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
Earlier this year, the last remaining Zachary's Smile in New York City closed up shop, but it wasn't without a silver lining. Store owner Kristi Paras announced that she had another project in the works: a new concept called Personnel of New York, which opened in the Greenwich Ave store in May.
Paras opened the shop with her boyfriend, Emilio Ramirez, and the couple brought in designers from both the East and West coasts, many of whom don't have a strong retail presence elsewhere in Manhattan. We spoke with them both about what it's like working and living together, what led up to the dissolution of Zachary's Smile, and how they're keeping their prices "on planet Earth."
So you have been open for about a month now, how's it been so far?
Emilio: We've had a good response.
Kristi: It's been great, we're super happy.
What prompted the decision to close Zachary's Smile and open a different concept?
Kristi: We actually had a store in Los Angeles that we were in the middle of opening. We had just barely opened when we were given 30 days notice, everyone in the building was told to get out and that they were knocking the building down. They did literally demolish it in a week—not even, actually it was a few days later.
When was this?
Kristi: This was September of 2011. Before that, Emilio lived there and I lived here [in New York], and we met and got together. I moved to LA and just peaced on the whole Zachary's Smile thing here, because I owned a smaller portion of it and the other person owned more but they didn't actually live here in the country, so I was the only one around. It was just one of those things where we had different visions for it. So I took off to LA to have some fun and we started opening a store there. Then when we lost it, we were like—oh my gosh.
Emilio: It was one of those things.
Kristi: We got so excited because we were fully working together at that point.
Emilio: But then it was just like: "[Kristi], you still have a store in New York and you're not even really there, and maybe you should buy them out. The location is sick." Then we really thought about it and realized that what we were trying to do in LA we could do here. There's nothing like it in this neighborhood, and the people that live in this here—the tastemakers, the tourists, or just the locals.
Kristi: We knew that what we wanted to do would be appreciated here. Then we really actually got the store completely and were making a lot of changes to Zachary's Smile at first, like bringing in certain things as tests. Like, will the people of the neighborhood respond to this kind of thing? They did really well, so we knew that it would work.
We were just so lucky, because pretty much all of the brands that we wanted to sell aren't represented here, which is insane because it's Manhattan. If we tried to open this store in a lot of places in Brooklyn, it would be difficult because most of these brands are already saturated. So that was really lucky.
Zachary's Smile was amazing and it was great while it lasted, but I really outgrew it quite a long time ago. We wanted a store that we would take every single thing home from and want in our lives and want to give to our friends, and I just didn't feel like that about Zachary's Smile anymore.
How did you go about picking the merchandise? Were there brands you knew right off the bat that you wanted to include?
Emilio: It's funny. I was living in LA for a while and she was going back and forth, so a lot of the brands are actually designers we know from LA or from here, but most of them are from LA. These are people we have dinner with and have over at our house and we just didn't have a retail outlet to showcase them. So from there, it just snowballed.
Kristi: It snowballed to discovery. Someone turns you onto someone or something and you start to find what you really like, and you find an aesthetic evolving for the store. And we just went with it.
Emilio: We were just obsessed with the feel and patterns. We're really playful when it comes to colors, patterns, and the way things feel—cottons, linens.
Can I ask specifically what you have here that isn't represented in Manhattan?
Kristi: As far as I know, when we opened up the store, Objects Without Meaning, which is a good friends of ours, her and her husband are based in LA. I would imagine that most of them would have at least one store in Manhattan, but in this neighborhood, nothing is here.
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.
Is there a magic number that you hover around for certain categories?
Kristi: Yeah, probably $200. I think over $250 things start to go, "Woah okay."
Emilio: We're just not those people. We just wouldn't buy shoes for $800. I'm more of a $250-$300 shoe guy—at the most expensive.
Kristi: We've never had that kind of money so we don't know. Even just this alone, we were like, "Oh $278 for this dress, I don't know." We were worried. But now I'm like, "Wow, what on earth was I so worried about?" Everyone's coming in saying the prices are great.
Emilio: We were like, "Is it too cheap?"
Kristi: Now we see it's fine. People will pay $255 for a great pair of shoes.
Emilio: There is that cush price where people start to think that this is expensive for no reason.
Kristi: We don't want to be expensive for no reason. If it's going to have a high price tag, there's going to be a reason why. That's funny, we should find what the average price is.
Emilio: I feel like it's around $145.
Kristi: We are really aware of it, though.
What's your typical customer been like so far?
Emilio: It's a lot of neighborhood people.
Kristi: Yea, I think it's a lot of locals more than anything so far.
Emilio: In this neighborhood, we get a lot of people who are in the biz. People who run showrooms, or designers, or people who already saw photos in the press.
Kristi: I would say it's a lot of locals and they are still in discovery mode. They will literally come in and thanks us for opening up the store because there's very little shopping here at all. Bleecker Street doesn't count to me—I guess there's Intermix on Bleeker.
Are there any brands or categories that you aren't carrying yet that you hope to? Or would you ever want to design your own stuff?
Emilio: Kristi designed a lot of the Zachary's Smile stuff before, and she had a really good time. That's a lot of the what the differences were between her and the other person [involved]. I think it would be great for us to have a line, or a couple even. I'd like to get more home and gifts stuff. I love tchotchkes, stuff like European, Japanese, interesting art-driven, home and gift stuff.
Kristi: We'd love to expand that side. There are no sizes and we can order it easily.
The items you have in stock already are really cool.
Kristi: Yeah, we're building it. It was a test and it's actually working.
Emilio: She was really like, "I don't know about gifts, I only know clothing."
Not everyone will be able to fit [the clothes], or if the people walk into the store and like the way something feels but just don't have the money to buy a dress, but they want to walk away with something. So it's cool to have something that they can buy.
What is it like for you two working together?
Emilio: Kristi is the mama cat. She's definitely like the boss in the Super Mario. She's King Koopa.
Kristi: Not the princess. The boss.
Emilio: And because I have a background in retail design and art direction, I lined a lot of the creative in buying, or with how things look and the merchandising part of it. But when it comes to buying—basically all women's, even if I find brands—she has to approve. Same thing with men's. When it comes to accessories or the home stuff, we kind of work together.
Kristi: Usually people ask us what it's like to live together and work together, but we don't really think about it. It's fine. We eat dinner together every night too. Sometimes it's a bit of pressure, but we're fine. I come from it and I'm used to it. My parents have worked together in various businesses my entire life, so it's natural to me. Maybe not so much for Emilio, but he's getting used to it.
Okay, time for the lightening round! 8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Beach or mountains?
Jay-Z or Kanye West?
Coffee or tea?
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
· Personnel of New York [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]
· Personnel of New York Settles In the West Village Zachary's Smile [Racked NY]