The telephone shaped like a Cabbage Patch doll in the front window will set you back $295. Or at least it would if the seller was willing to part with it. Passers-by ask about it constantly. Instead, they are welcome to choose among memoirs by 1990s sitcom stars, yellowing Chopin sheet music, and illustrated books on dog grooming. And pickles.
Sweet Pickle Books is mostly a bookstore, with a healthy side business of artisanal pickles and various donated knickknacks. Since Leigh Altshuler opened her tiny shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side a year ago, much of her stock has been donated to the store.
“All my friends are, like, 80,” Ms. Altshuler said from behind an appropriated tanker desk, upon which sits a VHS copy of “Crossing Delancey,” the ’80s movie about a pickle peddler who falls in love with a bookseller in this very neighborhood. It is also not for sale.
“I have, like, three million old ladies calling me, whom I’ve ended up becoming friends with,” Ms. Altshuler said. “They’re always asking me to come over.” Her new friends and other Lower East Siders, upon discovering the store, feel compelled to contribute by passing along, say, their still-pristine copy of Rick Steves’s 2002 guidebook on Rome.
And shoppers are into it. “The other Sunday, someone had left a giant FreshDirect bag with old DVDs like ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding,’ some teeny-tiny wine glasses and a half-eaten bag of Fritos,” Ms. Altshuler said. “Sold all of it except the Fritos.”
Ms. Altshuler, 30, lives four blocks away from the store with her boyfriend, Costa Damaskos, 29, who runs a design agency.
RIVER DANCE Here’s what Costa and I try to do as the sun is rising on Sundays: we’ll walk along the East River, down under the F.D.R. There’s this whole world going on down by Pier 36 that people don’t know about. Men in their 60s and 70s doing Tai Chi — really working it. Guys fishing. Women doing an incredible, choreographed dance to obscure, techno-ish songs pumping through a speaker they must wheel out with a dolly. I don’t know who’s in charge, who’s picking the music; but nobody’s taking selfies, posting it on Instagram; propping up their iPhone, doing a thing for TikTok. And I’m like, if these women can get out here and do this dance at 6:30 in the morning, just to do it, then I can certainly make it to work on time today.
CASH ONLY At some point during the morning, I make juice with fruit from one of those kitchen supply stores on East Broadway. Whatever produce TLB Trading has — ginger, carrot, bok choy, apples. They have everything. It’s hard to leave without buying little kitchen items. For example, a teeny-tiny cheese grater. Every time we go I’m like, “I’m bringing cash, because it’s cash only.” And Costa will say, “No, it’s not.” Then he’ll try to pay with credit card, and they’ll say, “It’s cash only.” That happens every single time.
SUPPLY CHAIN For weeks, a lady in her 80s named Pearl kept tapping on the shop door, saying: “You have to come over! My neighbor down the street in Seward Park has a book collection he needs to show you. He doesn’t have a phone.” When I finally caved and walked to see the neighbor in question, Milton, who turned out to be literally 100 years old, said: “I have 4,000 books. And, you know, I’m getting a little older now and need to get rid of some. I just need help.”
FULLY BOOKED So now I’m cleaning Milton’s place on the weekends. It’s a two-minute drive from the shop. I could walk it, but when I’m going, I’m not getting one box, I’m getting a car full. I paid some Craigslist guy cash for my silver 2004 Jeep Liberty with one zillion miles on it. And I cannot let this car die. Smoke comes out of it sometimes. People say, “Your car is smoking!” And I’m just like, “Oh, I know.”
SHOPTALK When I open the store at noon, there’s always books and bags of things on the stoop. Most of the time when people come in wanting to sell me their books, I’ll offer them cash, and they’ll say, “I just want the pickles.” Though there is still a 70-something woman who brings in a leather briefcase filled with cassette tapes. Uhm, I don’t want the cassette tapes. At all. But, there’s just something about her bringing them to me. So I look at all of them; I count them. Then buy them all with cash rather than pickles.
DINNER DATE AT WU’S At 6, I lock the door and my workweek is finally over — Monday is my only day off. I’m, like, done. Costa and I go to dinner at this Chinese place across from our apartment, Wu’s Won Ton King. Lo mien, bok choy, veggie noodles; I drink tea. We know the Wu’s people. Sometimes they let us keep the Jeep parked out in front of the restaurant. They’re like, “We’ll watch it, we got you,” which is good because I park in illegal spots all the time and owe so much money. Last time I called to fight tickets, New York City’s Department of Finance said, “We have to transfer you to a parking specialist.”
CARDS, CLEANING Our apartment is TV-less, so Costa and I will play card games. Right now it’s Quiddler, which I bought from that board game cafe in the West Village, the Uncommons, it’s all about going to get something at a store rather than online. Then sometimes we’ll stay up till 2 a.m. rearranging the apartment. We love to clean.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Leigh Altshuler’s pursuits on Instagram @sweetpicklebooks.