Toys & Gifts
298 Newark Ave.
At Roflcopter Toys & Gifts you can find everything from classic tin cars to newly released games, but one toy that stands out is a Jersey City icon scaled down to just 12 inches.
“The Hoberman Sphere at Liberty Science Center was invented by my ex-husband, Chuck Hoberman, in the late ’80s,” says shop owner Carolyn Hoberman as she expands and contracts the miniature version of the dome that has mesmerized schoolchildren since it was installed in the museum entry in 1991. The shop carries the toy version in various sizes. “We call it the mother of all spheres,” Hoberman says.
Carolyn Hoberman lived in lower Manhattan for 30 years before moving to Jersey City three years ago. Back then, a friend who worked in the toy industry often crashed at the Hobermans when she was in New York for toy conventions. Hoberman loved to tag along.
A few years after the sphere was installed at Liberty Science Center, Hoberman was wandering around the Javits Center checking out the newest toys and games.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get into this industry. It’s so cool,’” recalls Hoberman, who worked as a graphic designer. “Then I thought of the reaction that children always had to the Hoberman Sphere and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make a toy out of it?’”
Soon after, the Hobermans became toy manufacturers. She says the real breakthrough came once they got the price of the toy sphere down from about $50 to $20. “This was before Shark Tank,” she says. “If only I had those guys to talk to. Finally, instead of a few hundred toys here or there, we were selling them by the thousands.”
In 2004 the Hobermans stopped manufacturing the toy themselves, though they still manage the intellectual property of the Hoberman Sphere. “We work together with the toy company, and we have a daughter together, so that’s another project that we share,” laughs Hoberman. Her daughter, who is now in college abroad, grew up surrounded by toys. As a baby her nursery was adjacent to their office. Motherhood allowed Hoberman to embrace her lifelong love of toys. “It was the most fun,” she recalls. “Being into toys is one thing, but having a child to play with is another. It brings back a kind of vivid memory of your own childhood that’s just super. It’s a funny transition for an empty nester to make, owning a toy store!”
But Hoberman didn’t open Roflcopter just because she wanted to play with toys again. “I saw a need when I moved here,” she says. “There are so many families, and there was no specialty toy store.” She loves shopping to stock her shelves. Now when she goes to those toy conventions, she isn’t just browsing. “Somebody called it a curating act,” she says. “I just try to pull together the best-quality developmental toys. Even if it looks like it’s only fun, there’s developmental stuff happening.” Children learn from playing, she says, whether it’s about building motor skills or exercising the imagination.
The store, which is at the edge of Historic Downtown Jersey City, is bright and fun and packed with toys and games. There’s a small play area where kids can try the merchandise while parents shop. There’s lots to see.
Hoberman carries an eclectic selection that includes everything from gifts for newborns, like onesies screen-printed with “New Jersey,” to games and craft sets that could inspire a tween to forget about screens. She has something for everyone, and she has a knack for helping her little customers find just what they’re looking for. “I love trying to find the right toy for each kid,” she says.
Her design background and manufacturing experience serve her well. She also had some retail experience when she was young. “One of the things I understood from my college days when I ran a shop is that a store can be like a hub of the community,” Hoberman says. She hopes that Roflcopter, which opened last October, can grow to become that kind of hub. “I’m a newcomer here, and I’ve met a lot of really great people already. I find it really supportive.”
Where does the name Roflcopter come from? “It’s a texting term, like LOL,” she says. “It means rolling on the floor laughing. The copter part is, can’t operate properly ’til eyes refocus, so you’re laughing so hard you can’t see.” Laughing herself, she says, “Kids of a certain age get it.”—Tara Ryazansky
Check outfacebook.com/Roflcoptershop and @roflcoptershop on Instagram and Twitter.
Executive Dog Lounge
192 York St.
Talk about following your bliss. James Dembrowski was a seven-year-old Wild Kingdom fiend who dreamed of the Serengeti Plain and ended up at the Executive Dog Lounge.
“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was the highlight of the week,” he recalls. “I’ve been fascinated with animals my entire life.”
Spend just a few minutes in the Executive Dog Lounge, and you understand the meaning of “It’s a dog’s life.”
The lounge features a color scheme of red and black. Dog videos play on a large flat-screen TV, mirrors and paintings grace the walls, and a fake gas fire burns in a fireplace. Dogs lounge on bright red sofas and ottomans. On the day we visited, there were six of them. They’re all regulars and happened to be female.
Sophie is a miniature pinscher, Millie is a brindle terrier mix, Kate is an English bulldog, Ginger is an Australian Labradoodle, Bella is a French bulldog, and Goldie is a long-haired Chihuahua mix. A Yorkie named Sophie wears a pink vest that reads “It’s all about me, and me.” (not pictured)
The dogs are clearly friends. They bark and run around and enjoy each other’s company.
Dembrowski’s day job was working in the restaurant business in New York City. Part time, he was working for Lisbeth at Glamour Pet Salon & Vanity on Marin Boulevard, right across from the where the Executive Dog Lounge now is.
“She was consistently asked if she did daycare, but that wasn’t an option,” Dembrowski says. “We talked about it offhandedly, and that grew into ‘yeah, definitely.’ I started in my spare time doing research and putting together a business plan.”
