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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 opening Smith Butler Bklyn—appropriately named after the cross streets for the shop—owner Marylynn Piotrowski dabbled in a bit of everything. Her varied background included modeling and interior design, and her crave for constant change landed her in retail, where she's able to play agent to fashion and art under one well-furnished roof.
The store itself is long and deep, with three rooms that seem to gradually unfold the boutique as you explore. Americana brands are the store's bread and butter: think Barbour, Levi's Made & Crafted, and Pendleton. The very back room is a dedicated space that serves as something of a pop up, currently occupied by Woolrich John Rich. Art, antiques, locally-made jewelry, and vintage motorbikes are also for sale. We sat down with Marylynn to pick her brain on retailing in Brooklyn, and which designers she'd love to add to her roster.
How long have you been in this space?
I've been here four years.
What made you want to open a store?
I had another store before this out in Montauk. I just love everything—from apparel to art to jewelry. I love working with the brands that I support. A lot of my friends are designers, so I felt like I'm sort of an agent to everything around. I'm good at enhancing who comes in here. And I love frequent change.
Why did you choose this neighborhood?
I chose Brooklyn first and foremost because I felt that the essence of New York was still here. I wanted to go back in time a little bit and be part of a neighborhood and feel a sense of community. We still have that Old-World feel down here. We've got the townhouses, and what I love about this area is that a lot of it's landmarked so there can't be too much overbuilding.
What was it like opening the store?
It was a real challenge. I broke my foot literally the weekend after I signed the lease. Opening in 2008, it all being so unpredictable with that constant, "What's happening, what's happening?" with the economy. It's been hard work. I think you work harder now in retail trying to beat the odds.
How did the neighborhood react to your store opening?
They loved it! I think it's been well received. I still have a ton of people from the neighborhood discovering us for the first time. I think we're the go-to place for everyone to check in and also for holidays and gift items. I'm most proud when it's not just one demographic—it's a family that comes in, all age ranges. We get a lot of tourists down here, too. I would say mid-week half our customers are tourists.
When you picture your typical customer who do you see?
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.
Are you in the store every day?
Yes, pretty much. Definitely five days a week.
What is an item you have in stock you're really excited about right now?
I'm excited about Feral Childe. It's a label by two ladies who design and produce in Brooklyn. For guys, I love that we have Engineered Garments, it's all made in New York.
Is "Made in New York" an added value for you?
I think so. It doesn't have to be New York, but from somewhere around here. You feel like you're supporting your neighbor.
What do you look for in an employee?
Character. Ambition. Definitely a creative sensibility. A self starter. Takes initiative.
Is there a "holy grail" item that you haven't been able to stock and would love to have in the store?
Yes, APC denim. APC is such a cool brand and you have to prove yourself as a retailer. I'm wearing them now even though I don't carry them. I get them [in the store] this week though!
What is your general thought on pricing?
That sweet spot is about $125 to 185. I would love to carry a lot more designer brands. Americana brands work really well for us, that tends to be our niche, but I'd love to up the fashion a little bit.
Off the cuff, are there any designers you'd love to have?
Yeah, I'd love to have Iro in here [again], we had them when we first opened. I'm exploring getting some Billy Reid, but it's convincing the customer that there's value in a $200 button down during these economic times.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into retail?
Don't rush. Slow down. Work for as many people as you can. Take in as much as you can before you really decide. It's a hard environment right now. Every retailer or employer is going to give you different advice, and it's important to listen to that.
What did you do before you opened your Montauk store?
I did a bit of everything. I was always a self-employed person. I modeled, that was my main source of income. I went to school for interior design. I was a photo agent for a little while. I was in production for a little while—set design stuff. Just a jack of all trades, really, and that's where retail made sense. I had the fashion background, and as a photo agent I learned how to promote.
Okay, time for the lightening round! Uptown or downtown?
Tumblr or Pinterest?
'60's, '70s, or '80s?
Mayo or mustard?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones.
Jay Z or Kanye?
Mountains or beach?
Go-to neighborhood lunch spot?
Post-work watering hole?
The back room of Clover Club, they have a fireplace back there.
If someone came to visit Smith + Butler, what other neighborhood business would you tell them to check out?
Bird for women. Maybe Hollander & Lexer for men. Their interior is done so well. I love what people do with space and representation and I think they have a great presence.