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Andrea Miller of Eponymy on Why Opening a Store Is Crazy

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Photos by William Chan

In 2008, store owner Andrea Miller opened Eponymy on Bergen Street, just days after the stock market crash. Four years and one Barclays Center later, the boutique continues to provide the neighborhood with contemporary clothing, shoes, and accessories from Giles & Brother, Mink Pink, Timo Weiland, Matt Bernson, Melissa, and more. Seasoned customers can also count on one other thing from Eponymy: a greeting from the shop's resident French Bulldog, Lady Bianca Miller.

Have you always wanted to open a store?

Andrea: No, I think I was like most people where I never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn't start off at the age of eight saying, "I'm going to be an orthodontist." But my grandparents had antique stores when I was growing up, and that was the background that I came from. I actually was a playwright for a little while after college and I worked at a photo agency, so my background didn't have anything specifically to do with retail.

When you did decide this was something you wanted to do, what was the process like?

Andrea: It was definitely an interesting process, and I think in some weird way being naive was my best quality. I feel like if I had known more about what it would be like, I would have thought, "That's crazy. That's insane and I'm not doing that." And of course it is crazy and insane. For a year, I was thinking about just the concept of the store, and about what types of merchandise I wanted to sell, and the location. I didn't know this at the time, but once you get into location then there are lots of other different things that you have to think about. Distribution, what stores are close by—all of these things that I hadn't even considered because I was totally naive.

So for me, it was a really organic process. I didn't have a whole set idea of how things were going to go in my head. Even the design of the space just sort of came together. You sort of have to just put faith in it. Like, I had to order stuff six months in advance before I had even signed a lease on a space. You can never really be prepared for exactly what's coming, you just have to kind of go with it.

What made you pick this location and neighborhood?

Andrea: I had already been living here and I had a really good rapport with my landlord, so I started to check out these spaces. I really liked the old-school fronts on the stores. And it kind of just ended up working out in terms of distribution. There aren't that many stores like mine around here. I just saw a lot of growth coming into the neighborhood.

You opened in 2008. Have you noticed a lot of change in the neighborhood since, especially now with the Barclays Center?

Andrea: So I opened in September 2008, about four days after the stock market crashed. Which was crazy, because I obviously wasn't specifically planning on that to happen. I've been open for four years, but it's hard for me to say that now because of Barclays, business is so much better, because it's really been building for four years.

There's no way it can't have some kind of effect though, even just in terms of people getting to know this area more. Or people from Manhattan coming out to Brooklyn for a specific event—instead of them just coming to Brooklyn, because that rarely happens. I figure that it can't necessarily be bad for my business, but I don't know how much of a direct effect it will have.

What's your typical customer like? Do you get mostly local residents, people coming in from Manhattan, or both?

Andrea: It's a mix of both. I definitely get a lot of neighborhood folks. I do get a lot of women that come from Tribeca because there's nowhere to shop there and it's a really easy train ride. I think there are a lot of after school programs here, maybe. At least that's what my Tribeca shoppers tell me. They're coming to drop off their kid off at something and they come by and they say, "Oh my gosh. I can't get this anywhere in Tribeca or in Manhattan." And I definitely get tourists, too: a lot of Germans, French, Japanese.

What do you tend to sell the most of? You've got a great jewelry selection.

Andrea: I do sell a lot of jewelry. And with our jewelry we have a really big range. There are pieces that start at $20, and it goes up to maybe $1,000 tops. If you want to come in and splurge on something, you can. But if you also just need a Secret Santa or Hanukah Harry gift for someone in the office, there are plenty of options. I also sell a lot of dresses, especially in the spring and summer, but even now too.

When you're buying each season, is there one thing in particular that you're always looking for? Or is there one specific designer you tend to gravitate toward?

Andrea: Well I guess that changes from season to season. Specifically, I have an outerwear problem. With some women it's shoes, with some women it's bags, but for me it's outerwear. I've really had to curb my personal thing for outerwear and just try to pick the great ones. I try to find a piece that's affordable but really, really warm, and that's semi-casual for everyday use. This year, it's been a coat by Dunderdon. They're really functional and they look nice. It's also hard to find good, simple boots and shoes and bags, so if I ever had to design a line of something it would probably be that.

Do you think designing might be something you would do one day?

