Wrapped in whimsical knitted stripes in bright colors and smiley faces, a tree in a sweater stands before the red storefront of Domus, a 10-year-old home décor store on 44th Street near Ninth Avenue. Many neighborhood residents pass the tree with brief smiles, while visitors stop to look more closely or take pictures.
“It’s making me cold,” giggled 15-year-old Ruth to her friends Savannah and Gillian, as they stopped to examine the tree. The girls, visiting from Connecticut, could find no indication as to who had dressed the tree.
The sapling fashion designers are Luisa Cerutti and Nicki Lindheimer, owners of Domus. Last year the duo, inspired by the graffiti yarn bomber Olek, decided to decorate the tree as a way of brightening up the neighborhood, and paying tribute to two neighborhood boys who had died of cancer. A stranger tore down the sweater last year, but Cerutti and Lindheimer decided to dress the tree again this year with a revitalized sweater.
“We just put it up last week to cheer people up after the hurricane,” Cerutti said. “It’s something unexpected that makes people stop for a minute.”
Soon after Cerutti and Lindheimer outfitted the tree, their neighbor Gretchen Witt noticed the new sweater, which includes the addition of an orange stripe with “Liam” stitched in baby blue letters. Liam, Witt’s son, died of cancer in January 2011, at age six. A few stripes above his favorite color, Liam’s name also shares a red band and yellow stars with the name Hazen, another neighborhood victim of pediatric cancer.
“It’s amazing,” said Witt, “Can you imagine random acts of kindness like that?” For Witt, the tree is a constant reminder of how Liam’s gregarious personality endeared him to many in the neighborhood. When the sweater was ripped down last year, “It was actually really sad,” said Witt. “People asked what happened to the tree with the scarf.”
Cerutti and Lindheimer feel they have a lot to be thankful for, as their store has survived the economic downturn. They want to spread that happiness to the neighborhood, Cerutti said. “We hope that all the good vibes from people will reach [Liam and Hazen] up there,” she added.
This community involvement, Witt said, is “what this country is about.”