It was bitterly cold. Any young plants poking their head out in hopes that mid-March would mean warm weather and hospitable were quickly rebuffed by the blistering winds and raw air. We stumbled down East 10th St in the East Village, desperate for warmth and an interview but our eyes nearly missed The Millinery Shop. Flanked by an apartment building on one side and another small store on the other, the subtle signage and brick exterior make it easy for the eyes to simply slide right over it without taking note. The same could be said of the store’s sole occupant.

Lynn Paik is a small woman to begin with, but her diminutive size is only emphasized by the compact way in which she perches on a stool in the back of the shop. Bent over the russet colored feather fascinator she is working on, she makes her wares the focus of the small shop, not herself. It’s a narrow little store, with white walls and white ceilings and honey colored hardwood floors. The sunlight pours in through the large window that takes up much of the store’s front wall and it shines upon rows and rows of pieces of headwear. Hats rested upon rustic wooden shelves, they adorned the faceless busts in the window. Fascinators and fedoras, bowler hats and boat caps hung on hooks in the wall and stared at themselves in the numerous framed mirrors lining the walls. Some were ornate and architectural whereas others were classic and refined. Some of the headwear looked like they came straight from the head of Princess Kate at  a British Royal event while other pieces would be perfectly at home as the finishing touch to a look worn by a trendy fashion blogger in 2017.

A corporate interior designer by trade, Lynn picked up millinery after taking a night class at the Fashion Institute of Technology and opened her shop not long after that. She praised F.I.T.’s millinery program, saying that “a lot of actual New York milliners trained at FIT”, although she did qualify that by adding that there are some skills that you can only learn in practice. That’s why she has unpaid interns who essentially function as apprentices. They help run the store in exchange for getting the hands-on experience that an organized class like the one at F.I.T. simply cannot provide. While talking, Lynn’s eyes were trained upon the feathered headpiece in her hands, her fingers deftly weaving the needle and thread in and out. Her focus lay solely with the task at hand, as if the college students in front of her were merely a part of the periphery.

Photo by Chloe Carter-Daves

Running a shop devoted to a “lost art form”, as Lynn put it, places her in an interesting position. She welcomes foot traffic and visitors to the store but recognizes that not everyone can afford bespoke headwear. College students come into her shop to try on the unique headwear and are very supportive and enthusiastic of the trade, but often do not have the means to actually purchase any hats. Curious, I picked up a fedora in front of me and glanced at the price tag that read $285. A little out of my price range. Scratch that—a lot out of my price range. Lynn told us that she hopes that she can build a reputation for her shop so she can compete with some of the classic milliners that have been in business for far longer than her. She added that older businesses have less difficulty maintaining a clientele even in such a specific, rare field. Although running a large company with numerous employees does not appeal to her, she wants stability and recognizes that “to affect true stability, you need scale”. In welcoming people into the shop, even those who cannot actually buy the pieces, Lynn hopes that word of her art will spread and she can develop name recognition–the only thing that can help her against the competitors who have been in business for a century.

Lynn partially credits her landlord with helping her business thrive, saying that both the landlord and the co-op board have been immensely useful and supportive of her endeavours. After all, a good landlord is hard to find in New York City. Running a small business in the city can be a challenge under the best of circumstances given the heavy taxes and regulations that businesses must face, but she added that there are resources available if you know where to look. She praised the Small Business Corporation with helping her deal with some of the trash regulations that the city government has for small businesses but added that she’s no expert on the minutiae of running a business and didn’t want to talk badly about the city government without knowing the full story. 

A bird’s eye view of New York City circa 1865. By John Bachmann – Vincenct Virga: Historical Maps and Views New York. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2008, Public Domain,

In talking to Lynn, it is interesting to think less about how the neighborhood has impacted her business, but rather how businesses like hers have affected the neighborhood. The East Village has a storied and diverse history. The area originally was a farm, or bouwerie in Dutch (hence the name “Bowery”), owned by the famous Peter Stuyvesant. As the area developed, it became a high-class region occupied by real estate mogul and fur baron John Jacob Astor (hence Astor Place) but by the mid-19th century, the upper crust trappings of the neighborhood had fallen away and been replaced by overcrowded, unsanitary tenements occupied first by German and Irish immigrants, then by Eastern European Jews. Full of sweatshops and street vendors, the Village became a haven for immigrants hoping to be able to both assimilate into American culture and find a community of people of similar background.

Johnny Ramone onstage in 1977. By Michael Markos –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Although the area has a reputation for being a hotspot for hippie, beatnik, and punk counterculture in the latter half of the 20th century, protest and rebellion has been an integral part of the East Village for well over a century. The slum-like conditions of the tenements and sweatshops have prompted organized protests and occasionally riots in Tompkins Square Park dating back to the pre-Civil War era, and this ethos of rebellion persisted for a long time. In 1917, the area became home to communist leader Leon Trotsky. In the 50s, the East Village’s denizens included renowned beatnik writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The beat population of the Village was the partial inspiration for Ginsberg’s phenomenal classic poem “Howl”. In the 60s, Tompkins Square Park was one of the major stomping grounds for hippies and in the 70s, it helped birth the punk movement. Clubs like CBGB & OMFUG gave incredibly influential artists like the Ramones, the Velvet Underground, and Television their start. Tenements on St. Mark’s grace the album cover of Led Zeppelin’s seminal album Physical Graffiti. Andy Warhol lived and worked in the Village. The gay bars in the neighborhood became a haven and a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in a time where being out was not accepted.

