Function Meets Fun at New Grove Street Gift Shop Mxyplyzyk
“Octopus is going to be the next big thing,” says Brynan, who opened the original Mxyplyzyk store in the West Village in 1992. The Jersey City store, which sits between A Plus deli and a RE/MAX real estate store near the Grove PATH, opened October 11 and is the third store Brynan has opened under the name. He closed a second store in the Time Warner Center earlier after a two-year lease there ended.
So what’s behind the name? (More consonants, anyone?) It’s pronounced “Mix-ee-pliz-ik” and it comes from the name of an early Superman comics character. Brynan says the original spelling had to be changed because it was trademarked.
Jersey City is a shorter commute for Brynan, 55, than the West Village. He lives in the Schroeder Lofts building on the corner of 10th and Erie Streets with Bill Cleary, 48, his longtime romantic partner and business partner. Their favorite restaurant is the Brownstone Diner on Jersey Avenue.
Cleary started helping Brynan with the West Village store two years ago, and now works at the Jersey City location every day except for Mondays and Wednesdays. The couple’s only day off together is Wednesday.
“Knock wood, the first month has been very optimistic,” Cleary says. The best-selling item during a recent week was a children’s book that folds into a dollhouse on the floor.
Despite having grown up near Poughkeepsie, Brynan recently learned that doing business here is in his blood.
The design-obsessed entrepreneur found out several months ago that his Russian immigrant grandparents had a liquor store near Journal Square in the 1940s and 1950s. Brynan’s 86-year-old mother only remembered to tell him about his grandparents’ Jersey City business recently, he says. His design aesthetics were heavily influenced by his mother, who decorated her home with modern Danish furniture.
“It’s really weird that I’ve come full circle,” he says. “I’m happy. This is my future.”
He characterized the store’s contents as “fun, functional products that are innovative and at a good price.” Items range from $3.75 for a greeting card to $250 for a modernist-looking chair. Moderately priced items include a mug emblazoned with the image of a dog wearing a Michael Jackson outfit, and a cylindrical pillow that looks like a log.
Though the brand is new in Jersey City, it’s already internationally known, Brynan says, thanks in part to the “great PR” he got in the two years he leased a 150-square-foot kiosk at the Time Warner building that lured lots of foot traffic.
But there was a rough start to his success story.
Brynan’s first store, Dot Zero, opened in 1984 on Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street. At the time the neighborhood was unsavory, he recalls. He sold “precious” goods such as delicate ceramics made by big design school names.
Business was so bad that he closed the store. Then he decided to try gift-oriented items, and found the store’s current West Village location, on Greenwich Avenue and 13th Street.
“Everyone has birthdays,” he says. “We do a great wrap job. We make it pretty.”
Besides owls, over the years he’s seen a lot of artsy decorative trends come and go.
Past trends have included recycled materials used in the early 1990s as part the “industrial” look and “Martha Stewart-inspired understated items,” he says.
Now, along with octopi, military-inspired objects are popular, because of the wars America is fighting in, he says. On a recent day, the store was selling a fake silver handgun that holds up a lampshade.
Brynan has even had a hand in inventing some of the items he sells. He often travels to China with one of his vendors, who pays him to pick out new trends and come up with new concepts.
He claims to have designed the first commercial sock monkey (which he currently sells in the store).
“We work with iconic images,” he says.
His best-selling item of all time was “the Drinn,” a “figure-eight bent at 90 degrees.” It was used to create a shelf to charge cell phones. Mxyplyzyk was the first store to carry it in the U.S., Brynan says.
“We sold thousands,” he adds. “It cost $9.95.”
Over years of doing business, he’s also had his fair share of shoplifters. “The old ladies are the worst,” he says.
With the economy in a shambles, Brynan says business now is as bad as he has ever seen in his lifetime. But his monthly rent at the Grove Street location is so low that he doesn’t need to sell many items every day to break even, he says.
Business is cheaper here for other reasons too.
“Here the (parking) tickets are only $29! In Manhattan, it’s like $60!” he says.
Brynan is currently working on expanding a discounts program for local residential buildings. People living in the Grove Pointe condominiums at the PATH already get 10 percent off, he said.
“I always thought that the 20-percent-off Bed, Bath & Beyond [coupon sent in the mail] was really good,” he explains.
The 730-square-foot space on Grove Street was vacant for two years because the owner “wanted a chain,” Brynan says. It used to be an electronics store.
He and Cleary first looked at a space across the street from the Pavonia-Newport PATH station, but that space would have required an expensive renovation, he says.
The Grove Street space, by contrast, was “a perfect square” and already had air-conditioning. It didn’t need any structural changes.
Brynan and Cleary hope to open a third store in Westfield, NJ next, a town with “good stores,” says Brynan, “like Trader Joe’s and Williams-Sonoma.”
Brynan, who loves to eat lobster and watch the television show Modern Family, says he wouldn’t change careers if he had the chance and loves being his own boss.
“I’ll probably die holding a price sticker gun,” he says.
Photo of Kevin Brynan (left) and Bill Cleary by Jennifer Weiss.