oakland tribune

Business owner takes ART DECO to Extreme Oakland Tribune, Dec. 2, 2001

oakland tribune

By Alec Rosenberg Business Writer OAKLAND

ART DECO isn’t just a business for Richard Fishman, it’s a lifestyle. The Art Deco period, which had its heyday in the 1920s to 1940s, heralded a time of glamour and luxury. Fishman, also known as “Mr. Rick,” owns Art Deco Collection, a 1-year-old furnishings store featuring original bars, ceramics, chairs, lights, tables and other items from the Art Deco era. But the store displays only one side of Fishman’s Art Deco passion. He dresses the part from head (fedora hat) to toe (two-tone shoes). He plays swing guitar in The Martini Brothers Band. He co-founded Mr. Rick’s Martini Club, which presents swing dance and supper club events. His favorite drink? A martini, of course, preferably dry, very chilled, straight up with an olive and gin — “the classic martini,” said Fishman, who is in his 40s. Fishman moved to Oakland seven years ago to live in the Bellevue Staten, a stately Art Deco apartment building near Lake Merritt. All of his apartment is decorated with Art Deco items, from the Wurlitzer jukebox to the furniture in tones that match the hairs of his cats, Nick and Nora (named after characters in the Art Deco classic film “The Thin Man”). ”There’s something about Art Deco that is voluptuous. It kind of draws you in with its beauty and its curves,” Fishman said. “It’s all about a style. It’s a statement.” Fishman has made a statement with Art Deco Collection — Oakland can attract a higher level of retail, he said. Fishman’s business, buoyed by strong Internet sales, celebrated the first anniversary of its Grand Avenue store Nov. 4 by opening a second shop next to it. He hopes that his success will lead others to follow. ”For Oakland to grow, there has to be more people willing to come here as pioneers and raise the bar,” Fishman said. “People ask, ‘Why did you open in Oakland and not in San Francisco?’ I really wanted to have a business in Oakland. I want to see Oakland evolve and prosper.” Art Deco Collection has found a home at 546 and 550 Grand Ave., within a block of the Grand Lake Theater and two blocks of the Bellevue Staten. ”It’s between the Grand Lake Theater, the Paramount Theater, the I. Magnin building, the Flower Depot — they are really spectacular,” Fishman said. ”There’s a lot of great deco buildings in Oakland and there really isn’t a store that supports that.” Until now. Fishman has found a niche with Art Deco Collection, which sells original items. About 95 percent of the merchandise is European, with almost everything restored or refinished to give the old pieces a new feel. The business appeals to a specialized audience, particularly the shop that showcases furniture. Most pieces exceed $1,000, like a $2,000 table/bar or $16,000 three-piece office suite with writing chair, desk and armoire. ”Local people are coming in,” Fishman said. “They’re interested. They can’t all afford it, but they respect it.”About 30 percent of Fishman’s sales come at the store, with 40 percent from dealers and 30 percent from the Internet (www.artdecocollection.com). The Web site allows Fishman to run the store himself and keep limited hours (noon to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. weekends, and appointments). ”I can have a store like this in Oakland, with what I feel is as high quality as what you might find in New York, Los Angeles or Paris, but because of the Internet I’m not restricted to whoever comes through the door,” Fishman said. Fishman grew up in Michigan. He came to California in the late 1970s as general manager of a group of retail stores, then opened a luggage and travel store. His friend Laurie Gordon, a member of the Art Deco Society of California, introduced him to Art Deco about 15 years ago. “I found it to be very comfortable,” Fishman said. His interest in Art Deco quickly grew. He got a deco apartment in San Francisco’s Marina District. He opened As Time Goes By, an Art Deco gallery and men’s retro clothing store in San Francisco, and then became active in antique shows and playing gigs with The Martini Brothers Band. In 1997, the Art Deco Society gave him a preservation award for helping bring deco to life. ”The great thing about Rick is whatever he does, he does thoroughly,” Gordon said. Gordon has accompanied Fishman on buying trips in Europe. His hard work on the trips, pushing from early morning to late at night, has paid off, she said. But Fishman is not all work and no play. He and Gordon co-founded Mr. Rick’s Martini Club, which puts on Art Deco-style dinner and dancing events. The 500-member club will celebrate its 10th anniversary Jan. 5 at the Lake Merritt Hotel. Fishman, who played guitar as a child, picked up the instrument again six years ago and started The Martini Brothers Band. The swing band took off from the beginning, riding a resurgence in the popularity of the martini, and still plays a few times a month. ”It’s really a lot of fun,” Fishman said. “I don’t have to make a living from it.” A martini memorabilia collector, Fishman also satisfies his Art Deco appetite by drinking martinis. ”It’s an acquired taste, but I love them,” Fishman said. Fishman is also a long-distance runner. His next marathon is in December in Death Valley. “I’m trying to balance my martini drinking and my marathon running,” Fishmansaid. “It helps to do both.”

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