By Susanne Beck
Logan Roy, the villainous, power-mongering patriarch of HBOMax’s popular program, Succession, has been framed — on the Upper West Side.
Captured looking every bit the over-stuffed, larger-than-life, menacing media mogul he represents on television, Roy – also known as actor Brian Cox – wasn’t entrapped by wily competitors or any one of his duplicitous, money-grubbing children. The job was the work of local businessman Karim Rhamatzada, owner of Amsterdam Art Gallery at 453 Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street.
Yes, that kind of “framed.”
Succession is just one of many television and film productions that the humble framer has done work for over the 40-plus years he has been in business. Sex and the City, Blackish, The Knick. The list goes on, until Rhamatzada admits, “I did work for so many shows. I forgot their names, probably, if you ask me.”
Rhamatzada has owned Amsterdam Gallery since 1992, a tenure he claims is longer than any of the neighboring businesses along that stretch of the avenue (Beacon Paint and Hardware enjoyed that distinction until it shuttered in 2020 after 120 years on the UWS.)
“They have changed so many stores since then,” he told the Rag recently. Among his then neighbors were a barber shop that had been there for 50 years and a photo shop next door that had been there for over 20, both now long gone. Across the street was a grocery store whose checkout area was encased in bullet proof glass, an indication of the street crime that prevailed at the time. Despite such things, Rhamatzada says he chose the area because “it was a good family neighborhood, just like today.”
The new business owner was just 24 when he first opened his doors having fled his besieged and war-weary hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan, only two years before with his parents and three younger siblings. What did he know about framing? Nothing, he says. He had no formal training. What little professional experience he could claim occurred during a stint with the army. “We have no time for university,” he explains, “because we leave.”
What Rhamatzada did know was that there were no framing services in that part of the Upper West Side and, as he puts it: “I like to work with the public. I like to work with people.”
Former Upper West Sider and award-winning set decorator for television and film, Regina Graves, was one of those people, becoming an early customer when she discovered the gallery just around the corner when she moved to West 82nd Street in 1992. One day she eyed a striking Gustav Klimt print in the store window — “I fell in love” — and wandered in,” she told WSR by phone. “[Karim and I] started talking because he likes to talk and I like to talk,” she remembers. “We became friends… and because he was my neighbor, I would walk around the corner and get a cup of coffee and just go talk to him and look at his stuff.”
Graves quickly began to turn to Rhamatzada for some of her professional needs as an assistant set designer on Woody Allen productions. “He had a really great selection of frames, and he would be able to turn them around really quickly,” she recalls. Learning that she was working on period films, he went out of his way to stock mats made of fabric that were a similar style to those used in the early 1900’s.
Graves also referred family members and work colleagues to the shop for their framing needs. While some were reluctant to entrust a framing newcomer with time-sensitive work — “they don’t trust me!” Rhamatzada says today with a quiet laugh. “If I don’t have Regina in the beginning, I would never have what I have today” – he soon won them over, serving some of the industry’s leaders like Santo Loquasto, a production, scene, and costume designer for stage, film, and dance, well known for his work in films like Big and Desperately Seeking Susan and musicals and plays like Hello Dolly!
“He’s just a generally nice person,” Graves says today. “He was very family oriented, always talking about his family, which amazed me. They all had houses close to each other and they all took care of each other. And other than his talent for what he does and his love of what he does, he just really has me more as a friend than anything.” She proudly adds: “he calls me his American sister.”
Thanks to a continued, steady flow of set design work, and an added core of loyal neighborhood customers who have come to appreciate reasonable prices, quick, quality service, and an exceptionally personable staff (including one of Rhamatzada’s younger brothers), Amsterdam Gallery expanded their space a year and a half ago, just after the height of the pandemic. Rhamatzada wanted more room to accommodate his clients, cost notwithstanding. “You have to spend money to make money,” he says good naturedly.
When he talks further about what it’s like to do so much work for the production industry, he acknowledges that it’s stressful, but adds “I used to that now.” His expression doesn’t betray him either, with a look of serenity rarely seen in New York City. Even when he describes his most stressful job over the years — a very specific, three-hour turnaround job for Saturday Night Live that was called in at 6:00 p.m. one Friday night when Rhamatzada was already at home in Long Island, an hour away from the store — he looks the epitome of calm, hands folded before him, eyes smiling peacefully.
Graves confirms her friend’s unflappable professionalism. “Whatever’s filming in New York, I’m sure he has a hand in it somehow. You’ll see a frame on the wall or a mirror [and chances are] that Karim has done it.”
“It’s funny, too, because he doesn’t get starstruck,” his American sister adds. Rhamatzada doesn’t watch the shows he helps with and dropping names is not part of his patter. What Graves says really defines him, though – frames him, if you will – is “he cares about what he does and he cares about his family more than anything.”