the one in which the only black/brown face among the dolls was that of the servant. I actually go out of my way not to use this cleaner because of the window displays.

    2. Lisa says:

      How fun! I’ll be sure to walk by and check it out.

    3. Pam says:

      Shades of Marwencol.

      http://marwencol.com

    4. Sean says:

      Where is black Barbie? Where are all the Asian Barbies? Isn’t Ken gay?

    5. Emily says:

      I absolutely adore these windows!! As a long time Barbie lover it is always a treat to check out the seasonal dioramas. Apthorp is also an excellent tailor in the neighborhood!

    6. Liz says:

      It reminds me of when the UWE was less stodgy than now; hope people realize how small business owners like this are huge assets to the neighborhood and deserve our support.

      And sorry, Barbie is mighty innocent compared to what most kids are seeing these days.

    7. karen korman says:

      We were customers of Apthorp Cleaners for all the years we lived in the Apthorp. Nicest people and great cleaners. I still walk by to see their windows!

    8. sami says:

      yes, I am addicted- I love that she does this!!!!!