New Rochelle—To call Bonnie Katzenstein anything but a creative entrepreneur would be an understatement. Katzenstein runs two successful local businesses that draw upon the inspiration of her artistry and fashion sense. As the successful owner of a fashion brand and store and an art business, she’s doing it all.
A graduate of the New York Academy of Art in Manhattan where she received a master’s degree in fine arts, Katzenstein has always had a passion for the creative side. For the last 15 years, she has been giving art lessons to adults and children in both painting and drawing. Lessons are basic but creative and tackle topics such as beginner’s portraiture, how to draw a still life or how to draw a landscape. Her particular tools vary depending on the class and age group, yet she’s taught with charcoal, pen and ink washes, acrylic paints and other mixed media. She runs after-school classes for children and day classes for adults, and has had a diverse range of attendees, “anywhere from ages five to 100,” and artists of any level, she said. “It’s very therapeutic and a great way to socialize for adults. For kids, it’s a nice creative outlet.”
Katzenstein hosts most of the art classes in her home, where she also has art parties under her business, Colors on Tap. She also hosts hip hop classes in tandem. This started when her older daughter wanted to do something with dance. Over the years, the girls attracted a group of eighteen dancers who met together weekly for dance classes.
The concept stuck. On Sunday mornings, with the help from the younger of her two daughters, Katzenstein focuses on teaching young children art while the youngest Katzenstein teaches the older children how to dance. After 45 minutes, the groups switch and her daughter teaches the younger children dance and Katzenstein runs an art class with the older children. At the end of a semester, a small recital and art show is held.
All of this is held out of her home in New Rochelle, where her garage has been converted to an art and dance studio. With mirrors on the walls, her garage can really qualify as a real dance studio. The end-of-year festivities are held in her backyard.
Katzenstein is also focused on bringing her Colors on Tap brand to other organizations as well. She often finds herself hosting art parties at shuls, in homes or in restaurants. She has assisted with gatherings for bridal showers and general girls’ nights out. “Usually, it’s a fun evening sipping wine or cocktails and painting,” she said. “It’s different from other paint parties and a step up in quality in that people get to go home with their own painting on canvas,” she said. Her upcoming roster includes classes with local Jewish organizations and other parties and events.
Katzenstein’s fashion focus emerged a bit later on in life. Three years ago, she started the business of Alleyway Boutique to serve the Westchester community in the area of trendy and modest clothing that meets the needs of the local yeshiva dress codes. “All of the girls going to the yeshiva day schools were all spending tons of money on skirts and having a really hard time finding skirts that are of the appropriate length,” she said. Her two daughters were struggling to find hip and trendy clothes that met the same needs. She took matters into her own hands and designed two skirt styles, “the perfect pencil and flare skirts that hit the knee.”
The path to creating the perfect skirt took many months, visits to trade shows to find the right manufacturer and ultimately, a commitment to a California man who has a facility in Indonesia to build the product. Even then, it’s still a challenge. “When you are dealing with importing overseas, things happen. We have to order 1,000 of each style at a time, and not only are we getting 1,000 at a time, we also had to get 1,000 of each color.”
But things have turned out well for Katzenstein. “The fact that we sell out of these skirts is a really good thing.”
With the impending popularity of a much-needed product, Katzenstein opened up the Alleyway Boutique in the alley between North Avenue and Quaker Ridge Road. It was a “tiny little space,” she said, “and there were lines to get in the door right away.”
The need to expand to a larger location was necessary, so when another larger lease space opened around the corner at the Quaker Ridge Shopping Center, Katzenstein seized the opportunity to set up shop there. The storefront catered to girls aged four and up and carried Alleyway skirts as well as other popular trendy products, such as Riva Karen, Nikibiki, and Hard Tail. They also carried sweatshirts, leggings and dresses for the holidays and for Shabbat. When summer rolled around, Alleyway Boutique offered camp items in addition to long shorts and comfortable t-shirts.
Not long ago, Alleyway closed its location at Quaker Ridge Road and relocated to Katzenstein’s house where her other thriving business already exists. She’s still selling her skirts and other “cute clothes that are priced great and are of really soft quality.” As she said, “I left because I developed such a strong client base that people knew what they wanted and how to find me.” She added, “It’s very hard for small businesses to survive [in the area] even when they’re very successful,” and with New Rochelle’s recent loss of the Swirl restaurant just behind Alleyway, the pain is felt by the community. The “soaring rents and expenses” are not easy to maintain, she added.
Today, Katzenstein is just as successful at home. “Even though we’re nestled away, people seemed to have found us.” She acknowledged the importance of word of mouth to her success. “Customers always say ‘thank God you’re here because I was traveling to Cedarhurst to buy this!’” Alleyway, in being conveniently located within Westchester, saves the locals tremendous time.
With Alleyway now based out of Katzenstein’s home in New Rochelle, she is available for private appointments only. Customers and prospective customers can sign up to her mailing list to be notified of upcoming sales and store hours.
By Tamar Weinberg