Not surprisingly, it was an interaction with an animal that got things rolling. “An adorable dog named Trouble was abandoned at the salon, and that’s where it all clicked,” Dembrowki says. “It was cosmic. Trouble landed in our lives, so to speak. Then we were full-steam ahead.”
The lounge has a dog-centered philosophy. Basically, if you wouldn’t leave your kids alone all day in a crate, why would you do that to a dog?
Most dogs in Jersey City live in apartments or condos without a lot of yard space. “We wanted to create something that’s beautiful and amazing, a great service that was safe,” Dembrowski says. “A new dog that comes feels comfortable with couches, ottomans, and TVs, like home,” he says. “I wanted to mix my hospitality background with my newfound dog background, a beautiful boutique dog lounge, where dogs can socialize and be well supervised and cared for.”
In his Wild Kingdom days, Dembrowski was living in Danvers, Mass., on Boston’s North Shore. He found his way to Jersey City in 2005 by way of Boston, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, and San Diego.
Coming up with a name that fit the ambience and the philosophy was tough. “We went back and forth with names that didn’t fit,” Dembrowski relates. “Then one day we were sitting around joking that it looked like a lounge for CEOS from different companies. That was the light-bulb moment. It all came together—executive dog lounge.”
If you’re wondering what it means to be in an executive dog lounge, Dembrowki asks you to think about what it means to be in a human’s executive lounge. “It’s a high-end service but not for high-end dogs,” he says. “It’s a social environment, where you hang out, have doggie everything, sleep, play, rest, and be constantly supervised. It’s more expensive, but not that much.”
In all his traveling around, Dembrowski did make it to the Serengeti and got to experience lots of animals, including gorillas in the jungle.
But now, he says, “My dogs, they’re a dream come true.”—Kate Rounds
Couture for Homes
246 Bay St.
When I first walked into Couture for Homes’ retail shop, my first thought was, “Why didn’t I know about this before Christmas?” It’s an intimate boutique, jam-packed with beautiful gift items, including jewelry, soap, candles, bags, eyewear, hats, scarves, pillows, mats, Turkish bowls, napkins, bed quilts, lamps, tapestries, sheets, tablecloths, agates, and I’m sure other items that I may have missed.
The shop is part of the Couture for Homes workroom at 113 Brunswick, a European company specializing in traditional French wall upholstery, custom-made window treatments, and upholstery for furniture.
“We’ve been in business for over 20 years, and in downtown Jersey City for the last 10,” says owner Pilar Lhermit. The dozen or so employees in the Brunswick studio work with high-end architects and designers worldwide, as well as publications such as Architectural Digest.
As part of her job, Lhermit travels widely, including to Central America, Brazil, and Afghanistan. “I’ve had an opportunity to see things other people don’t see,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to open a shop, and two years ago, I decided it was time.”
A space opened up next to New Zion Nails on Bay Street. “I was sourcing goods from all over the world,” she says. The work room and retail shop operate in tandem. “We convert beautiful leftover fabrics into tote bags, pillows, and table napkins.”
The shop carries all-natural men’s products, some exclusively to the Jersey City store. “We’re one of the few places in downtown that carries a large amount of candles,” Lhermit says. “Some people call us the candle store, but we carry anything from handbags and luggage to jewelry—everything that’s unusual and usual.” She prides herself on offering products that have no chemicals.
Lhermit owns the business with her husband, Olivier, who’s in the textile industry. A native Floridian, Lhermit lived in New York City for many years. Her route to Jersey City is well traveled. “After our first child, we were looking for other areas,” she says, “and when we came upon Jersey City, we fell in love with it. Jersey City is like a small town next to a big city. You can walk on the sidewalk without having to push anybody. It’s relaxing, you don’t have to wait in line in restaurants, and there are trees.”
As we all know, downtown JC is a great place for walkers.
“I love the fact that everything is within walking distance,” Lhermit says. “I walk to and from Key Foods.”
Couture for Homes is a family business. “We keep it strictly family,” Lhermit says. “Two or three family members work in the retail store. “Families care a little bit more, and give the best customer service.” Her sister, niece, and brother commute from Elizabeth to work in the shop.
Customer service includes sharing the stories of the products with customers and encouraging them to “hold, touch, and feel” the items. She shows me a tablecloth that’s used as a bed sheet in India. “It has block printing, and it’s not 100 percent perfect,” she says, which is a good thing.
The shop features modern shelving and white walls, which show the very colorful merchandise to its best advantage.
Couture for Homes has established a great rapport with the neighborhood. “Some come in everyday and say hello to us,” Lhermit says. “They love the shop. We see the same faces every day.” The bond is so strong that regulars pay what they can, and then pay the rest later. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we say yes, and we always see them in a couple of days,” Lhermit says.
One of her only regrets is “underestimating Christmas. We had a great response and turnout. People said, ‘Thank you, you saved me hours at the mall, and I got everything I need.’” She’s going to be better prepared for next Christmas.
Lhermit and her husband take full advantage of the neighborhood, eating pizza from Porto’s and spaghetti and meatballs from Roman Nose.
“In the beginning when I first came from New York, it was an adjustment and shock,” Lhermit says. “Now it’s my home, and I can’t wait to come home after traveling around the world.”—Kate Rounds