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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
Before Greenpoint's Franklin Street became the shopping destination that it is today, it was an empty stretch of abandoned storefronts, apartment buildings, and the Pencil Factory Bar. Sisters Mary and Michelle Mangiliman changed all that when they decided to open up the first Dalaga store on the street. Soon after, shops like Alter, In God We Trust and Old Hollywood followed suit. We spoke with Mary, Michelle, and their Marketing Director Liz Hull to see how the neighborhood has grown since their arrival.
Have you always wanted to open a store?
Michelle: We've basically been playing "store" since we were three and five years old. We used to play boutique in my mom's closet, and I would "sell" my mom's clothes. I would merchandize her closet, and I would help my sister make outfits and she would dress up, and then she would come to my little register that I made out of my mom's nightstand. Which is funny, because it's similar to the store right now because our cash wrap is a dresser.
We've always known that we wanted to do something in fashion and it was just kind of natural to us to go this route because we'd been playing it so long. We had a bunch of pop-up shops when we were younger before we had the store, when we first moved to New York.
When you opened Dalaga, what made you pick Greenpoint?
Michelle: We happened to have a friend that was living here already. We were looking at neighborhoods, and we saw Williamsburg and thought that it was really cool, but she said that Greenpoint was the place to be. It was the up-and-coming neighborhood. At the time—this was in 2003 or 2004—all that was here was the Pencil Factory bar and the coffee shop on Green Street.
We loved all the beautiful storefronts along Franklin Street, but all of them had been either abandoned or were being used as apartments. As soon as we moved into the neighborhood we had our eyes set on our particular storefront. The character of all these buildings along Franklin Street and Kent Street—we just fell in love with the neighborhood. It's a really close artistic community.
Liz: It really is kind of like this micro neighborhood. Williamsburg is feeling pretty big now, and Greenpoint still has this small, tight-knit community. The people who live here have lived here for seven years or so and everyone knows each other. You walk down the street and you're greeted by your neighbors, and all of the local businesses and the owners are really friendly and supportive. There's always been an artistic community here too, and everyone's just really nurturing and fostering toward everyone else's goals and pursuits. It creates this warm and welcoming atmosphere that I think is very unique to Greenpoint.
How do you feel that the neighborhood has changed since you opened?
Liz: It's changed in a good way. I think we were the very first retail store to open on Franklin Street, and people didn't really consider it a shopping destination. But Mary and Michelle have a close relationship with Tommy and Roy of Alter—they're really old friends and they're a creative duo, too. They were thinking about doing something and Michelle really encouraged them to open up a store. They were like, "This is a great area, you guys should come and do your thing here."
So now, it's become this main strip now where people come to hang out and to shop and drink. There's great food and a lot of families now because the parks are so wonderful, and the West Street Studios have opened up, so there's a lot of artists and small businesses opening in those studio spaces, which is really fantastic.
Mary: All the storefronts here support each other. We're all friends, so it's just better for everyone know that there are more stores.
Michelle: We've always wanted other stores to open up on Franklin Street. Although we all have our own look and niche, we still share a lot of customers. The stores complement each other, and we send each other customers all the time.
What made you open your Kenmare Street store?
Mary: We've always wanted to open up a second store. We were actually looking to open another store somewhere in Brooklyn and then within the last year, while we were looking for retail spaces, we came across a few in the city. We always thought that the rent would be super expensive in the city, and it turned out to not be so bad. We fell in love with 85 Kenmare, and the landlord was really great, and it just kind of fell into our laps.
Do you think that your Manhattan customer is different than your Brooklyn customer?
Michelle: When we first opened, a lot of our customers from Greenpoint were shopping in our Manhattan store. Some of them even felt like it was more convenient, because that's where they work. Our Manhattan customers were happy that we were there because then they didn't have to get on the G train to come over to Brooklyn. I think there's a lot of crossover, but we are getting a lot of new traffic, too.
Liz: Obviously there's a lot of tourist traffic in Soho and Nolita, so it's really great to expose Dalaga to people from out of the country who have never heard of us. Even Filipinos who are visiting walk by and they're like, "Oh my gosh, Dalaga. That's a Filipino word." So they come in, and they're excited, and they want to know more about it.
We love all of our familiar faces. The people who have been shopping with Dalaga from the very beginning are like our local family. And it's also really exciting to be able to talk to new people and make new relationships with customers who are living and working in Soho and the Nolita neighborhood.
What's your general approach to picking new merchandise each season? Are there particular brands you always go to?
Michelle: We really try to support as many independent American designers as possible, especially local New York and Brooklyn designers. We've been really lucky to have designers come to us that are new and fresh. For example, ChrisRann, who started out in Brooklyn, and the designer Rannie Balias. She's a good friend of ours and she started at Dalaga, and she has such a great following now.
Friend and Nemesis is another great line that we carry that's local. Dress Reform, Alexandra Grecco, That's Mona! To me, it's really important to support local designers that are also at our price point, which can be really tough. Manufacturing in the city is really expensive, but our main focus here is to provide fashion at a really affordable price that fits our aesthetic, as well as supporting independent businesses. Key lines that we go to that would be more established would be Seychelles, Dolce Vita, BB Dakota.
Can you think of a Holy Grail item or brand that you don't carry now and would like to?
Michelle: We're planning to relaunch the Dalaga clothing line eventually. That's one thing I definitely wish we had right now. We're still in the works of trying to get that going. That was our goal in the beginning: to have the clothing line and the store.
Liz: Dalaga started as a cut-and-sew handmade line that Michelle designed and Mary helped sew in their studio in Greenpoint. It was a clothing line and the boutique came second. I think that background definitely ties into our goal of our mission to support local designers, because Mary and Michelle are local designers.
They know what goes into making a garment and how hard and difficult that can be, and they know how to recognize the quality, the details, and the time and effort that goes into making those pieces. So, when it comes to pricing things, they know when what's being made is really excellent.
Time for the lightening round. 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?
Beach or mountains?
Mary and Michelle: Beach.
Tumblr, Pintrest, or Instagram?
Mary and Michelle: Instagram
Mayo or Mustard?
Mary and Michelle: Mayo.
Breaking Bad or True Blood?
Mary and Michelle: True Blood.
Jay-Z or Kanye West?
Mary and Michelle: Jay-Z.
Liz: They're sisters, they have the exact same taste.
· Dalaga [Official Site]
· Dalaga Opens in Nolita For Those Who Dislike the G Train [Racked NY]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]