Handbag restorer moves from Manhattan to South Florida
The New York Times headline sounded like a plaintive plea, “Who’ll fix their Birkins now?”
The answer: It’s still Artbag, Manhattan’s venerable haute couture handbag restorer since the early 1930s. But as of last week, Donald and Chris Moore’s father-son team are now plying their highly skilled craft. at 927 University Drive in Coral Springs, the new home of their company.
The 90-year-old institution has become the latest of the New York-area businesses to relocate to South Florida. But the company is an anomaly in the conga line of COVID-era companies that have migrated south in large numbers since 2020. Most are financial and tech companies with a sprinkling of restaurants.
The Moores are small business owners who are lifelong craftsmen with a client list that spans generations of affluent women, including celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Diane Sawyer and Cicely Tyson.
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Coral Springs has no data reflecting the relocation of businesses from New York to the city of West Broward, said Kristi J. Bartlett, director of economic development. But she said: ‘It happens quite often because of our favorable tax climate and low cost of doing business compared to the North East.
Chris Moore, who now runs the business and operates it with his wife, Estelle, started working with his father when he was 6 years old.
Although the business was unique, the reasons for the move were not that the rent and other costs of doing business had reached intolerable levels.
Donald Moore, now 80, said he was happy with the move despite spending his entire career in New York.
“I think it was a very good decision,” he said. “No. 1, customers know us. We do a lot of mail order. That’s a big difference. It’s not what you do. It’s what you can save. In New York, you don’t can save anything.
Chris Moore said the company was saving $26,000 a month on rent by moving to South Florida. Keeping a close eye on costs, he avoided the higher-rent enclaves of Worth Avenue in Palm Beach and Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale when scouting.
“If I had to do that, it wouldn’t have been cost-effective for the store and the family,” he said. “There’s a certain freedom in not having to worry about paying that kind of rent every first of the month.”
Moore says he moved to Coral Springs for its suburban surroundings and its location midway between Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. In addition, the rent is much lower than in the city centers of large cities.
“Coral Springs, Weston, Parkland, those three places, we felt the same,” Moore said. “But Coral Springs, when we crossed, was more like home than the other two.”
The move included moving leather and equipment including sewing machines, a drill press, rotary tools for carving, cutting, engraving, sharpening and cleaning, and a trimming machine that trims or shaves the edges of the strips of material.
Three veteran Artbag artisans have chosen to stay in New York and are available for projects. Smaller jobs are handled in Coral Springs.
“When customers from Florida found out we were coming here, they were thrilled,” Moore said.
Since the early 1930s, women have trusted Artbag craftsmen to refurbish their high-end bags – many by Hermès, Chanel, Cartier and Louis Vuitton – for restoration and rehabilitation.
The company was founded in 1932 by Hillel Tenenbaum, a former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, according to the company’s website.
Louis Rosenberg, son-in-law and business partner, was a tinsmith “who brought his knowledge of metals and the art of quality to Artbag” and was considered the “king of quality control”.
Donald Moore was a protege of Tenenbaum and purchased the business in 1993. A native of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, he began his career in the boutique in 1959. working alongside Tenenbaum for more than 20 years, learning model making and the construction of handbags.
Chris Moore started making bags at a young age, drawing on his father’s expertise. His father persuaded him to come aboard full time after graduating from Pace University in New York.
These days, Chris runs the business with the help of his wife while his father works on newly arrived jobs as the Coral Springs operation ramps up.
When asked if he would work full time, Donald Moore replied: “Absolutely not! I’m doing him a favor right now.
Over the years, the Moores have seen generations of customers – mothers, daughters and grandchildren – walk through the front door, ramshackle bags in hand.
The store’s artisans repair or replace shredded silk linings, stitch and clean leather, replace handles or start a bag over with new skeletons and bottoms.
Repeat business is largely driven by customers falling in love with their bags and not being inclined to exchange them for new ones.
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“Customers don’t swap bags,” Chris Moore said. “That’s how they are so worn and soiled. What happens is that bags are extremely personal and when you find something that works for you, you tend not to switch or swap.
“If you keep using it day in and day out for a year, two or three years, eventually it will fail, no matter who makes the bag,” he added.
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Years of experience have resulted in another special talent: distinguishing real bags from counterfeits.
“What we have are customers walking into the store with the belief and the thought that something is real,” Moore said. “If I know it’s not and they ask me, I tell them it’s not a real bag.”
An example: a customer came to the Manhattan store one day to have a Hermès bag repaired. Offhand, she asked Moore if it was real.
“I told him no,” Moore recalled. “She told me I didn’t know what she was talking about. But I said, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this for quite a while. I don’t believe it’s real, but if you don’t believe me, walk down two blocks from Hermes and find out!”
“She grabbed the bag off the counter, walked over to Hermès. Notice, it was a very, very, very good impersonation. But it wasn’t real.
“She goes down to Hermes, she comes back half an hour later – ‘they say it’s not real,'” the woman conceded.
Nonetheless, she still wanted the bag fixed. And Moore obliged.
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