The famed CBGC & OMFUG club the day after it permanently closed. By Noeticsage at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5,

The thing that allowed this breeding ground of countercultural artistic and social was the affordable rental prices. This made it so that innovative starving artist types could afford the real estate, thus encouraging them concentrate in the area and create a hotbed of creative innovation. From the immigrants protesting unsafe working and living conditions in the 1800s to the poets, musicians, drag queens, and artists creating a complex counterculture a century later, the Village has a rich and diverse history of the outcasts or rejects from mainstream society rebelling and taking action. However, this has changed since the 1980s. The beginnings of the gentrification of the Village started in the 1960s and 70s, when tour busses full of rich uptown folks would travel through the neighborhoods so they could see how the other half lives. Once the punk scene in the 70s died down somewhat, the same types moved into the neighborhood. As with all gentrifying neighborhoods, the influx of wealth created a greater demand for amenities. These higher class amenities slowly began overtaking small businesses and condominum buildings began to replace tenements. The rents rose, forcing out the artists that made the Village so appealing to start with. Legendary venues like CBGB & OMFUG were forced to close their doors. Although on every block there are still glimpses of the delightfully grungy historical East Village, the area has largely been sanitized, masking many of the things, both savory and unsavory, that made the neighborhood unique.

Census data for The Millinery Shop’s census tract in 2015. Data from Social Explorer.

The effects of this transformation can be seen through demographic data, which may also offer clues to the neighborhood’s relationship with businesses like The Millinery Shop. In the few years since Lynn’s bespoke hat and headwear store opened up, the census tract in which the store resides has not changed drastically. In 2015, there were 8,947 residents, most of whom are between the ages of 18-24 or 25-34. 81% of the residents of the census tract are white, and 74% of them are doing well financially (median income of $85,338, which would be defined as upper-middle class). The majority of residents of that particular census tract are in non-family households (80.2%) and rent their apartments as opposed to owning (92.9%). In 2010, the population of this small tract was 8,651, 76.5% of whom were white. Although the majority of the population was also in the 18-24 or 25-34 age bracket, in 2010 the population skewed younger than it did in 2015. However, this could be accounted for by the same people who merely aged over the 5 years in between censuses. Much like in 2015, the majority (81.3%) of people in the area live in non-family households. There is no income information for this census, but since the other demographic information is so similar it is reasonable to assume that the median income of people in that region are roughly the same. These demographics indicate that in the period of time that The Millinery Shop has been in business, the region has not changed much.

However, the East Village has undergone massive changes that allowed the current feel of the neighborhood to exist. In 1990, the racial and living situation demographics were fairly similar to 2010 and 2015, although there were slightly fewer white people (77.5% of the population) than in 2015. However, the most interesting indicator of change over the 25 years between 1990 and 2015 is the median income. In 1990, the median income of the census tract was $30,154, which translates to about $57,637.18 adjusted for 2015 inflation. The average wealth of a neighborhood is a very important indicator of the character of the region and truly defines what businesses can take root there.

If we go back even further to 1970, we see drastically different demographics. The population of that particular census tract is quite a bit smaller (7,922, about 1000 fewer individuals than in 2015) and the living situation was vastly different. Instead of the majority of people living in non-family households like in 2015 (80.2%), 68.3% of people in 1970 lived in family households. Perhaps of a result of this, there is a wider age distribution in 1970 than at any point since. Instead of the vast majority of the population being young adults, there were far more middle aged people and children. Additionally, there was a wide spread in the incomes of the people who lived there, although most people made between $10,000 and $25,000 ($61,086.86 – $152,717.14 in 2015 dollars) per year.

Although demographics do not offer a complete picture of the character of a neighborhood, it does tell us some things. A fancy, expensive shop like Lynn’s likely could not have existed in the 70s or 90s in this location. In the 70s, some of the people living in the East Village may have been able to afford bespoke hats but with many people being members of a family, there was likely less demand for bespoke items. Furthermore, the members of non-family households (i.e. the artistic sorts who may have had more of an interest in unique headwear) likely had a lower median income and would not have been able to afford them. A bit later in the 90s, the demographics of people shifted more towards young, single people who may have interest in such a unique or creative form of expression, but the median income of the people living there likely was not high enough to support a business that specific or expensive.

These demographics cannot tell us why changes in a neighborhood occur, but they can help to track the results of these changes and in conjunction with historical research, we can piece together a broader view of how and why places evolve and develop. The East Village had to change a lot from immigrant enclave to punk haven to yuppie paradise in order for businesses like the Millinery Shop to thrive, and the area will have to adapt to weather future developments. Despite the fact that Lynn’s business is distinctly suited for the East Village of 2017 and not the East Village of 1970 or 1870, she comes from a lineage of artists and craftspeople that called the Village home. Though her creative contributions come in the form of unique headpieces that cost hundreds of dollars a piece and not punk shows, pop art, or hippie jams, the long history of artistic production in the neighborhood is what allows Lynn and her craft to be at home in the East Village. This is a place where unique people have been doing unique things for 150 years. Lynn and her hats are just the current generation.


Fons, H. (2009, August). Counter/Culture – A Look at Manhattan’s East Village. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

Gregor, A. (2014, December 10). The East Village Clings to a Colorful Past. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

Nevius, J. (2014, September 04). The strange history of the East Village’s most famous street. Retrieved May 30, 2017, from

U.S. Census Bureau. “Census Tract 40, New York County, New York” Social Explorer. Web. May 30 2017. EST 2015.

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