The football-field-size Zarin Fabrics, in business 85 years, is a prime resource for home upholstery and drapery yard goods.
By Ruth J. Katz
“David B. knows where to find any fabric.”
That accolade comes from David Zarin, president of Zarin Fabrics, a prime New York source for discounted designer upholstery and drapery fabric-by-the-yard. The David B. being cited is David Barach, a longtime—34 years and counting—wizard of an employee, who was likely born with textile filaments in his DNA. “If a customer comes in with a picture of a fabric in a home-design magazine, David B. can track it down. If he cannot find it in his usual 20 minutes, then it’s simply not available.”
Zarin Fabrics occupies nearly an entire city block, on Allen Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This area was once a haven for check-to-jowl, hole-in-the-wall discounters of all stripes (think lingerie, handbags, shoes); especially noteworthy was the preponderance of shops selling draperies, yard goods, bedding, linens, and all manner of textiles for the home. It is likely that nearly all of the retailers in yesteryear’s Lower East Side started out on a pushcart, “piloted” by grandpa, lumbering down Orchard Street. However, as the Lower East Side has become gentrified with edgy hotels, trendy eateries, and upmarket boutiques, most of the old-time retail outlets have either shuttered or decamped uptown to more chic environs. But the amazing and unwavering Zarin Fabrics is still vending thousands and thousands of diverse yard goods and is still a destination for home textiles.
This warehouse-cum-retail-store was founded in 1936. Currently it’s helmed by the third generation of Zarins. But Zarin Fabrics’ longevity is rivaled by that of some of its employees, who have been on board for decades. And do they know fabric! Judy Eichenstein, an in-house design consultant and 30-year veteran, with an eye for textiles and design, lends her creative talents to help solve customers’ dilemmas. The knowledgeable Al Harary last year rejoined Zarin after having begun his career there (in between, Harary ran his own design business). Grandfather Harry Zarin would be delighted to see how his late son, Bobby, and now his grandson, David, have reshaped this fabric fairyland.
Not only can customers come to this football field of fabrics to locate precisely the designer textile they want, but they’ll find it at half its “uptown” price; moreover, they’ll get the benefit of a talented, trustworthy design professional as their creative shaman. This is not lost on the pros who shop here: Thirty-five percent of Zarin’s business is to interior designers, architects, and project managers for commercial jobs.
Zarin Fabrics / Maximalist design
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Over the years, this mainstay has also served entertainers like Taylor Swift and Emma Watson, who have trundled downtown to buy well-priced home goods; and restaurateurs, like David Bouley, who, Zarin notes, is very hands-on and involved in all aspects of his award-winning, eponymous culinary establishments. Professional set decorators for TV shows, dating back to “Sex and the City” and spanning the years from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” shop here. Additionally, Zarin works with many hotels, supplying their upholstery and draperies. Their number includes The Jane, Dream, Moxie, and the Public.
Most of the company’s business, however, is to individuals, looking for unique fabrics for a home makeover, a refresh, or something as basic as summer slipcovers. The warehouse maintains a wall of thousands of fabric-sample books; they are from all the big-name, uptown sources (Kravet and Fabricut, among them) to many smaller, individual houses with specialties. There are textiles from Belgium, India, France, Italy, and Turkey, among the countries where Zarin secures its stock.
There’s even been an uptick during the COVID year-plus. “With time on their hands at home, many customers have come in, even for small things—like fabric for new accent pillows for the living room,” noted Zarin. “Our prices are so good, you can make a minor change for a nominal expenditure—even fabric for recovering the sofa, which is likely getting a real workout these days, with so many families streaming TV and lounging around.”
This is hardly surprising, since consumers have lately been viewing their homes with a more critical eye and a desire to make them as cozy and welcoming as possible. “Small touches can go a long way,” Zarin continued. “Our designers can help customers make even nominal improvements.” He suggests they bring pictures on their phone of the rooms they’d like to perk up, “and we’ll see what magic we can make, with some fresh pizzazz in their environment.”
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Textiles are arranged on the 6,300-square-foot second floor by type and color. While you generally won’t find silks in inventory (but they are available on order), Zarin does stock an enormous selection of mohair, velvets, damasks, linens, cottons, wovens, prints, and lisérés. Also on offer are “performance” fabrics—he kind that can withstand heavy traffic (at airports, for example), but which are comfortable for a home; and all-weather fabrics from Sunbrella, an industry leader.
Most importantly, these goods are not seconds—a term the industry uses to denote yardage that is imperfect. Zarin’s current inventory is almost exclusively first-quality. The sweet spot in pricing for most fabrics is between $35 and $60 per yard. But even those yard goods selling for as much as $200 would be tagged at $400 or so uptown. Likewise, there are closeouts and clearance fabrics that may be priced as low as $15 a yard. Also, in the lower-level workshop (the entire Zarin facility is 11,000 square feet), the company reupholsters furniture and makes decorative pillows, among other services. Also sold here are trimmings, decorative hardware, accessories, drapery rods, finials, and the like.
The store also offers a unique Five Easy Steps to Custom program, allowing customers to order a virtually custom-made chair, loveseat, or sofa, but on a ready-to-wear timetable. They start out with the basic silhouette for these furniture pieces, but all aspects of it are then customized: A standard maple-hardwood frame can be styled to individual taste, with the store’s selection of arm and leg styles, cushion type, backing, and pillow stuffing. Customers can choose any in-stock fabric (up to $60/yard) et voilà! Their customized furniture is delivered in under six weeks—a virtual miracle in the custom-furniture business. It is like buying a custom-made chair or sofa at an off-the-rack price. Workmanship and then delivery are much more rapid than the usual three or four (or more) months that custom work regularly requires.
So here we have a gigantic, one-stop, sprucing-up shop for the home that’s also an authentic New York institution—one that’s stood the test of time and sells its wares at truly affordable prices.
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The author of five books, Ruth J. Katz is a consumer reporter and luxury lifestyles/travel writer and editor. She has been a contributing editor to several Hearst magazines and has been a regular columnist for over 20 years to many publications, including The Modern Estate, Golf Connoisseur, and New York Spaces. She was the style/travel editor of Promenade magazine for eight years and has contributed extensively to both The New York Times and New York magazine. Additionally, she was an on-air consumer reporter at FOX-TV and had her own shows on the USA and Lifetime networks. She is currently a contributing editor to Bold magazine, an upmarket travel publication, and is the features editor at New York Lifestyles magazine. She has visited 90 countries…and counting.
© 2021 Ruth J. Katz. All rights reserved.
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