Places that Matter

Surma Book and Music Company

click on image for slideshow
Store front overview, Elena Martinez
Store front overview, Elena Martinez
Welcome sign above the front door, Elena Martinez
Ukurainian traditional clothing, Elena Martinez
Store interior, Elena Martinez
A store selling all sorts of Ukrainian goods
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Place Matters Profile

Surma opened in 1918 at its current location, and is a distinctive family-owned business that specializes in Ukrainian folk arts.

Ukrainians started immigrating to the United States in the 1870s but it wasn't until the first decade of the 20th century that they began to establish community institutions in earnest. St. George's Church was founded in 1905 on 20th St. and moved to East 7th St. in 1911, anchoring the formation of "Little Ukraine" on the Lower East Side. (Since the 1960s, this part of the Lower East Side has been known as the East Village.) Myron Surmach opened Surma as a general store for fellow Ukrainian immigrants. Its location across the street from St. George's helped it to prosper. (A store called Arka, still extant on E. 2nd St. and specializing in Ukrainian products, was another early community venture.) Myron Surmach began his business by selling practical necessities. His grandson and the store's current proprietor, Markian, comments, "My grandfather, he was catering to Ellis Island immigrants. Ukrainians who didn’t speak a word of English and had no idea where to go. So this was basically like a newspaper stand. We even actually sold washing machines. It was very functional."

As Myron became acquainted with local artisans, he began carrying some Ukrainian art. His son, the late Myron, Jr., pursued that direction with gusto after taking over the family business in the 1950s. As with many immigrant families, the second and third generations of the Surmach family became interested in their culture's folk arts. Myron Jr.'s sister, Yaroslava, learned the tradition of pysanky (decorated Easter eggs) from local artists. In 1957 she wrote a book about it that remains a big seller for the store. Surma is known for its pysanky inventory and other typical products such as embroidered blouses. Martha Stewart visited the store for supplies and decorating tips, which she featured on her television show.

A particularly interesting feature of the store is the back room that Myron, Jr. had remodeled to resemble a Carpathian regional style farmhouse (referring to a cultural area straddling the border of the Ukraine and Romania).

Today, Myron, Jr.'s son, Markian, maintains the folk art focus, importing the majority of products from the Ukraine and obtaining the rest from local artists.

Source:

[Interview with Markian Surmach by Elena Martinez for Place Matters, Feb. 2008.

[Posted, Apr. 2008]