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How Three Artists Founded A Thousand Picnics in Williamsburg

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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 Driely S

Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer of Cold Picnic and Erica Bradbury of Species by the Thousands are living the Williamsburg dream. The three artists initially planned to collaborate on a poncho, but then the plan snowballed, and now they're the proud owners of A Thousand Picnics, a store on Driggs Street filled with their handmade crafts. We sat down to find out what it's like running a shop where nearly every item inside is something you made yourself.

What made the three of you decide to open a store together?

Erica: I think we were just trying to collaborate. At first we were just going to do a poncho, though that never really happened. But we always still wanted to do something together.

Phoebe: We wanted to open a store, and then Erica opened a pop-up.

Erica: Yeah, maybe that's what got the wheels turning. I think you guys just sent me an email like, "We should open a store together."

Phoebe: And then we were like, "Let's do it next year!" And then all of a sudden, two months later, we signed the lease.

How long did you all know each other before that?

Phoebe: Erica and I have known each other for ten years. We went to the University of Pennsylvania together, when Erica was in grad school studying painting and I was in undergrad studying sculpture.

Peter: And I met Phoebe about six years ago, and then I met Erica through Phoebe. We started our line and were doing some fairs here, and that's how I met Erica.

So you opened this past March. What made you pick Williamsburg, and then more specifically, this part of Williamsburg?

Phoebe: It was kind of luck that we ended up in this part of the neighborhood.

Erica: The space just kind of came up. My assistant lives upstairs and she noticed that people had moved out, so she called her landlord and we just kind of took it before it was listed. It kind of just fell in our hands, really.

Phoebe: Erica used to practice with her band around here, but besides Pies 'n' Thighs we didn't really know the neighborhood. It's a really nice part of town. It's super neighborhood-y. People are savvy, and it's not like Bedford.

Erica: Yea it's not like Bedford, or St. Mark's Place.

Do most of your customers live around the store, or do you get a lot of visitors from other areas?

Peter: It's definitely a bit of both. We get a lot of customers who come to this area because they know there are decent shops, but then there's also people who live in the building.

Phoebe: I'd say about a third of the people who come in seem like they live upstairs. [Laughing.] And then there's such a long line at Pies 'n' Thighs all the time that people kind of peek over.

Peter: And they're always sending people over here as well.

Erica: And all their employees shop here.

When you think of your customer, do you see anyone in particular?

Erica: I don't want to say "hipster," but it's like the cool person that lives around here. Not super flashy, but they want something a little bit different. Maybe they've lived in the neighborhood for a long time. In this neighborhood, there used to be a lot more shops that were independently owned and owned by designers. I think a lot of those places have gone out of business over the years, so it's nice to have fresh people in and have designers have their own shops again instead of it being commercialized.

Phoebe: So many boutiques have beautiful things, but they can be so pricey. We have a mix of prices, so someone can come in and get a last minute gift, and for a lot of boutiques I don't know?

Peter: ...if that's so much an option.

Where does your price point start?

Peter: I think we have something for $10, or less.

Phoebe: We have wishing baths for $4. And then some of the jewelry gets up to $250 or $300.

Do you try to keep the prices at a certain point?

Erica: We've been entertaining the idea of doing some higher-end jewelry. Eventually, maybe we'll start doing wedding bands, or have some pieces offered in gold. Maybe for the holidays, I think it would be nice to have a little more precious metal stuff as an option. But it feels safer to have things at a medium price point.

Phoebe: When we don't know what people want, and we're either making things ourselves or, for a small portion of the store, we're buying fair trade, we're kind of testing the waters a bit, so we don't want to buy anything too high.

Have you all always wanted to open a store?

Peter: Phoebe and I had talked about it in the past, but we didn't want to do it for like, ten years.

Phoebe: We thought we'd have babies and dogs first.

Erica: I always thought so, but I always pictured it outside of the city. I pictured it in some smaller college town, or somewhere nice where I could live upstairs.

Phoebe: It was definitely always in my head to have a live-work space, but now I think that would be kind of horrible.

Peter: I don't know if I'd be up for that.

Erica: Yea, it's good to go home after work.

Is one of you in the store everyday?

