The Last Saddlery Standing

Sep 2, 2014 - 7:13 AM
Manhattan Saddlery—opened in 1912 and formerly known as Miller’s—is the last surviving tack shop in the borough. Its walls and shelves are full of history, but owner Nick Tsang is also breathing new life into the store. Photo courtesy Nick Tsang.

The perpetually rearing wooden horse still stares out the enormous picture window oblivious to the constant bustle of New York City, just as he’s done since 1912. All around him, the world has changed. The once plentiful shops offering equestrian accouterments to clients with names like Rockefeller and Kennedy have disappeared, leaving Manhattan Saddlery as the sole surviving tack shop in the borough.

In the shadow of the Flatiron building, their space on East 24th Street was previously occupied by Miller’s Harness Company. After changing hands a few times, it was eventually purchased by current owner Nick Tsang’s mother in 2002.

“My mother was a longtime customer of the store. My parents walked by one day and noticed it looked a bit bare and were told it was being sold. On a whim, they bought it,” explained Nick, 30.

For five years, the 6,000 square-foot, three-story store broke even, and when Tsang’s mother became ill in 2007, the family considered selling it.

“I’m a real estate developer and a preservationist at heart. Like so many of these old NYC landmarks, this was the only tack shop left, and if we closed, that would be it,” Tsang said. “I asked [my parents] to sell it to me, and told them I would try and turn it into a viable business, or at least more than a break-even proposition.”

But Tsang had personal reasons for shouldering the responsibility as well.

“It was a sentimental thing to my mom, and I thought if I could keep it going, when she got better, she’d at least have somewhere to come and hang out,” he said. “Unfortunately, she passed away in 2012. But from all corners, it has been a labor of love.”

Tsang said the business used to depend mostly on New Yorkers and mail orders, but it’s now developed a dedicated international following. Manhattan Saddlery recently began stocking polo equipment, and it’s the first New York retailer to carry the polo brand La Martina; they’re also the new showroom for Vogel Boots.

Creative types source material from the store as well, one of the bigger names being the Ralph Lauren company, which often buys saddles and other equestrian gear as decoration for its store windows.

“The whole ‘job’ of having a store like this is to create a riding narrative in here that is very separate from ‘out there,’ ” said Nick. “You walk outside, and you’re in quasi-midtown Manhattan, and in here is sort of an oasis, I’d like to think, that presents something very different.”

Tsang is interested in evolving the store to be more than just a retail endeavor, in part inspired by how his family was introduced to riding in the beginning: as a therapy for his older autistic brother. To this end, he’s partnered with Georgina Bloomberg’s charity, The Rider’s Closet, donating more than $25,000 worth of merchandise.

“As a sport, [equestrianism] has the reputation for not being the most accessible, so I think anything that can help shift that narrative a little bit is good,” he said.

And Tsang is committed to ensuring that this monument to New York equestrian history, complete with its wooden horse in the window, never disappears.

“I could never let it go,” he said. “It’s just too sentimental. I’m tethered to this place!”

 

This story originally appeared as part of our cover story in the Fall 2014 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse Untacked. To read more stories like it, subscribe now.

Categories: Lifestyles, Tack
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