She knows your size in a snap


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Viola Goodman has been selling bras on First Avenue for nearly 75 years


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  • Viola Goodman in Viola’s Smart Shop, the First Avenue shop she and her husband opened in 1943. Photo: Carson Kessler




Viola Goodman can guess a woman’s bra size with a quick glance.

Goodman’s cultivated her expertise over nearly 75 years time, which is how long she’s been in the lingerie business, all of it on the Upper East Side.

But a life in lingerie was not what Goodman had imagined for herself after she earned a master’s degree in history from Columbia University. Soon after graduating, Goodman’s husband, Max, a mechanic, was stricken with an infection in his knees and could no longer ply his trade.

“Somehow this store was empty,” Goodman recounted. “It was dry and clean, and my husband needed work.”

Viola and Max opened Viola’s Smart Shop in 1943. “Every woman needs a brassiere, so I decided it was a good product to sell,” she said.

Her lingerie boutique, on First Avenue just north of 77th Street, is sandwiched between a children’s clothes shop and a vacant storefront.

For 74 years, Goodman, who preferred to let people guess her age, has personally serviced women on the Upper East Side, ensuring each leaves her shop with the best fit.

She prides herself on style and quality. It’s a selling point for many of her longtime and newer customers that Viola’s Smart Shop is no Victoria’s Secret. Experience and quality is what Goodman believes sets her boutique apart.

“Many women come in here, and the garment is so tight, they can’t breathe!” Goodman said, suggesting that big-name stores in her industry train young women to sell bras for commission. “I know they’re going to come to me because I give them what’s right.”

While customers peruse racks of nightgowns and robes, they enter the store because of “bra-guru” Goodman, not the outdated window display.

“I had always loved the fact that Viola had this store for a very long time and kept it going,” co-worker Connie Norkin said. “That’s really a testament to Viola and her passion, commitment and energy to keep this store going in a neighborhood that is changing.”

After noticing a sign in the window on the way to her gym, Norkin, a graphic designer, stopped to talk to Viola about possibly helping her spruce up the displays in the windows.

Goodman had little interest in modernizing. Instead, she asked Norkin to help inside the shop as a salesperson.

The matter-of-fact Goodman prefers her store just the way it is, almost identical to the way it was in 1943 with her loving husband Max.

Max passed away about 10 years ago. But many customers continue to ask for him. “The old timers,” Goodman laughs.

With her children and grandchildren in all different states, Goodman works six days a week, reserving Sundays for cooking her favorite pot roast with fresh vegetables (“and no salt!”).

“I’m busy, and I’m happy,” Goodman said of her 48-hour workweek. “My work keeps me going.”





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