By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Boyar Gifts owner Tali Alexander bought a 100-year-old stove that weighed a ton at an auction, her husband expressed disbelief that she would have room to put it somewhere, but Alexander wasn’t worried. And the timing ultimately worked out because she was able to have it brought directly from the auction to where it now sits in the front display window of the new store on Second Avenue between East 22nd and 23rd Streets.
“In the process of building out the space, I realized it would fit right in,” she said. “It became almost the mascot of the store and it really worked because I wanted to bring a homey element to this place.”
This habit of collecting items she doesn’t necessarily have a place for during her travels, a habit that both she and her sister share, was one of the main motivations for opening the gift shop, Alexander said.
“We’ve always traveled and hauled all this stuff back so we were like, you know what, we should share all these wonderful things with everyone else,” she said.
Some of the items included in the shop recently were painted ceramic sardines made by local artists from Portugal, oils from France, nesting dolls from countries throughout the world and specialty chocolates made by a company from Texas.
Alexander explained that the store’s name is an homage to her family’s background, and came from a word, which refers to an aristocrat who was second in line to the prince in Russian nobility, that her father used to use. She said that she only learned the specific meaning of it when she started brainstorming what to call the new business.
“When we would get together to have dinner, my dad would say to me and my sister, ‘come on, boyarin!’ to get us to come to the table,” she said. “We never knew what it meant but I was doing some reading and I came across ‘boyar’ and realized that I’d heard that word my whole life and hadn’t even realized what he was saying, so it seemed like a perfect fit.”
The store is also in a fitting location for a family business, especially Alexander’s family, because they own ProHealth Pharmacy next door and felt it was a good opportunity to expand when the adjacent space opened up, which was previously occupied by a fishmonger.
Alexander and her sister, Michelle, often stocked an area of the pharmacy with trinkets they collected and brought back from their vacations so the new store became a natural extension of that. Both sisters are pharmacists, and while Michelle currently works in that capacity for ProHealth, Alexander splits her time between the new shop and working as an author of romance novels.
The store is packed with items on almost every available surface, making the most of the small space with some trinkets sneakily on display in dresser drawers along the side wall and a number of items purposefully displayed on the table, which Alexander said gets re-designed periodically.
“Even though the store is small, it gives me and my sister a chance to shop for the store and find new things for people to enjoy,” she said. She noted that the store has been gaining some regular customers since it opened this past April, and they’ve quickly picked up on the fact that the inventory changes.
“Some people will come in and think they can come back for something but all of our products are unique,” she said. “We don’t replace anything. If it sells out, it’s gone.”
Alexander also said that she wanted the store to offer a personal experience for those who dropped in.
“People shop online all the time and it takes all the fun out of shopping,” she said. “There’s no human interaction. This place gives people a reason to leave the house and explore new treasures.”