Anointed by His Grandma, Danny Koch Is Shepherding the Iconic Town Shop Through the Pandemic

That’s Danny Koch’s Grandma Selma above his left shoulder.

By Susanne Beck

Danny Koch’s grandmother, the legendary bra fitter Selma Koch, always told him that there was a good side of Broadway and a bad side of Broadway. Move their women’s intimate apparel business — the iconic, almost 130-year-old Town Shop — across the street, from west to east, and be prepared for the consequences, she warned. Danny and his father didn’t heed her advice.

It’s unlikely that Selma Koch (who upon her death was described by The New York Times as “95 and a 34B”) had a pandemic in mind when she wagged her proverbial finger years ago. But there is no doubt that the Town Shop, now housed on the east side of Broadway at 82nd Street, clearly marked by bright pink, retro signage, has suffered recently.

“This Christmas season was probably the most crushing month that I have ever had in my career,” says Koch, 61, and the fourth-generation owner of the Upper West Side fixture, with a hint of sadness. “Every day I woke up going maybe this is the day that we will do big business, maybe this is the day that they will come in and shop. And it just never really happened.”

It is all the more crushing to Koch since prior generations had faced challenges of their own – and survived. Multiple world wars. The Depression. “My father was born on October 31, 1929,” he notes. “Two days after the market crashed.”

“They made it work in good times and bad,” he adds.

Koch’s grandmother was the reason he got into the business. He headed to Los Angeles after graduating from college, to try his hand at becoming a professional actor. Despite his family’s ties to the lingerie business, Koch had absolutely no interest. “It was nice to visit but I never saw myself doing this as a living,” he explains. He intended to visit LA for a couple of months. But when he started landing television commercial appearances – everything from Irish Spring soap to Midas Mufflers, Preparation H and Cherry Coke – he stayed on. A visit from his opinionated Grandma ten years later, in 1990, presumably to watch him do stand up – compelled him to begin to change his mind. “The deal I made with my family was I will come into the business to try it but I am not giving up my career and they sort of snickered like ‘my career, blah, blah, blah’.”

This way to Danny’s future.

Standing on the floor of the Town Shop today, among a wide array of classic and contemporary undergarments, sleepwear and loungewear, Koch still shakes his head in wonder about his grandmother’s choice. “For some reason, she anointed me to run the business (Koch has siblings and many cousins.) I never understood why.”

Grandma Selma was the force behind the shop’s location on upper Broadway, too. The original  location, on fashionable 57th Street, was too far away from her children’s’ school on the Upper West Side. Her husband knew better than to quibble, so they moved, just down the street – and more notably, across the street from their current site. Koch says proudly that many of the design features of today’s store came from the 57th Street location.

Nicole Koch.

He points to the back room with swimsuits and the checkout desk, in particular, and with the same sweep of his arm, introduces his wife, Nicole, who is behind the counter. The shop is a true family business, a feeling shared by most of the staff who have been with Koch for years if not decades. Bra-fitting is, after all, not an easy skill to pick up. “Easy to do but only once you know how,” Koch says. One saleswoman learned the trade from Grandma Selma herself and has been a go-to for customers for over 40 years.

Koch explains that when the pandemic hit in March, he was quick to close, even before most department stores. He didn’t want to put his staff at risk or his immediate family. “It was becoming obvious, despite the guy in the White House,” he says with a frustrated snort, “that this was not the flu and it was a bigger problem that you didn’t want to get.”

He turned off the lights and told vendors not to ship. Staff were sent home although, in a testament to loyalty, Koch decided to pay them fully, regardless of the closure. The last day of operations, a woman from NBC happened to be shopping and asked Koch to comment on his feelings about the virus. “It was really hard to talk about closing a business that had never really been closed before,” he says, his voice still faltering.

Despite the lack of income, Koch remained shuttered for almost four months, until he had reasonable confidence that he could reopen with adequate safety features for customers and staff in place. He still winces at the loss of revenue during those key months – his “season” he calls it – when women typically stock up on items for spring break (swimsuits), weddings (lingerie), and outdoor activity (leisure wear). “Those were our three most important months of the season – gone.”

As Koch continues to talk it’s clear that at least a core of the regular customers still come in for products and fittings and the exceptional customer service on which the Town Shop made its worldwide reputation. A caregiver with her older client explains quietly to one salesperson that the woman has put on some weight during the pandemic so her bra is now too small. Another is greeted by name as she is led by a several staff members to the bra boutique at the back.

Koch describes this time as “a totally new experience. It’s very frustrating. It’s taken the wind out of our sails. At the same time, I have a staff that is healthy, I have a family that is healthy, and I have customers that are still coming in, even if there are fewer of them…It’s definitely very, very scary and somewhat demoralizing.”

As if to buoy himself he goes on. “I can’t fight it. I can’t change it. We are going to keep our eye on the prize, though, which is serving our customers and doing the best that we can do on a daily basis. Make sure that people walk out with what they came for and hopefully, a little bit more.”

Grandma Selma.

Standing in front of a wall of pictures of generations of Koch proprietors, as he talks, Koch nods up to Grandma Selma’s photo and adds, “I know she knows what is going on.”

NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. pearl says:

      The Town Shop is wonderful and I hope it stays in business. I’m not able to shop anywhere in person yet but I have been ordering from them online and they ship.

    2. Uwsmom says:

      They sound so wonderful!

