“People don’t move to Sunnyside because it’s cool. This is the New York New Yorkers live in.”
Having been raised on Long Island, Stephanie Theodore moved to Rego Park right after college. She hated it there and swore to herself that she would never live in Queens again.
“I’ll live in Manhattan from now,” Stephanie told herself. “This is where it’s at!”
What followed were 17 years on Mott Street, where she lived in a six-floor-walkup and only communicated with her neighbors over disagreements and at co-op meetings. Slowly, bankers, lawyers, brokers and trustafarians descended on SoHo. When Stephanie fell in love with a man who owned a house in Sunnyside Gardens, it wasn’t hard for her to leave. The relationship didn’t last long, but her love for Sunnyside continued unabated. The neighborhood’s architecture, pubs and tight community structure reminded her of London, where she studied at Christie’s Education. In 2007 Stephanie bought an apartment on 46th Street.
On the weekends, she still returns to SoHo, where she runs THEODORE:Art. Her gallery represents primarily British artists with whom she has fostered long and growing relationships. Stephanie describes her artists’ work as “aesthetically mature, well-crafted and appealing,” but with a “conceptual and subversive agenda.” She shudders at the hype in the contemporary art scene and laments that many gallerists are more concerned with “packaging” and “surface” than with the work itself.
The pragmatic idealism Stephanie brings to her work as an art dealer mirrors her feelings towards her Sunnyside’s community. She does not want to live in a neighborhood overrun by superficial hipsters and is happy to return to Sunnyside at the end of the day. “I have the best of both worlds,” she says. “It’s nice to get away and not have black-clad hipsters all around or business people or tourists. People don’t move to Sunnyside because it’s cool. This is the New York New Yorkers live in.”
But Stephanie worries that Sunnyside’s Starbucks—a neighborhood’s “signifier of acceptability”—is the beginning of the end. Maybe real estate agents will invent a gimmicky name for Sunnyside, like when they dubbed her part of SoHo “Nolita”? And maybe hipsters will follow, clogging the streets with their “hipster babies in Sonic Youth t-shirts… Gag!” But Stephanie hopes that the existing nuclei of world cultures will continue to attract a steady stream of diverse immigrants with equally diverse professions—and with people who appreciate this “neighborly neighborhood” for what it is.