Downtown Gem PiccoliNY Sparks Kids’ Creativity

Photo by Heather Slingerland

“Piccolini” means “small ones” in Italian—so it’s fitting that the word inspired the name of Downtown’s most adorable toy store for NYC’s littlest shoppers, PiccoliNY, which sits right on the invisible line between Little Italy and Chinatown.

“We spell it ‘P-i-c-c-o-l-i-N-Y,’ versus with an ‘i’ at the end,” explains the store’s founder and creative director, Alex Zagami Ng, a new mom with a 17-month-old son. “It’s a play on words—we think of it as ‘a little New York.’”

Zagami Ng’s definition is apt—in addition to being a treasure trove of delights for pint-sized New Yorkers (from baby through elementary school-age), the Mott Street store also serves as a flagship for Zagami Ng’s own PiccoliNY line, which includes onesies, tees, hats, and totes emblazoned with playful takes on the I Heart NY graphic (think hot dogs or lo mein for the “I,” and pretzels or pizza slices for the heart) that Zagami Ng had drawn by her cousin-in-law, a cartoonist for Adult Swim. She started her own line after being in business only a few months—the Feast of San Gennaro was coming up and she was in search of a city-centric hook to attract customers during the street fair. It was a big hit, and soon after, Zagami Ng started working with the Tory Burch Foundation to take the line to the next level.

“Once we saw that [the PiccoliNY items] were selling out and people were reacting to it, that’s when I knew I was on to something. And that’s when my mentors at the Tory Burch Foundation came in,” she recalls. “They upped the quality for me so much, and here we are eight years later—we’re wholesaling it to other shops, and it’s made my store a global destination.”

The made-in-NYC ethos of Zagami Ng’s own brand, coupled with the small neighborhood feel of the store—which originally opened in 2011 on Mulberry Street—has made it a must for both native New Yorkers and tourists alike.

“I really, really take my time picking each [item in the store]… When I opened the store in 2011, I wasn’t a mom—I was gifting as if I was the cool aunt—but now, after having my own child, I’m seeing the store through a whole new lens,” Zagami Ng says. “The store is a little bit of New York old-soul, a little bit of nostalgia… We like to give gifts that tell a story: A little bit about yourself and a little bit about who you’re giving the gift to as well.” She adds: “We want to really spark children’s creativity in here.”

Zagami Ng is a native New Yorker herself, with both a retail background and family connections to both the neighborhood and the industry; she’s also a mother trying to make conscious choices as to the items her child has in his life. All of this is reflected by the choices she makes in her store. In addition to the NYC-inspired PiccoliNY brand picks on display, there are also toy versions of the Staten Island Ferry and NYC Sanitation trucks (the truck in particular, Zagami Ng says, most frequently inspires youngsters to melt down in-store) mixed in with toys from local artists (like Hazel Village dolls) and throwback picks like Spyrographs.

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs; my grandfather had a bakery in this neighborhood for over 60 years, and my aunt had a store similar to [PiccolinNY] when I was growing up,” Zagami Ng says. “After working both in women’s and children’s [retail], children’s was the most rewarding for me; I knew I wanted to get back into that.”

With holidays approaching, and in an age where buying online is such a prevalent habit and children’s gifts are increasingly tech-heavy, Zagami Ng encourages her fellow New Yorkers to support the small businesses in their communities and to take note of the difference in experience and value.

“[When you shop small], one, you’re supporting someone’s dream; and two, you can touch and feel the product,” she says. “We’re giving you the customer service of walking you through the gift… If you’re coming here, I’m giving you the curation and the customer service. I’m asking: ‘Who are you shopping for?’ And: ‘What’s your budget?’ That’s why I started this business—I wanted to be a part of a neighborhood.” She also adds that for Small Business Saturday (November 24) this year, customers can expect 20 percent off in store and on her website.

Establishing her business as an essential Downtown shopping stop—alongside other local gems like Two Hands and Milk & Cream—has been a real highlight for Zagami Ng, who loves being in between iconic Little Italy (for her own Italian heritage) and Chinatown (her husband is Asian-American). But at the end of the day, her favorite thing is getting feedback from her most important customer: Her son.

“It’s really about enjoying the fruit of my labor when I get to watch my son run in here and destroy the store,” she says, laughing. “He comes in here and he’s totally like a bull in a china shop, but it’s so fun seeing what he does gravitate to, how he does light up.”

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