What do “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Godfather,” and “The Devil Wears Prada” all have in common?
They all use props from Suri Bieler’s showroom.
Suri told Roca she loves props. So much so that she has collected over a million of them, giving her the East Coast’s largest prop company. Suri’s journey to a million, though, began in 1979 with $175.
At that time, she was working in New York City as a set decorator for theaters. In that role, Suri sourced props – any portable, onstage item that is not a costume – to ensure that audiences “believed” the setting of each show.
Suri told Roca that audiences understand a character through the layers of objects around them – objects on floors, on walls, on tables, and more. Characters are often defined as much by their surroundings as they are by their words, she said.
Suri’s search for props took her across New York, dashing from antique stores to thrift shops to auctions.
After supporting several shows, though, Suri realized an opportunity in the industry: A prop rental service. So – with $175 in her pocket, a $3,000 bank loan, and inspiration – Suri opened one herself.
Suri found a 10,000-square-foot space on New York’s Upper West Side and negotiated first-choice agreements with show producers. Seeking a name that conveyed “a variety of things,” Suri settled on “Eclectic Props.” Soon, Eclectic was the go-to prop supplier for off-Broadway and Broadway productions. Then, the rise of cable TV in the 1990s opened new horizons.
In the 1990s, cable TV ushered in a new era of original movies and TV shows – all of which needed props.
Suri, recognizing the potential in the new market, acquired Encore Studios, a respected century-old prop company, and expanded her collection to cater to theater and film. One million props later – and a move to three-story, 95,000-square-foot warehouse in Queens, New York – Eclectic/Encore has become the largest prop company on the East Coast.
Suri has organized her props by theme – which can be as specific as “Rugs” or “Medieval” to “Sports, weapons, and taxidermy.” Items like display radios, TVs, flags, medical supplies, and dishware have their own sections, each with representative props from different time periods. The mobile phone collection, for example, features BlackBerrys, Razr flip phones, and original Samsung models.
The showroom’s strength, Suri explained, lies in its ability to offer an array of items from different periods and locales. Whether a set designer needs props for a 1950s American diner, Moroccan street, or Victorian garden, they find not only the necessary items but also a range of choices within each category. The religion collection, Suri said, is the most popular, largely because no other prop rental service can match its breadth or depth.
Suri’s collection has graced numerous TV shows and movies, from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" – she showed us the entire Chinese restaurant from a scene that she created – to "The Wolf of Wall Street" – she showed us a single, small dreidel from Jordan Belfort's parent’s house. Her props are in "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Godfather," "Zoolander,” and more.
Rappers like The Notorious B.I.G. have rented props for their music videos. Staff from “Saturday Night Live” visit her showroom the Thursday or Friday before live shows to pick through her collection.
Suri employs a small team to help her run the showroom, and while she still spends time sourcing her collection, most props come to her, she said. People seeking a future for their cherished items often contact Suri, like the woman who emailed her that morning with an antique stove, knowing Suri will preserve its history and value.
After nearly 50 years in the business, Suri told Roca that recently she has been thinking about an exit strategy.
“[Eclectic/Encore] deserves a longer future,” she told us. “It is an incredible business with a huge variety of props – but a person could create a whole new industry.”
She said that whoever inherits the business must have one key attribute: They “must really enjoy objects and see the history that is involved in every single item that is here.”
Just like Suri, they need to be someone who likes objects more than anything else in the world.