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.”
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.
Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.