Andrea: Sure. Now, though, I'm just totally swamped. If there's ever something that would make a relatively organized and on-top-of-it person feel like a scatterbrained spaz, it's running a store. There's so many different elements to it. If I ever got the store to the point where I didn't have to deal with half the things I have to deal with, then I would definitely consider designing.

What's your typical day-to-day like? Are you in the store everyday?

Andrea: I'm in the store about two days alone out of every week, and then I'm almost always here on the weekends. I like to be there on the weekends because that's when we get most of our traffic, and I like to see what's going on. And then the other days I'm either doing desk work or out at showrooms or doing weird manual labor in the basement. I do get time off here and there but it's a different type of time off. It's not just two set days a week.

Do you have a favorite item in the store right now?

Andrea: I think my favorite item in the store right now is a cape—see, I'm going right to outwear. It's a cape by H Fredriksson. It's just the perfect, simple black cape.

If you could think of a Holy Grail type of item that you'd like to carry but don't, what would that be?

Andrea: Well, one of my favorite designers is Gary Graham, and I carry Anagram, which is his diffusion line. I suppose it's possible I could carry Gary Graham, but this neighborhood isn't ready for that. My price point isn't that high, but I absolutely love his stuff. At some point if this store was able to facilitate that, I would probably carry his collection.

Where do you try to keep your price point at? Do you feel that you can go up and down with it a little?

Andrea: I do go up and down, but I have to strike a fine balance between the business aspect of it and making money and selling stuff people are going to buy, and also selling designs that I believe in and that I think are artistic and interesting. I can't just run a T-shirt and jean shop and sell stuff that the masses are going to buy, because there's no point.

With that said, I definitely carry stuff that maybe I think is a little bit high, and I won't mark it up so much. Or I'll take a risk on it because I think it's important to have those designs in the store and to have a mix of them. In general (except for the artwork, which is all for sale as well) I try to keep everything under $1,000, which I realize is a huge range. We have lines like Mink Pink and Bridge & Burn, and Dunderdon is mid-range. So we have lines that are mid to lower price point.

Where do you source the artwork from?

Andrea: When I worked at the photo agency, I became really good friends with a guy named Amani Olu, who's now the managing editor at Whitewall Magazine. He started a non-profit called Humble Arts Foundation, and I was one of the original founding board members. It's basically a non-profit that helps emerging artists with exhibition opportunities, publishing opportunities, and things like that. So he curates the show, which started off being every six months and now it's pretty much every year. It's a rotating group show, all the work is for sale, and I love having it in here. I fall in love with all of the pieces. And I get sad when they leave but then I get really excited like it's Christmas morning when I get the new ones.

Would you want to open another store in the future? And if so, where would you want to do that?

Andrea: I would definitely consider opening another store. I'm definitely not out for global domination or anything, but I think there are different levels of having a business, and it doesn't always have to be the biggest to be the best. I'm happy having one store, and sort of developing it in that way. I think probably the next thing that makes the most sense is e-commerce, even though that's really hard and scary to me. It's a totally different business.

As for where, I don't know. I think a few years ago I thought Manhattan and now I'm not sure. I think it would either be in a completely different city—I've thought about Austin—or I'd do another location in Brooklyn. And even though it would have the same elements as this store, I think Eponymy is its own beast. I think that it would be a similar business, like a sister or cousin store, but it wouldn't be an exact footprint of Eponymy. The whole point of this store is that it's not a cookie cutter image of anything else.

Alright, time for the lightening round. First up: 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s.

Andrea: 1960s, for sure. Because the beginning of the '60s and the end of the '60s were totally different eras, and there's so much in that area in terms of style and aesthetics.

Jay-Z or Kanye West?

Andrea: Poor Kanye! I feel like he always gets slaughtered on this round. But you know, you can't really throw a Kardashian in the mix and not have me say Jay-Z.

Beach or mountains?

Andrea: That's really hard. Beach.

Tumblr, Pintrest, or Instagram?

Andrea: So Instagram's the only really one that I've ever been able to deal with. We have a Pintrest and I did all this stuff with it and I just left it. I don't know what to do, I'm like Victorian. I don't belong in this era. But Instagram is easy and it's fun and I understand it.

· Eponymy [Official Site]
· Eponymy's French Bulldog Has Her Very Own Blog [Racked NY]
· All Better Know a Store Owner posts [Racked NY]

Eponymy

466 Bergen Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217 718 789 0301 Visit Website