Back in 2002, eggs cost a dollar a dozen, Friends and ER ruled our televisions, and the small-but-mighty Domus first opened its doors in Hell’s Kitchen. We checked in with just a few fans of the beloved Hell’s Kitchen retail store (voted this year’s Best in our reader awards!) and its owners, community stalwarts Luisa Cerutti and Nicki Lindheimer, as they prepare to celebrate 20 years in business.
Longtime Hell’s Kitchen local and Out Leadership CEO Todd Sears saluted Luisa and Nicki as leaders in the LGBTQIA+ business community, adding, “When you buy something from Domus, there’s always a fascinating backstory on the artisan or small business that created the object that makes each piece that much more special. And you know that your dollars are supporting a gay-owned business whose products are purchased from and support LGBTQ, women and diverse artists, whose work they curate from their travels around the world. As an advocate myself, I’ve built my life around leveraging economic power to support inclusion, create visibility and fight discrimination — something Nicki and Luisa do with their amazing store and I just love it.”
Many customers praised the couple’s commitment to building meaningful relationships with customers. Elaine Keating-Brown said, “I’ve known them since before my kids were born, they have become close friends over the years. They have watched them grow up, watched my ever expanding family — all of whom love them as much as me.” Elaine even helped Luisa and Nicki expand their own family, as they adopted one of her foster kittens.
Elaine added: “I constantly tell people about Domus — I’m fascinated that there are still people who don’t know about this diamond in our neighborhood.” Many of her friends have taken the suggestion to shop there over the years: “One encounter was funny,” she said, “I was told by them one day that a charming handsome tall man claimed he knew me and was sent in by me to shop there. I went to Facebook to find out which of my handsome men friends it was I found him :).”
“Luisa and Nicki are a Hell’s Kitchen institution — I feel they are the ‘mayor-ettes’ of the neighborhood,” said regular customer and interior designer Harry Heissmann. “I’ve bought so many things there, big and small — candles, gifts, table top items, jewelry, books, ornaments, art.”
Harry said everyone in his life has benefitted from the store’s curated, unique selections of artisan gifts sourced from around the world: “I’ve shopped there for clients, for myself, my partner Mark, friends and family and for photo shoots. Samson, my dog, is also a big fan and usually pulls me in to get a treat. One time I was visiting with a client and she bought me these great paper geraniums which landed on my coffee table… I think what sets them apart is something that’s not for sale and very hard to find: big smiles always, open hearts welcoming everyone and this wonderful attitude that makes you feel like a million dollars when entering their magical wonderland! Here’s to the next 20 with much love, Harry and Samson.”
Local leaders commended Luisa and Nicki not only for their Hell’s Kitchen hospitality, but their generosity and strength in the face of adversity — especially in the wake of an attack on their store this July.
State Senator Brad Hoylman said: “I love Luisa and Nicki because they’re such stalwart members of the community, as was evident from the outpouring of neighborhood support they received last summer when they were victimized by crime. Plus, they have really great taste! Every item for sale is so incredibly curated at Domus — I almost think you could walk into the store blindfolded and pick out a gift that nearly everyone would appreciate. Happy 20th anniversary to literally the ‘Best Store’ in Hell’s Kitchen.”
City Council Member Erik Bottcher added: “Whether it’s for the perfect gift or a welcoming smile, there’s no better place to go than Domus. Their iconic storefront has brightened 44th Street for 20 years and will do so for decades to come. Congratulations to Luisa and Nicki on their incredible accomplishment. Shop at Domus!”
And the neighborhood’s other retailers were quick to commend the pair for their unwavering mentorship and support. Said Matt Fox of Fine and Dandy (who recently celebrated their own decade milestone in Hell’s Kitchen!): “Nicki and Luisa have created something incredibly special. Domus isn’t just a store, it’s a cherished part of our community. They are truly Hell’s Kitchen retail pioneers. Nicki and Luisa have been particularly kind to my mother. Each time Mom visits the city she always makes a stop at Domus. This time of the year when I pop in they always have fox gift ideas in mind for Mom (our last name is Fox).”
He added: “The pandemic was really rough for small, independent shops. Many didn’t make it and I give a lot of credit to those of us who did. Throughout those early days we emailed back and forth, sharing info and ideas. I will always be grateful to them for their wisdom and friendship.”
For other entrepreneurs, the kind spirit of and giving ethos of the Domus team are credited as essential to their own business success. Hell’s Kitchen resident and Home’edged founder Michael William G said, “It was a quiet NYC and even quieter Hell’s Kitchen when I first discovered a hidden gem by the name of Domus. I moved to Hell’s Kitchen in the middle of a pandemic from the Upper East Side where things were a bit … different. One day on my way to the gym, I passed by the cutest store highlighted with red and decided to walk in. That was the day I first met Luisa.
“I’ll never forget how warm and welcome she made me feel,” he added. “Somehow we got to talking and I told her about my small brand called Home’edged NYC and she wanted to check out my products to see if they could sell them. Next thing you know, I’m back at Domus a few days later and that’s when I had the chance to meet Nicki. Turns out, we’re both from Northern California, which made our meeting feel like pure destiny (at least for me). Here I am feeling totally new to a neighborhood and Domus was one of the first places that gave me a feeling of being ‘home’.”
The store soon began selling his candles: “I share this because it is people like this that give New York its true colors. As I rebranded and relaunched my brand down in SoHo’s Nolita Market, Nicki and Luisa took a chance on me. They became the very first NYC store to carry my brand. I wear that honor proudly,” said Michael William.
“They gave me a chance. They will probably never know how much that has impacted me now, several years later, as I’ve grown and scaled my business. It all comes back to that first yes.”
Michael William added, “Hell’s Kitchen should be honored to have business owners like Nicki and Luisa gracing us. We are the ones who are lucky. Thank you Nicki and Luisa for helping me make Hell’s Kitchen my home.”
Please share your stories of Domus over the past 20 years in the comments below.