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Over the past year, we've spoken to store owners throughout the city—from the Lower East Side to Ditmas Park—compiling their vast knowledge and anecdotal tidbits into a weekly interview feature. Now, it's time to reminisce on some of the best things we learned from Better Know a Store Owner. After the jump, some of the city's best independent retailers share their thoughts on what makes a location great, what makes a price point reasonable, and who their core customer really is.
Love, Adorned. Photo by Brian Harkin
Lori Leven, Love, Adorned: "It was convenient. I wanted to be able to ride my bicycle. Second Avenue I picked because the space was incredible and it was cheap—no bank ever wants to give me money so every time I do something I have to do it on my own. I would have never opened up on Second Avenue, I wanted to open up on a sweet, quiet, cool backstreet."
Emily Titelman and Meredith Blank, Dagny + Barstow: "The Bowery's awesome. It's such a unique cultural destination for arts, fashion—so much has happened down here. Also, it wasn't oversaturated. We're the only store right now south of Houston. We looked at spaces in Nolita—Soho's too expensive—[but in] Nolita there's so many stores you never really know what's what on those streets. We felt we could stand out more here."
Jade Elzien, Violet Pepper: "When I was looking for a space, I knew that this area [near Greenpoint's Manhattan Avenue] was going to change and so I wanted to hop on it before it became too saturated. Now we have a Brooklyn Industries, and all these restaurants and bars are opening up, but there aren't too many boutiques. I think that's totally going to change.
Amy Abrams and Ronen Glimer, Artists & Fleas: "Brooklyn has been having this moment for some time. The city has had some really amazing retail corridors: Nolita was amazing for a time, the Lower East Side was amazing. But a lot of that has moved to Brooklyn for rent or whatever reason. So we were thinking, 'Manhattan is ready for this.' We got reenergized to come back to the city."
Erica Kiang, Babel Fair: "[In 2009] Soho had already become kind of a commercial mall, and the real estate in Soho is like five times more expensive than the real estate on the other side of Broadway. I just knew on a purely logistic, financial level that there was no way I could afford that. Nolita just felt like more of the atmosphere that I was looking for. It's more independent, but higher-end, and the streets are really nice and taken care of. "
Eric Weiser and Stamatis Birsimijoglou, Twisted Lily: "After we opened the store, we realized what a wonderful neighborhood Boerum Hill is. We were looking for something authentic, that really had flavor to it. I really like the fact that its gentrified here but it still has its roots intact. A lot of the Middle Eastern groceries and meat shops—there's truly a mix of people that live around here."
Brooklyn Fox. Photo by William Chan
Lexi Isadora, Brooklyn Fox: "I try to have a bit of a range, because it's just incredibly challenging to have quality products that are very affordable and can match a Zara or a J. Crew, where a lot of people get their basics. We try to bring in a lower price point so that anyone can come in here and find something they can afford. It's not always what they're lusting after—sometimes things that are lust-worthy are very expensive, and there's a reason for it."
Lyndsey Butler, Veda: "Our classic jackets range from $750 to $950. I think that a price point under $1,000 is appealing to customers. It's a big purchase—everybody knows they're getting quality when they're buying a leather jacket, especially if it's expensive. The way we see it is that it's an accessory that you buy one of per season, if you're able to."
Caitlin Mociun, Mociun: "[My price point is] totally open. I'm starting now to do rings in the $20,000 range. In all honesty, that's what I want to be working in. I'm having less interest in doing rings in the lower price point. For the main collection I think it's great, but as far as custom goes, it's a lot of work—it takes a huge amount of energy in your personal skills. Talking to someone, making them feel comfortable, figuring out a new design.
Kristi Paras and Emilio Ramirez, Personnel of New York: "When the people in the neighborhood come in, the locals don't see this stuff, so they're like, "Woah, this is so great that nothing in here is in a department store." Some of it may be, like Mara Hoffman, but we're mixing it up. Some items are obscure, but some are super easy and well priced. That's another thing—we're trying to keep it on planet earth with that."
