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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
Imagine traveling back in time to middle school and getting to tell your dorky seventh-grade self that in your twenties, you'll open a super cool store with your best friend in New York City. Then imagine you'll fill that store with a coffee shop and an impressive selection of under-the-radar indie brands. Then, you get a ton of buzz from fashion magazines and blogs, as well as comparisons to Opening Ceremony. (You may have to explain to yourself what that means.)
For store owners Olivia Wolfe and Steph Krasnoff, that's pretty much what happened. With backgrounds in art and wholesale respectively, the two friends opened American Two Shot on Grand Street in 2012. Steph explained that the idea came pretty naturally: "We felt that there was a gap in the market for what we were looking for, so we created it." We talked to them about how they've developed such a unique niche persona from scratch, as well as what new projects are on the horizon.
When did you two meet?
Olivia: We grew up together in Miami.
Steph: We met in seventh grade.
What were your backgrounds before you opened the store?
Olivia: I was working in the art world. I was a studio assistant to two different artists in Brooklyn. Steph was on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Steph: I worked for Theory. I started in sales, then I moved to wholesale planning. I was with them for about five years.
Did the two of you always want to someday open a store?
Both: No! [Laughs]
Olivia: Literally we decided one night it was going to happen and then it started happening. We never said, "Oh one day we'll do this." It was just, "Let's do this now." It seemed a little crazy, but there was something that felt very right about it. When I look back on that time, I don't remember why we thought it was a good idea in the first place, but we just sort of went with it. We had a lot of support from our friends, and eventually from our parents too.
How did you go about getting the space?
Steph: It was actually the first space that we looked at. A friend of a friend works in real estate, and in the very beginning we wanted to get a gauge of what rent would be. So I had lunch with him and he told me he would send me a bunch of listings to look at, and this was the first place he told me to check out. We came here and it looked nothing like this, but it was love at first sight.
As far as the merchandise goes, how did you start selecting the brands that you have in store? What have you seen does the best?
Olivia: We started very small with what we knew. I think I have a screen shot on my phone of the first five brands that we wanted. We happened to have personal relationships with them—they were friends' brands that were just emerging. We wanted to stock the store with things that we really care about that you don't see at every other store, and that you can't find down the street or maybe in the states.
Steph: As far as what's doing well now, as a classification dresses do really great. It's what we love to wear, they're easy. I don't think that's surprising. There's not really one brand though that outshines all the rest. I think we do a pretty good job of mixing things together. Originally it wasn't our intention to just have a bunch of clothes on racks, so we put a lot of thought into presentation in the store and to not make it feel like every other shopping experience.
How often do you change around the displays?
Steph: Every other week.
Olivia: When we start to get antsy, it's time to change it.
Steph: We change the window every week, we change the store every two weeks. We have platforms in the center of the store that are on wheels, so even when we just shift those a little it changes the vibe of the whole store. This bench used to be in the back. It was a staple when we first opened—people were a little shaken up when we moved it. They roll with the punches.
Olivia: We moved it from a party and we never moved it back. It happens sometimes.
Do you get a lot of people who just come in and hang out?
Olivia: César [Vega], who runs the coffee shop, has a very strong following, so people definitely just come in for a coffee, but we've become friends with all of his regular customers. There aren't that many people who come in just to say hi... there are people who come in and buy a card, or a coffee, or something.
Steph: There's a fine blurred line between friend and customer and supporter. We blur a lot of lines here.
Olivia: There's a surprising number of people that we're genuinely friends with now that we met through the store. There's one girl who just moved from Canada and stumbled into the store and we became friends. Now she's a really close friend of ours!
On your Tumblr, it looks like you have so many friends.
Steph: What's nice is, just like we meet a lot of people through the store, other people meet each other through the store. The same girl that Olivia was talking about, she had just moved here and I know that she's made other friends through the store. Whether we knew it or not, that was part of our intention—not just a place that you come in and leave. You're welcome to stay. Obviously, there's a time limit...
Olivia: "...We're closing now."
How important is your Tumblr and your Instagram, and the social media aspects of running a store?
Both: Super important.
Steph: We opened at the end of March in 2012, and we told ourselves—I think it was December 1st of 2011—that we were going to start "tumbling" and creating a presence on the internet. And that once we started, we had to be consistent. Everybody wants everything so quickly, and I think that's what kind of created this following.
Olivia: 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.
Steph: All the things that don't make the cut for Instagram.
Olivia: Tumblr bloopers.
It's kind of mindblowing what's going on now with Instagram and local retailers. And it's something that I think is exclusive to small independent stores.
Steph: We're definitely riding that wave. Terrified for the day that it's not as important as it is now, but then we'll just move onto the next.
Do you think you'll ever do e-commerce?
Steph: We're actually launching e-commerce this summer. We're working on redoing our website and we've already started shooting some product. So it'll be fall product that should hit the web store in July or August.
Is it just you two doing everything on the business side?
Steph: Yea, it's really crazy. We do everything from unpacking and steaming the clothes, and Olivia does all the graphics for everything.
Olivia: And Steph manages the finances. Our backgrounds allow us to really cover all of the bases, which is fantastic because we're able to do a lot in-house.
You've gotten a lot of Opening Ceremony comparisons in the press lately. How do you feel about that—especially being so close to them? Is that cool, or getting old?
Steph: No, it's a compliment. We both love what they do and I think that we might not be their exact customer, which is some of the reason why American Two Shot was born. We felt that there was a gap in the market for what we were looking for, so we created it. Creatively, it's such an honor to be compared to them. They've definitely grown a lot in the past ten years and we're only a year old, so who knows what will happen. As far as comparisons go, I'm not mad at that one.
We touched on your future e-commerce plans. Is there anything else that you have in the works?
Steph: We will be creating our own product. We're still figuring out exactly what that means, but we're hoping to release it in the fall. It's going to be more of a consistent release over time versus collections, and we also have a few collaborations that we're super excited about that are in the works. We've been antsy to start this, but we've been holding off so that we can do it in the right way.
People always ask us, "Oh, do you have a design background?" And we're like, "No, but we didn't have a background in opening a store either."
Olivia: I'm so awkward when someone asks if this is our first store. I end up laughing in their face. It's definitely complimentary if someone thinks we've done this before.
Steph: I think we're both pretty smart...right? [Laughs].
Olivia: Since we don't have retail backgrounds, I think we look at this with a different set of eyes. Two different sets of eyes. We do it however it feels right, and sometimes that's surprising or weird or fun, but that's kind of the rule of thumb to what we do and our decision making.
Steph: That's also what helps us create our point of view. If we follow the rules that all of the other stores are, then it wouldn't be ours. So because we're allowing ourselves to just go with our first impulse, it's a representation of us and then some.
Okay, time for the lightening round. 8am or 8pm?
Olivia: 8pm, [points to Steph] 8am.
Beach or mountains:
Olivia: Miami. This is fun. I wish the whole thing were a lightening round.
Jay-Z or Kanye West?
Steph: I'll say Kanye.
Beyonce or Solange?
Your favorite place to shop, besides your own store?
Olivia: My grandmother's store. It's uptown—it's targeted at a very different customer. It's Italian and French designers for women. It's very different, but we do have very similar taste. And my favorite vintage shops.
Steph: I'd say any major shoe floor. That's where I will really let myself go.
· American Two Shot [Official Site]
· Which of These Stores Is the Next Opening Ceremony? [Racked NY]