The young man comes in, his eyes roving wildly until they fall on a plush monkey doll. Perfect! It is, he explains, just right for his friend, a young mother-to-be expecting her first child. And boy, does he mean it.
"She's pushing right now!" he exclaims, dashing out the door, monkey in hand. For Nicki Lindheimer and her partner of 17 years, Luisa Cerutti, this is what makes Domus worthwhile.
"When customers come in here looking for a gift, it is like we're matchmaking," says Lindheimer. Domus, tucked demurely on West 44th Street in New York City's trendy Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan, specializes in such Cupid-itry. But Domus is far from being an upscale gift boutique filled with cute something-or-others. From its inception over a decade ago, Lindheimer and Cerutti positioned Domus as part of the rising wave of conscientious business owners who are as aware of their suppliers as they are their clientele.
Showcasing World Artisans
"We work with artisans all over the world directly. That is our aim," says Cerutti, noting that most of the goods for sale are made following sustainable practice guidelines. "We do close the store every year in January and travel, starting relationships with local artisans that then continue. We are the only store in the entire United States that carries these particular items, so it makes it a little more interesting."
Those "particular items" include handbags made with hand-woven cloth made by individual tribal weavers in northern Thailand, soaps direct from Afghanistan and pillowcases produced by women-cooperatives in Honduras. Because each piece begins with unique source materials, the resulting Domus merchandise is just as unique. Believing that workers should get a fair wage for their work and then shipping directly without the presence of middlemen (who siphon profits and drive up costs), Domus buys goods at an equitable price without having to pass markups onto its customers.
"We don’t have to charge more to our customers, and the makers get a living wage," Cerutti sums. "It ultimately is a win-win situation."
The bags and pillowcases share space with highly prized South African beaded baskets, stone boxes carved in Vietnam and tablecloths from Guatemala. A quick perusal of the space reveals stemware, crockery, jewelry, foodstuffs, decanters, DIY light-fixture kits for budding home decorators and the occasional monkey doll. The uniting factor is not the price range, but rather the "nice range" - the thoughtfulness and emotional impact the items convey.
In its 10-and-one-half years of operation, Domus (Latin for "home") has become one of the neighborhood stalwarts. Lindheimer and Cerutti know several of their customers on a first-name basis, making finding that perfect gift a snap.
"In fact, we travel and buy with certain customers in mind," adds Cerutti. "And almost invariably, what we find is exactly the right thing they were looking for. It’s really quite fantastic that way."
Aware of its local standing, Lindheimer and the Italian-born Cerutti use the boutique’s popularity for social good. This month, Domus hosted a "shop for immigration equality" event, where 15 percent of proceeds went to the Immigration Equality Action Fund, an organization fighting DOMA exportations and equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals.
413 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Shop online at www.domusnewyork.com