    3. EMILIE KLAGSBRUN says:

      Selma fitted me for my first bra and she was a delight. It was like a family club and if you tried on a bathrobe or slip and it was too longish she would happily have it fitted and tailored to the correct length
      The Town Shop was like a landmark for all of us from the Upper West Side
      . After the fillings I would go with friends to Tip Toe Inn or Schraffts
      . Those were wonderful times
      EmilieBaumritter Klagsbrun

    4. Rosanne says:

      Had such a horrible experience at the Town Shop several years ago that I haven’t been back. Went there to get mastectomy bras. The so-called fitter referred to my prostheses as do-hickeys and wouldn’t even look at my flat chest. She stayed outside the curtain until I had put on the bras. It’s bad enough to have had breast cancer let alone be humiliated at this store!

      • jacey says:

        very sad to know this, but perhaps she or someone very close was going through breast cancer at that time. These are such difficult and personal matters. Not everyone can talk about them, especially with a client.

    5. Gina Quinzani says:

      I love this store. Great fitters and all staff. Wonderful selection. I came to get refitted as I’d gained weight and left very happy (about bras, not additional weight).
      I live in Brooklyn and wanted to support many things. Especially this lovely family business.

    6. DH says:

      Mrs. Koch fitted me for my first bra (on the West side of Broadway). She was supreme; I adored her and always knew I was in the best of hands. Danny and his late father, whom I also miss, have beautifully carried on her legacy. May the Town Shop live forever!

    7. Judy and Ralph says:

      Beautiful story,Danny. The end – and a new beginning –
      is in sight!
      👍🙏‼️

    8. Lesli Klein says:

      Glad that Town Shop is still there. I remember Grandma Selma and I remember Danny’s father. Good feelings that a family run store is still on Upper West Side.

    9. Steve Stulman says:

      Selma and Elga say, “Hang in there, Times Will Change”.

    10. UWSisBest says:

      I have shopped at this store for many years. I also shopped there this December for the holidays. I always recommend them to my friends. It is a wonderful business and the people who work there are so friendly and take care of their customers. It is such a great joy to have a business that feels like a family in the neighborhood.

      I hope that everyone who lives in the neighborhood goes there to shop and to spread the word about what a wonderful small business this.

      Thank you Danny for taking care of your employees during the pandemic. Please make sure to let the WSR and the UWS community know how you are doing so we can help. There are ways to raise money and keep things going, so please don’t ever close the business.

    11. MLM says:

      I’ve been out of NYC for months but was a Town Shop customer. Ordered a bra two minutes ago. I come from a long line of retailers, and family businesses need to stay alive.

    12. Anna says:

      I love the Town Shop and have shopped there for years! Even after we moved to New Jersey I still come in to shop there or order online.
      They have been so knowledgeable, kind and helpful -even taking my order for my daughter’s first bra over the phone and shipping to me in NJ during the pandemic.

    13. Deb says:

      I just bough 3 expensive bras after I swore I’d never go into the store again. That was many years ago when I was so disrespected by a salesperson. But my aunt dragged me there rEcently and a lovely gal helped us. Too expensive though.

      • D. Ellen says:

        Remember when there were lots of wonderful shops that could give customers personal service. There aren’t many of them left. Here’s hoping that Town Shop
        is part of our neighborhood for many years to come.

    14. APF456 says:

      I love this store so much. It’s where I went after I was done nursing my first son and needed new bras for my new breasts. I do hope it stays open. I haven’t been going into stores since the pandemic. It’s definitely frustrating because I need new bras. Self-sizing and buying all over the internet has not worked in my favor. 🙁

    15. Karen Petry says:

      A fellow teacher introduced me to The Town Shop over 25 years ago. I love the place and Danny and Nicole are the best of people. I can’t wait to be able to shop in person again.

    16. Erica says:

      Thank you for reminding us of this neighborhood gem. Twenty years ago, instead of breast reduction surgery, I finally got a bra thst fits at Townshop. I will never shop anywhere else.

    17. Luisa in Morningside says:

      I love Town Shop! I went there for new nursing bras after having my second, and their selection revealed to me that nursing bras can make you feel (and look) amazing! Oh, had I known that while wearing ridiculous things I wore with and right after having my first.

      The expertise was quite helpful and is a resource that ought to be preserved.

      Though I didn’t have any need for new underwear this Christmas season, I did go in and buy a nursing tank for a friend expecting her first child this spring. I hope others can find reasons to support this store right now.

    18. Marlene Lieberman says:

      I went there today and bought three well-fitting bras thanks to Allison. I almost went online but I decided I would be happier going local. The Town Shop is a treasure.

    19. Frankied says:

      The best shop in NYC. Unfortunately, the local NYC SBS staff have no clue how to market small businesses.

    20. Ann Smith says:

      Grandma Selma (my aunt) would be enormously proud of how Danny has been handling all of this. She was a strong woman with a clear vision and nothing was going to stand in her way. Danny has her genes. I’m so proud of him.

    21. Gary B says:

      I had the pleasure of living right next door to Selma Koch, or “Mrs Koch” as she was referred to by the building staff and residents on West End Ave, from 2001-2003. She was a lovely woman. I would occasionally help her with packages and she would invite me in and offer me something in return. She said I should consider her as my grandmother. I have very fond memories of our encounters and being invited over during the holidays. A truly classy person.