Gaelle Drevet and Magda Pietrobelli, Pixie Market: "Most of the website and the store is under $100. It doesn't mean we're going to shy away from $400 or $500. It's very easy to go to showrooms and find beautiful, expensive things. But we know that most people don't have that kind of wallet! The hard work that we try to do is find that leather suspender pant that's $1,200 for $99. This is the core of what we do."
Dana Schwister and Erika Vala, Shoe Market: "Affordable. We like to have a few things in here that are little more expensive. The Rachel Comey items are the highest priced items."
Jay Kos: Although our sports jackets are expensive (I have three kids to put through school), they fit beautifully and they last a long time. My clients know that. For people who complain about price, I am uninterested. I'm uninterested in the bloggers who blog about it. Lawyers charge what they do per hour, and I charge what I have to. I never get scared of high-pricing."
On Core Customers:
Smith Butler Bklyn. Photo by William Chan
Marylynn Piotrowski, Smith Butler Bklyn: "It's definitely a guy. I would say 70% of our customers are men. He tends to be mid-thirties, and professional but definitely artistic. He could be a graphic designer and maybe, I don't know, a blogger on the side. We have artists who are smart in their professions."
Dana Schwister and Erika Vala, Shoe Market: "You can't pigeonhole who our customer is because we have all different types of customers. People from all over the world, people of different ages. They want something that's unique, they want quality, they want something they can really use, they're not into frivolous shoes."
Molly Guy, Stone Fox Bride: "I would say anyone who's kind of turned off by the traditional wedding industry. I know it's sort of a cliche almost, brands that say that they're ideal customer is someone who has their own style, but generally people that come through our door are people who are not ones to flip through fashion magazines to get an idea of what the trend is. They really know their own skin, know who they are, don't listen to trends, but have an inherent, innate sense of style. They listen to their heart."
April Hughes and Marina Burini, Beautiful Dreamers: "We have a lot of eclectic ladies that come in from the city and then a lot of people from the neighborhood and friends. And definitely people traveling. We get a lot of people from Japan. We've had a lot of Japanese press, too. They're always on it."
Mauri Weakley and Ben Heemskerk, Collyer's Mansion: "Not everyone is of the same generation either. We have customers who are in their 70s, and then we have customers who are 22. And to have something for both of those people is a really interesting thing to always think about."
Gene Han, Hatchet Outdoor Supply: "It's a lot of neighborhood folk. It resonates with them. A lot of them were outdoors people in the past, and the store inspires them to go out again."
On social media and e-commerce:
American Two Shot. Photo by William Chan
Olivia Wolfe and Steph Krasnoff, American Two Shot: "Instagram's been a really great way that we can show product in the store and what's going on, and then Tumblr is a little bit more behind the scenes. It's us getting weird."
Lara Fieldbinder, Article&: "We've established a reputation for customer service, and I want to find a way to parlay that online in a really fresh, comprehensive way. From how the merchandise is displayed, what we purchase, and by remaining true to a voice that people understand. I think continuity across all platforms is really important."
Kim Phan, Yumi Kim: "I think it's the only way to really get to know your customers right away and know what they're saying. We have this contest called #YKMyWay, and we choose the best person who shows how they rock Yumi Kim. We give a $500 online gift card. People come up with creative ideas, and seeing your clothes come to life with people in it, that's the fascinating thing to me."
On Opening Outside of New York City
Erica Weiner. Photo by Michelle McLaughlin
Erica Weiner: "San Francisco is a good candidate. My husband's family is there so I'm there a couple times a year anyway. But I'm close friends with Currie Person, the woman who owns Spartan in Austin and a couple of other great places there and in Portland, and [we did] a pop-up shop with her in Portland over the summer to test the water. But part of the reason Portland keeps coming up is because Lindsey, my business partner, is from there and wants to move back eventually.
Zachary Ching, VFiles: "We'd love to open another store hopefully soon. I definitely think LA would be great or Paris. If we did ever open up another store in New York, I would see it as being the same as how this store is, where we'd have an editorial office there as well. It would basically be an extension. The way we look at our store is that it's an extension of our e-commerce. The editorial office and the store are exactly the same; we use it as our showroom, our meeting place. Customers can come in. It's really not like a typical store."
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