"A Haven For Women (Right Next To the Recliners)"

By MOLLY ROSE KAUFMAN and JENN BAIN

NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: UNION SQUARE

Published: January 16, 2005

 

In a city where there are no blank spaces, in a store where everything is for sale, there is a place where women can simply go. The store is ABC Carpet & Home, the elegant home furnishings store at 19th Street and Broadway. The place is a sprawling red tent made from hundreds of silk scarves and a few well-placed nails. The tent has become a sanctuary amid the Italian leather sofas and vintage pedestal tables, a quiet spot where women have recently been seen napping, crying to strangers and, this being New York, exchanging business cards.

 

Andrea Horner, a Columbia student, has been standing guard at the entrance to the tent. Her job included asking women to take off their shoes and explaining to men that they were not allowed inside, where strategically placed tea candles and beaded lamps made for some of the best lighting in town.

 

''Every time I come here, I feel like I am reconnecting to myself,'' Ms. Horner said. She encouraged visitors to get as comfortable as possible on the chaise longue or among the piles of jewel-toned silk pillows. And they did: rarely are professional New York women seen sleeping in their socks in public.

 

This unexpected oasis is the centerpiece of a temporary exhibit on the store's second floor that runs through today, and includes workshops, a photography show and a giant tree. It took shape through the efforts of Paulette Cole, ABC's chief executive, and the playwright Eve Ensler, as an outgrowth of her latest work, ''The Good Body.''

 

''It was more than just an exhibit,'' said Lourdes Hern?ez-Cordero, a repeat visitor. ''It was alive. It was a space that changed with every single person who walked into that tent.''

 

For many women, the tent brought to mind Anita Diamant's best-selling 1997 novel, ''The Red Tent.'' In the book, set in biblical times, women were forced to go to the red tent during menstruation. Freed from everyday duties, they were able to talk openly within that space, where vital decisions were made about marriage and business, and bonds were solidified.

 

''Women go places to get things done,'' said Sarah Kirshen, a graduate student at Columbia, ''the beauty parlor, the Laundromat, or you take your kid to the park. It is a duty that is based in someone else.''

 

In this modern-day tent, women found they were able to let go of the burdens of their hectic lives, concentrate on themselves and forge connections. Perhaps this is what Ms. Ensler had in mind at the dedication ceremony when she said, ''Use this as a revolutionary space.'' MOLLY ROSE KAUFMAN and JENN BAIN