Owner of The Frenchmen dies

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

William Koniuk, the founder of the The Frenchmen air conditioner shop on First Avenue, has died at 87.

His son Glenn said Koniuk, who’d battled cancer his whole life, became very ill in the past couple of months and died on Saturday, July 25.

He’d lived in Astoria, Queens, and until three years ago, worked 10-12 hours a day at his Manhattan store, which was well known for its annual Christmas storefront display. This was a tradition that continued for over 20 years.

Koniuk also held Christmas parties every year for the neighborhood at the store, complete with horse-drawn hayrides around the block and live music. He and his employees would dress up as elves.

But unlike most stores that use holiday events to try to get customers inside for sales, Koniuk knew not to bother. In fact, it was only because winter was so slow business-wise that he got the idea (and the time) to focus on putting together his Christmas display, which included dozens of moving Santa models and other holiday-themed characters.

“After Christmas, I’ll think about selling,” he once said.

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Farewell to The Frenchmen

Bill Koniuk at the store in 2009
Photo by Sabina Mollot

We recently received word that Bill Koniuk, owner of The Frenchmen on First Avenue, has closed the store due to some health issues.

The Frenchmen, an air conditioner shop, is well known to residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village and Gramercy for its annual Christmas party for neighborhood kids.

The party, a decades-long tradition, included free horse carriage rides, live music, toys and a holiday window display that rivaled midtown’s department stores. Koniuk has told Town & Village that during the winter season, when demand for air conditioners is low, he would focus pretty much entirely on creating the display and party.

“After Christmas, I’ll think about selling,” he once said.

Party guests go for a hayride at a recent holiday party thrown by The Frenchmen.
Photo by Sabina Mollot