BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Once upon a time, with no prospects for a happily ever after other than an open mind, Judy Famigletti moved to the Upper East Side. That’s where the 60-year-old grandmother with a Masters Degree in early childhood education and a knack for interior design channeled those very grown-up credentials into Let’s Dress Up, a fairy tale-themed space on East 85th Street. Then one fateful day, after attending a Princess Play session with her daughter, a smitten Samantha Myers bought in, and brought her financial services savvy to the enterprise. Along with longtime Store Manager Letina Gebrehiwet, Let’s Dress Up welcomes its young guests into a world where the soundtrack to a royal birthday bash or a well-mannered tea party might play on an iPod, but the adventures that unfold all flow from the boundless (no batteries or WiFi needed) energy of children at play.
If that sounds like the kind of magical place that belongs on the To Do List of a kid you know, there’s no need to call on your fairy godmother for transport to the Upper East Side. Let’s Dress Up has a new local location on West 19th Street between Seventh and Eighth Aves. We recently spoke with Samantha Myers about the leap of faith—and imagination, of course—that brought Let’s Dress Up to Chelsea.
Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): Some local parents got to know you when Let’s Dress Up participated in the Halloween celebration at Chelsea Green Park. What did you do, and how was the experience?
Samantha Myers, for Let’s Dress Up (Samantha): We had a table where we made masks with stickers on them—glitter stickers, of course. Then we were joined by Princess Belle for photo ops for the kids in front of our castle screen. As our first of these types of events in the Downtown neighborhood, we were thrilled with the turnout and found it very well-run. We really love getting out in the neighborhood and meeting families in real life.
CCNews: West 19th Street is the second location for Let’s Dress Up. Why did you choose Chelsea? Was expanding the business as we were emerging from the pandemic a challenge?
Samantha: Opening another location in Manhattan has been on our wish list for a few years. Of course we want Let’s Dress Up to be a destination, but we really value being part of our local community, getting to know our customers, seeing them grow up, seeing their families grow. We looked around, did our research, and thought that Chelsea would be just that. And a resounding YES to the second question. We were fortunate to survive COVID, but we were also tired of just surviving and didn’t want to keep our plans on hold any longer. We had to talk ourselves into taking a calculated risk no matter how scary. We viewed it as an opportunity.
CCNews: The experience you create gives kids a chance to go all-in on that enduring form of play: Dressing up. Why does it have such staying power?
Samantha: My business partner, Judy, would probably say something like it is magic and cannot be explained. Seriously though, it does seem to be timeless. As a mother myself, I have seen first-hand the imagination and role playing come to life, through my own daughter. They just love it. We have tried to set up the shop with everything they could want so they can really get into the details and play. It is so much fun for them (and for us).
CCNews: Are the imaginary scenarios created by your guests or the reactions to what your experience sets up distinguishable in any way in terms of how contemporary—and tech-savvy—kids navigate imagination and play?
Samantha: We are definitely a “throwback.” No screens, no electronics, no bells and whistles in that way. We still print hardcopy photos as keepsakes. But the kids don’t seem to mind at all and most of them like the structure that is built into our events. I think today more than ever, parents are super busy and pulled in a million directions, so we just try to be there for them in whatever way they need. If they are looking for a safe, reliable place to drop off for a 90-minute event or they want to stay and experience it with their kids, we want everyone to have the most positive experience possible.
CCNews: What are some of the most memorable reactions, and interactions, during a Let’s Dress Up event?
Samantha: I love when they first walk in and their eyes light up at all the dresses and I can see the wheels start turning. But my favorite thing to do is eavesdrop at the tea party. Parents are often surprised at how well the kids will sit calmly and politely engage with their peers. They can be heard introducing friends that may not know each other or complimenting one another. Sometimes they are just being funny, talking about pinkies up while they drink their tea or using accents, sometimes there are heated debates about unicorns vs. mermaids or what magic powers they would want. One girl told us through infectious giggles that her dad’s name is Bruno and they tease him all day with the song, We Don’t Talk About Bruno. The other day a five-year-old at a birthday party said to me, “I had fun decorating my cupcake, but I am not going to eat it because I don’t like to have too many sweets this close to my bedtime.” And their parents were nowhere in sight!
CCNews: Please talk about anything notable not covered in the above questions, and thanks for your time.
Samantha: Nothing to add except we are excited to be here and hope to keep meeting more of you!
Let’s Dress Up is located at 345 E. 85th St. (btw. First & Second Aves.) and 261 W. 19th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.). For more information, click here to visit their website or call 212-879-0956. Let’s Dress Up is a Certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE). Instagram Page Facebook Page
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