This is embarrassing to admit now, but when we first saw Suri Bieler pop her head out from behind a doorway as we called out “anybody here?” in the entryway of a 95,000 sq. foot warehouse in Queens, we assumed she might be an office assistant; maybe a weekend volunteer. Because there was no way we were prepared for this achingly sweet, 4 foot something little lady to be the founder and owner of Eclectic Encore Props, the largest prop rental company on the East Coast, with nearly two million props in its inventory, many as big as a fully grown elephant.
Vast rooms over three floors of the former Pepsi Cola factory are filled like theatrical sets of their own; a vintage schoolroom, Tiki lounge, haunted cemetery, Santa’s workshop, a mad professor’s laboratory. Hundreds of props are moved in and out of here everyday, on their way to or returning from local film and television sets, which over the years have included Sex & the City, Boardwalk Empire, Gangs of New York, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ghostbusters, Taxi Driver– if it’s filming in New York, Suri is probably renting to them.
If you can get over the logistical enigma of managing a prop house the size of an airport terminal (the complete inventory is now online too), then try to wrap your head around how Suri Bieler started the entire thing with just $175 in 1979. She was working as a props person on Broadway, already storing hundreds of items she’d collected in her own apartment.
A bank loan enabled her to purchase her first warehouse space in Manhattan before acquiring a century-old prop house ten years later. In 2012, rising rents meant that Suri had to relocate her collection (by that time over a million props, packed into an army of trucks with less than 20 employees) across the river to Long Island City. It makes your moving day feel like a walk in the park and Bieler suspects it won’t be long before they’ll have to do it again.
The pint-sized powerhouse is one of New York’s most inspiring boss ladies and deserves far more recognition than she’s received. If you’re a props coordinator or planning a themed party, you can browse her eclectic wonderland during business hours, or sign up for an exclusive visit with the New York Adventure Club (Nyadventureclub.com), guided by Suri Bieler herself, the unassuming Queen of Queens.
(47-51 33rd St, Long Island City, NY 11101; +1 212-645-8880; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Eclecticprops.com)