For many parents, Lester’s is as much a local institution as a beloved restaurant or favorite park—their children often grow up with the shop. From layette items to camp supplies, Lester’s sweeping variety of clothes and accessories for children of every age has made it the city’s grand emporium of upscale children’s wear.
“To find out what we carry at Lester’s, people would probably have to visit about four or five different stores,” said Barry Cohen, who owns Lester’s with partners Perry and Sheri Schorr, and is the nephew of the store’s original founders, husband-and-wife team Lester and Lillian Kronfeld. “Here, we have it all under one roof. We are truly a one-stop shopping experience from head to toe.”
Walk into the company’s expansive Manhattan store at the corner of Second Avenue and 80th Street, and it only takes a few steps to get a sense of the store’s ambition. Even if the 3,000 brands carried here are not all on display at once, there are always a lot of great items—from pajamas to party dresses—to be found in every direction—not to mention the legendary well-stocked shoe section in the back and all the fun trinkets and accessories in the counter area. And while Lester’s is about variety, you’ll also be struck by how hip and contemporary it is, carrying the latest looks from designers such as C&C California, Splendid, and True Religion, to name a few.
This is true even for camp clothes. Whether you’re getting your child ready for day camp or sleepaway camp, you can get him or her fitted for new shoes, stock up on a full wardrobe (right down to underwear, socks, and bathing suits), and order customized stationery and bedding, all in one trip. (Name-labeling services, including free taping or sewing, are also offered on site.)
But the “best part,” as Cohen puts it, is the fashion-forward selection of clothing and shoes. “Everything we do has a fashionable point of view. We know what brands are hot now and what brands are going to be the next big thing. That’s our business.”
Customer Jennifer Rosenberg agrees. “Instead of the usual sailboats and ducks, they have baby clothes that I would actually wear myself,” she said. “I love that.”
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this month, the family-run business has come a long way since it opened the first store, a tiny 300-foot shop on Avenue U in Brooklyn, in 1948. “It was a neighborhood business stocked from floor to ceiling with brand-name clothing at discount prices,” said Cohen. “Lillian and Lester knew everyone by name. They used to hand deliver garments to people’s homes. It was all about customer service.”
These days, in addition to the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations, there are three other Lester’s: one in Deal, NJ, and two on Long Island—one in Greenvale, and the newest, which recently opened in Huntington. Although the business’ size and scope has expanded over the years, ask regular customers what they like about Lester’s, and you almost always hear the same things: the variety, the hip factor, and still, to this day, the stores’ neighborly feel. Whether Lester’s is serving moms and kids on the Upper East Side or in Brooklyn, its owners pride themselves on running stores that have a friendly and welcoming ambiance, and a very helpful and knowledgeable staff.
“We realize that moms are busy and sometimes want to get in and out of the store. If they want help, we have it. At the same time, we also know that some shoppers prefer to browse on their own, and that’s okay, too,” Cohen said.
The store’s Manhattan outpost opened in 1992, after the Kronfelds noticed that many of their customers’ grown children were moving from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side with their own families. While each section of the store has its own special trademarks, they all can be counted on for a mix of trendy and traditional products.
The layette department, for example, offers an extensive selection of baby clothing and accessories, including onesies and dreses from brands such as Kissy Kissy, Coccoli, and Juicy Baby. Layette specialists help parents coordinate newborn registries, select creative baby gifts, and coordinate nursery purchases for new moms and dads.
The store’s toddlers’ and children’s departments are stocked with trendy styles similar to those worn by their adult counterparts. For girls, the spring selection features an assortment of soft dresses, tunic-style tops, and capri-length leggings by labels such as Splendid, So Nikki,Sister Sam, and Flowers by Zoe. The season’s color palette ranges from soft and buttery pastels to citrus-hued yellows and greens.
For boys, the store is stocking vintage-inspired T-shirts by Junk Food and sporty surfer looks from brands like Quicksilver. Retro collared shirts and traditional styles from brands like Ralph Lauren are also currently in demand. The store’s downstairs level houses a well-stocked suit department—including styles from Joseph Abboud Boys—and apparel appropriate for sports.
“The most challenging part is staying on top of the market. We have 20 buyers working five days a week combing the market to make sure we are stocked with the right styles and selection” explained Cohen. “New merchandise hits the shelves on a daily basis.”
The boys’ and girls’ junior departments are brimming with the sought-after styles coveted by uptown teenagers. Jeans from brands like Seven For All Mankind, Joe’s Jeans, and True Religion are abundantly displayed, and a new “petite jeans” section houses premium denim perfectly sized for the junior set. For girls, floaty tops from Velvet and Joie are displayed alongside sparkly party dresses. For boys, the racks are packed with preppy Lacoste shirts, retro-styled button-downs from Ben Sherman, and edgier looks from labels such as Ed Hardy.
While trends are sure to change and many brands come and go, Cohen thinks that Lester’s will be here to stay as long as it stays true to its customers and staff. “We’ll do anything for them,” he said. “They’re all part of the Lester’s family.”
Lester’s is located in Manhattan (1534 Second Avenue; 212-734-9292), Brooklyn (1102-1120 Avenue U; 718-375-7337), Greenvale (90 Northern Boulevard, 516-626-1161), Huntington (350 Route 110; 631-299-2222), and Deal, NJ (284 Norwood Avenue; 732-531-3570). For more information, go to lestersnyc.com.