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March 10, 2005 -- WHEN it comes to meeting women in Manhattan, Matt Weinberg, a 39-year-old salesman, says there’s no place like the bathroom fixtures aisle of the Home Depot onWest 23rd Street. “There are a lot of good-looking, singlewomen there,” Weinberg says. “It’s so easy to talk to women. You’ll both belooking at the same chrome faucet, and it’ll be like, ‘Oh, are you renovating? Do you rent or own?’ “You can chat about

apartment living in New York, or the appliances. I’ll say, ‘How do you feel about granite countertops?’ Or, ‘Have you tried this kind ofvacuum cleaner?’ People are on their down time there, they’re not all dressed up and it justseems more real, somehow. Would I talk to these women in any other situation? Probably not. I’d

be too shy.” The home-goods giant store might seem like the last place Manhattanites would go to seek romance, but Weinberg isn’t the only person to have noticed there’s a hopping — albeit under-the-radar - singles scene there, particularly for the 30-plus crowd.

"Hot Eye Contact + Flirting at Home Depot!!!" was the subject line of a recent craigslist Missed Connection.

"We had some serious eye flirting going on today, even as we crossed to different aisles. I saw a ring on your finger - was that ugly troll your wife? Please tell me that was like an arranged marriage or something! I'm much hotter than her, and I know I can rock your world."

Indeed, the hardware haven is giving other much-touted pickup spots - Barnes & Noble, the Apple store, Whole Foods, the Jivamukti Yoga Center and, yes, even the F train - a run for their money.

Melissa Wysong, a 53-year-old stylist, was at the store a few weeks ago when she noticed an attractive, 30-something woman lounging on a pile of boxes. "She was preening, and it was so obvious she wanted to get picked up," Wysong says.

Sitting next to the Ralph Lauren paint samples, no less.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the West 23rd Street store was a beehive of activity, packed with customers - very few in couple form.

Packs of women roamed the store, while a handsome hipster guy strutted the water-filter aisle with two small dogs, grinning at the female attention the dogs attracted.

Across the store, a cute salesclerk was chatting animatedly with a male customer. She giggled, pushing him gently. "That's not what I'm talking about!" she squealed, in a tone that suggested she was not discussing different brands of light bulbs.

"I spied a very cute actress-model-student-with-a-day-job helping out someone in the shelving areas," says Adam Djoas, a 36-year-old writer. "I tried to think of a shelving question on the spot, but couldn't."

And the hardware-store hookup isn't only for Mr. Fixits, he points out. Unlike in other parts of the country, where masculinity can be measured by the size of one's tool belt, in New York. many men are completely at peace with their non-handy sides.

"You can commiserate together about being confused," he says. "You can wander the countless shelves of dongles and doohickies, having no idea what you're doing."

The Home Depot is relatively new to Manhattan - it opened here in October 2004 - but its pickup potential had already been established in other parts of the country.

It was listed among the Citysearch Top 10 Singles Scene Hotspots in both Atlanta and Detroit (where, at No. 6, it edged out hip nightclubs and trendy eateries).

The store has even been known to make an appearance in the wedding pages. Last year, St. Louis-area minister Sandra LaRouche performed a New Year's Eve wedding in the louver-doors aisle of the store. Fifteen minutes before the ceremony started, an employee got on the loudspeaker and said, "The management and staff of Home Depot want to take this time to thank you for your patronage, and to wish each of you a Happy New Year. You are cordially invited to attend the wedding of Douglas Crider and Jeannine Skala, our customers who will be married in the door aisle at 4 p.m."

A Home Depot employee sang a moving rendition of the Lord's Prayer and, in lieu of rice, the guests tossed sawdust.

Debbie Mandel, the married 54-year-old author of "Turn on Your Inner Light," once journeyed to Home Depot with a girlfriend as part of an experiment in meeting men.

"We started out by getting a cart," she says, "and my girlfriend tossed in an axe. I said, 'I don't think that's going to send quite the right message.' I know a little bit about construction, so I would pick men and ask them questions about caulking. They were impressed. When it came to picking up men, we did very, very well!

"A lot of men, especially in the city, are scared of women who want to date them for their status. But if a guy sees a woman in Home Depot, buying things herself, she's going to come off as positive and independent, and that's really attractive."

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