Peter: We all kind of rotate.

Erica: And we all pop in here and there to grab stuff, restock, or have meetings.

Phoebe: Once in a while if we have a lot going on we'll have someone work for us, but yeah, usually one of us is here.

How do you go about picking the items in the store that you don't make yourselves?

Erica: I think initially we wanted to make everything in the store, which is a little bit why we all wanted to open stores in the first place. We have a similar way of making things. We're known for our jewelry but we don't really stop there.

Phoebe: And all of us were trained in making other things. Peter and I were trained in making clothes, Erica was trained in painting.

Erica: So we kind of thought, "Oh, we have this store and we can fill it with everything that we want to make." But time is always an issue.

Peter: But we still make a lot of it.

Erica: Yea, Peter and Phoebe are making all the bath products.

Peter: And Erica makes the pillows and the dreamcatchers.

Phoebe: Erica also learned how to make candles.

Erica: But then for the other stuff, we try to round out the store for if you want to buy a gift. Kind of like a general store idea, or a country store. It's also nice having other stuff in the store, because I think we're all pretty modest about our own designs. It's easier for me to sell Phoebe and Peter's stuff.

Phoebe: Like if someone comes up with something of Erica's and says, "Isn't this great?" I can be like, "Oh yeah, it looks amazing."

Do you each have a favorite piece of each other's collections?

Erica: I always wear their Rope Ring. It's one of my favorites. And the plant hangers they do are also really amazing.

Phoebe: Erica started making these wind chimes, and there's a tie-dye one. She just started making them this summer.

Peter: And I've always been obsessed with Erica's Bearded Man pillows. It's the first thing I got of hers. And she's got a ring that men can wear now, the Thunderbird Ring. I like that Erica's doing rings for guys now.

Is there anything in particular that you guys want to make that you haven't yet?

Phoebe: We all have an art background, and that's one of the things that's missing from the shop. Though Erica started bringing in cards that she painted that are really beautiful. I feel like maybe once we all have a little bit more time, I would like to get into a little bit of that.

Peter: I took a shoe-making class that I haven't done anything with yet. I even bought this crazy leather sewing machine and barely touched it, so maybe one day we'll have shoes in here.

Erica: I feel like we all have a ton of things that we're itching to get to.

Peter: I think it's really nice when customers come in and they ask where we get everything, and we tell them that we make most of the things ourselves. They get really excited by that.

Where do you guys manufacture most of your stuff?

Erica: We do a little bit here, and then at our houses too. I feel like we're the kind of people who probably have studios everywhere we go. There's some sort of project everywhere. But we have all of our jewelry made in Midtown, so it's all done locally.

Phoebe: And then we assemble it in Brooklyn.

Do you think you inspired each other's collections by having the store together?

Erica: Maybe, but in a good way. I think we're all really conscious of not stepping on each other's toes about things.

Peter: Erica gives us really good advice and good suggestions.

Phoebe: And she thinks so fast about everything, and she can see something and be like...

Peter: "...What about this, what about this?"

Erica: And they're such good craftsman that they can actually do it.

Okay, time for the lightening round. 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?

Phoebe: 1970s.

Peter: '70s.

All across the board?

Phoebe: Yea.

Peter: We're all just kind of obsessed with the 1970s. Like arts and crafts, and '70s houses.

Jay-Z or Kanye West?

Erica: I guess Jay-Z, since we're so close to his old neighborhood.

Phoebe: I do love Jay-Z, but I do have a soft spot for Kanye West.

Peter: I'm going to have to say Kanye West.

Breaking Bad or True Blood?

Peter: Breaking Bad definitely.

Erica: Breaking Bad.

Phoebe: True Blood started making me feel tired instead of excited.

Tumblr, Pinterest, or Instagram?

Erica: Instagram.

Phoebe: Instagram. It's the only one I know how to use, actually. I think if I had an office job and had those spare kind of moments stuck at a computer I'd be into Pinterest.

Peter: But it's just super easy to just post a photo on Instagram, and see everyone else's pictures. Everyone else's dogs and food.

· Cold Picnic [Official Site]
· Species by the Thousands [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]

Species by the Thousands

171 S. 4th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 Visit Website