by Jane Lenel
People rarely weep when a store goes out of business. But one person did when she heard that Pauline Kleban’s Little Nook was closing its doors at the end of June. “What am I to do now?” she cried.
You’d be hard-pressed to find such sorrow at the closing of many other stores, so why shed tears at The Little Nook’s demise?
First of all, the gift shop has been a member of the Chestnut Hill family for 45 years — starting at 25 East Highland Avenue and then for the past 32 years at 8005 Germantown Ave. But the main answer lies in the beauty and unique quality of everything in the store, all handmade by noted local and out-of-town craftsmen, such as weavers Sigrid Weltge and the late Ursula Brown.
Nothing is imported. Shelves full of unorthodox jewelry, hand-painted fabrics, remarkably fashioned clothing and sculpted glass, ceramic and wood bowls, pots and vases.
The answer also lies in the gemütlich personal atmosphere of the shop, where Pauline, who requested that her age not be mentioned, says music was always playing. “Some people have been coming year after year, some for 38 years,” she says, “not only local people, but people driving considerable distances.”
How did it start? First of all, Pauline always had artistic leanings. Born and raised in New York, she trained as a dancer with the legendary Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan. She also studied piano and was an avid attender at dance recitals and instrumental concerts at the Washington Irving High School in NYC (50 cents per ticket!). “Music and the arts are all connected,” she observed. Before opening The Little Nook, Pauline was an assistant to one of the head teachers at Miquon School, which her son Barry attended.
Her mother’s creativity probably had the strongest influence on Pauline’s later turning to beautiful handmade crafts, however. “She loved to search out all kinds of old hand-woven or embroidered pieces of fabric, laces, embroideries and hand-painted silk scarves and brought them home to fashion into beautiful clothing, elegant evening bags, and scarves,” said Kleban.
Her mother also had a fabulous collection of old buttons, from which bead specialist, teacher and author Donna Faye made jewelry for the store. Later on, her mother continued sewing blouses and skirts for The Little Nook to sell. A cousin and her husband also contributed stained-glass mirrors and lamps with-glass shades they had made.
Once The Little Nook got under way with a number of the “best creative artists in the area” — the late Olaf Skoogfoors, a silversmith; Raymond Gallucci, whose pottery is exhibited in the Allentown Museum; potter Louis Mendez, and jewelers Martha Mertz and Ed Levin.
Before starting The Little Nook, Pauline lived on Park Lane, a small street off Wissahickon Avenue, with her late husband Sam, a chemist, and her son Barry, now a lawyer living in Ardmore.
After Sam’s death in 1984, she lived for 23 years at Hill House in Chestnut Hill. In 1985, she moved to Cathedral Village retirement community in Upper Roxborough, where she will have a lot more time to enjoy her retirement when she finally puts The Little Nook to rest at the end of June.
Everything at The Little Nook is now selling for 30 percent off. For more information, call 215-247-1878.