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A conversation with Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett (February 2013)

This uplifting encounter from 10 years ago — planned as a local merchant profile but previously unpublished — captures Sean’s enormous zest, sense of humor and commitment to the neighborhood. He will be sorely missed.

BY KATHRYN ADISMAN | Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett pops out of Tea & Sympathy to shoo away a man dozing on the bench.

“I was about to join him,” I shout, hobbling on an arthritic hip.

“I just don’t want anyone sleeping in front of the shop!” remarks the dapper entrepreneur.

Sean and I survey our neighborhood from the outpost of Greenwich Avenue. In the aftermath of the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital, I interviewed him and his wife, English tea shop co-owner Nicky Perry.

“Thirty businesses closed!” Sean exclaims in disbelief. We’re staring across at the gift shop Mxyplzyk, the latest casualty.

“The asking rent is $22,000 a month,” Sean informs me. I don’t question Sean’s facts. He and Nicky are famous for their community activism. They were vocal opponents of the developer Rudin’s plan to convert the hospital buildings to condos.

Irish on his mother’s side, the (then) 25-year Downtown Manhattan resident declares, “I love New York! I love this neighborhood!”

Nevertheless, Sean is outraged at the real estate taxes ($59,000 in 2013) for their three tiny spaces: Tea & Sympathy, Carry On Tea & Sympathy, and A Salt & Battery.

Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett, with his wife, Nicky Perry, left, at Tea & Sympathy last June celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee. (Photo by Sharon Woolums)

If anyone can survive, they can. They have appeal beyond the neighborhood. As Nicky puts it, “We’re destination.” Whenever the royals are in the news, you’ll hear London-born Perry quoted. In fact, you’ll see her seated under her shop’s green-and-white-striped awning, holding court on Greenwich Avenue, like royalty.

“Our lease is up in two years,” Sean confides. “We don’t own our building.”

Sean explains that the 5,000-plus people who came to the neighborhood because of the hospital — patients, staff, visitors — multiplied further when you considered that “money in the pocket of the flower girl” would be money in another shop. The whole neighborhood thrived.

As we stand talking, a woman is attempting to park her car in front of the clock shop Time Pieces. Sean springs into action.

“Do you need help with that?” He knows he’s a player on the block, and it’s a role he performs well.

“I’ll watch your cab, man,” he tells a taxi driver. Eyes on the street.

Tea & Sympathy’s signature black London cab. (Courtesy Nicky Perry)

Folks remember the authentic black London taxicab Sean imported and converted to run on veggie oil parked out front that served as a P.R. delivery truck for their shops, plus snagged him TV and movie gigs.

Mission accomplished, Sean hands the woman her keys and bounds back.

“You know why American women can’t park in small spaces?” he quips to me.

“American men told them what two inches is,” Sean gestures. “Take the mickey out of American men,” the jaunty Irishman adds, chuckling. “Got to get back to work!”


Thank you, Sean, for your indefatigable spirit, and making me smile! R.I.P.

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