For nearly a century, Surma Books & Music Co. was a cultural hub for New York City’s Ukrainian immigrant centered community in the East Village, also known as Little Ukraine. Until its recent closure, the store had been located at 11 East Seventh Street since 1943.
Myron Surmach Sr., its founder, arrived at Ellis Island from the Ukraine in 1910. He settled in New York City after working various odd jobs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Joining a Czech gymnastics group prompted him to open his shop in 1918 to sell gym clothing and Ukrainian books. It evolved into a general store, selling phonographs and washing machines, but Surmach also offered services such as letter reading. The business grew to include ethnic music publishing during the 1920s and 1930s—perhaps a fitting occupation, since “surma” also refers to a Ukrainian woodwind instrument.
During the 1950s, the store’s offerings shifted toward the marketing of “folk” through craft items and publications. Surmach’s son, Myron Jr. (1932–2003), assumed the business and began carrying products such as ceramics, religious icons, embroidered shirts, and wooden objects made by the Hutsul highlanders. In addition to selling traditional craft, Surma offered the tools and supplies to practice them, including a large selection embroidery flosses and fabrics, as well as jacquard ribbons with “folk” patterns, albeit made in Germany.
Surma eventually sourced the embroidered “peasant”-style shirts from Romania due to importation restrictions, but the idea of folk mattered more to its buyers than authenticity. It was a favorite spot for fashion stylists and hippies seeking a bohemian look—Janis Joplin and Joan Baez shopped there—from the late 1960s until the store’s closure. A framed publicity still from Raiders of the Lost Ark hung in the shop; it depicted Karen Allen wearing an embroidered blouse purchased at Surma.