Tender Buttons

Store Profile

Store History

  • Founded: 1964
  • Founded by: Diana Epstein
  • Headquarters: New York, New York

On a tree lined street in the east side of Manhattan is a tiny brick townhouse which houses the only shop in America devoted entirely to the sale of buttons. In 1964, the late Diana Epstein, an editor for Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia, bought a closed button store on East 77th Street containing a large collection of buttons, on a whim, from an eccentric button dealer, and embarked on a unique commercial adventure, opening a shop called Tender Buttons. A name borrowed from a work by Gertrude Stein first published in 1914, it is a series of ruminations on small objects, or as suggested by the composer Virgil Thompson, the book was named after a sign for tiny mushrooms seen in a Paris vegetable market. About a week later, Millicent Safro, an antique restorer, stopped by for a button and was intrigued by what she had seen. She found the place disorganized and decided to help get things straightened out. Shortly after, she became a partner. At first, amid the corroding and crumbling boxes of buttons, the shop functioned as an art space or "Happening" and gathering place for artists like Jasper Johns, Ray Johnson, and Lenore Tawney to discuss pop art and 29 shades of the color green. Soon afterwards, people came in and began asking to match or replace lost buttons on their clothing, and in a very short time, this artful endeavor turned into a unique and successful business. In 1965, the shop moved to its present location where it remains today. Having purchased a large old button collection, the new owners began to immerse themselves in the history, design and manufacture of buttons, and soon became knowledgeable collectors themselves. Diana Epstein has written "A Collector's Guide to Buttons" published by Walker & Company, "The Button Book" published by Running Press in 1996, and co-authored by Millicent Safro, a large, beautifully illustrated book "Buttons" published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in 1991.

We stumbled upon this amazing establishment while walking around the UES in search of better buttons for a coat. The store functions as a well-organized library of gorgeous buttons for sale, all contained in small cardboard boxes and clearly marked with prices. There are also displays of fine museum-quality varieties covering the walls.

If you're one of those people who recognize that changing the buttons on an article of clothing, on a duvet cover or pillow, or the tufting on a sofa can have a massive impact on the overall look of the piece, then Tender Buttons is the best-imaginable place to find them. It is a Shangri-La for button lovers. A truly unique place.

Images: Tender Buttons