Keep your eyes open for the September issue of The Blue & White, coming soon to campus. Until then, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting highlights of the upcoming issue online. Among the treats to look forward to: a litany of bizarre and outdated freshman hazing rituals, a conversation with a luminary on DIY education, and a (half-fictional) account of romance in the John Jay dining hall. This month, staff writer Lily Icangelo gives you a few reasons to visit local business Columbians often overlook.
I was told there would be a cat. After asking a few friends if any of them had ever stepped inside Possibilities @ Columbia—one of those places that seems to exist as just a sign and a window-front, not an actual store—only one of them replied that she had. She told me that she visits that shop on Broadway between 111th and 112th streets once in a while to see the cat and the slew of young children that often roam the store. College students will do just about anything to see cute animals, toddlers included.
Columbia has a habit of trapping its students in a vortex of never ending work, constant motion, and rollercoaster-like emotions. Such extremes make it easy to forget not only that there is a world outside Columbia, but that world exists along the same streets we consider part of our campus. Though we make use of a number of local eateries and shops, we pass many storefronts every day without actually walking through their front doors.
Although my friend had shone a small light on the atmosphere of Possibilities @ Columbia, what the store actually sold was still a mystery (adorable animals and tiny toddlers perhaps? One can only hope). So instead of walking past that obscure store with the @ sign in its title as I have so mindlessly done for the past two years, I decided to actually walk in.
Unfortunately, neither animals nor humans under the age of five were anywhere in sight. What I did find, however, was nothing short of a child’s dream. Walls of Nerf guns, action figures, baby-dolls, hula-hoops, and every other nostalgia-inducing toy line the right end of the store while displays of stuffed animal Dalmatians and giraffes take hold of the left.
Zaiida Syeda, the soft-spoken woman who has been working at Possibilities for the last five years, says that they do not often see Columbia students at the store. She noted, helpfully, that, “mainly young children and families shop here because we are a toy store.” But once Halloween rolls around, the holiday on which anyone can put on a Spider-man mask and be a kid again, the store fills with students searching for costumes and decorations.
I thought of the other Morningside stores I was missing out on, gems I has previously disregarded as just part of my walk to class. Mondel’s Chocolates has been around since the beginning of time—or, more accurately, since 1943. It is even famous for being a favorite of Katherine Hepburn, a fact that the owners of Mondel’s do not let you forget by proudly displaying her quote of approval in the store and on their website. But for many jaded Columbia students, Mondel’s is just a small, unremarkable store they walk past on their way to The Heights—the one that always displays window of a bizarre mix of chocolate, dolls, stuffed animals, and posters.
The idea of Mondel’s is cute—a cozy mom and pop chocolate store that was once graced by acting royalty—yet it hardly ever graduates from existing as just an idea. Impatience and fear of the unknown are what seem to drive Columbia students away from the candy store, as Christine Petrin, BC’13, notes, “I find myself thinking about it whenever I need to buy a little thank you gift for someone, but then I figure it’s probably pricier than just heading to Morton or Westside to find something equally yummy for a cheaper price.”
There are many stores in the Morningside area that, like Mondel’s, blatantly do not cater to the college student demographic, and it seems to be a miracle that they are still in business. At a cursory and thoughtless glance, Bank Street Bookstore on the corner of 112th and Broadway looks as if it could be a respectable alternative to Book Culture or the Columbia Bookstore. But upon further inspection it becomes apparent that this bookstore is “for Children, Teachers, and Parents” (as the large blue awning so firmly tells you). Other than students studying early education, there seems to be no other reason for a Columbia student to shop here.
Contrary to popular belief, the toddlers who play on College Walk are not magically dropped onto Columbia’s Campus every summer and spring for students’ entertainment. Morningside Heights is a real-life neighborhood with real life families who have real-life young children that help keep stores like Possibilities, Mondel’s, and Bank Street Bookstore alive.
Columbia students walk past these stores as they seem to have nothing to offer to a college student, but there’s actually a world of benefit in store for a student with the time to stop in once or twice a semester. With candy, toys, and children’s books, the places that no one goes around Columbia actually provide a welcome respite from that weird limbo between childhood and true adulthood that college students find themselves stuck in.