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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.
In the six months since it opened, Williamsburg's Concrete + Water has cemented itself as the northern bookend to the neighborhood's multi-brand, unisex boutique trio—with Bird at the center, and Swords-Smith holding court in the south. It's nabbed accounts with cult-y European labels like Ganni and Anne Thomas, built up its home goods section, and landed on more than a few "best of Brooklyn" lists.
The store's success can be chalked up to the fact that owners Hannah Dilworth and JD Gluckstern (she a former stylist, he a veteran of the nightlife industry) had a clear idea of what Williamsburg retail was missing—fun, accessible, "stepping stone" clothes for neighborhood newbies. "Manhattan is coming out here a bit," Hannah told Racked during a recent visit to Concrete + Water. "The style isn't as in your face as it once was."
That's not to say that the boutique doesn't carry its fair share of standout pieces. "I like the idea that you can buy a simple button down here, or get something really crazy and push yourself further," JD said. "Guys slowly work their up to the crazy stuff." Read on for the couple's thoughts on Williamsburg's retail landscape, how to make the perfect shopping playlist, and why Larry David has landed them a lot of sales.
You've been open for six months now! How has the store evolved since then? Give us the rundown.
JD: We hit the ground running. We opened right before the holidays, and November was crazy. It gave us a false sense of what every month was going to be like. We worked two months straight with no days off, but it was so awesome meeting all the customers and just watching the day-to-day.
Hannah: We've established relationships with some great neighborhood customers who have really gotten to know us—people who come back every weekend, or bring friends. The holidays were great because people were taking advantage of all of our categories—women's, men's, home, gifts. It helped us see how the home section can evolve, and how the store can grow into what we want it to be, which is a one-stop shop.
"People were knocking on the door and we were like, ‘Are we unlocking the door? Is this happening?’"
JD: Watching people interact with the space helped us with the merchandising, and figuring out the flow of the store. The store feels as full and fresh as it ever has—we've got some art in here, some plants. The home section has grown nicely in the last couple months, and now the backyard is open, so that's even better.
What was your opening day like?
JD: I was excited, for sure. It was very surreal. Legitimately, the construction crew left the day we opened.
Hannah: We had been in here in our sweats with paper still over the windows. We had friends and family in here the night before, helping us with last minute stuff. It was a bit of a whirlwind the next day—I remember being like, "Is this it? Are we open?"
JD: People were knocking on the door and we were like, "Are we unlocking the door? Is this happening?"
Hannah: When we finally took the paper off the windows that morning and people could see in, that was a big moment for us.
JD: We exposed ourselves to the world.
Hannah: I definitely felt a bit vulnerable.
JD: We got used to being in our own little world in here, and then it was like, "Wait. This is for everyone but us."
Hannah, you used to be a stylist. Has that influenced the way you choose pieces for the store? Do you buy in outfits?
Hannah: I starting assisting stylists pretty much straight of college—first in New York and then in Sydney, Australia. When I came back from Sydney I began assisting Elle Strauss, who is now the fashion director at Shopbop. I was her longtime assistant at Lucky Magazine—doing shoots, traveling. It was a great experience, especially in terms of discovering designers—that played a big role in knowing what I wanted to carry in the store. I moved with Elle to Shopbop briefly, and then I decided to take a risk.
I do help people in here with styling—suggesting pieces that work with each other. Being able to look at something and tell if it's going to fit a customer's body helps.
I mostly think about styling when I'm merchandising. I like to have a top that will go perfectly with a skirt or a pair of pants.
JD: If you buy a top in a print, you'll make sure it's not the only thing that has that print. There's always something it will pair up with.
And JD, your background is in nightlife. What's the transition to retail been like?
JD: I've been a DJ for a long time. The connection to this was that I had been trying to open a bar-slash-nightclub in Williamsburg with my friends for almost two years. We had been hunting for real estate for a while and we got really close a few times. But as things do, it fell apart at the last second.
I was really familiar with what was available out here—what was a good deal and what wasn't. And I had also drafted up a lot of small business plans at that point. So I felt like I knew how to jump into this project, even though retail isn't the world that I come from.
Does DJ JD ever come out? Do you put Concrete + Water's playlists together?
JD: I definitely pick the music that plays in the store. You'll see more of it as the summer progresses—we're planning on doing happy hour events in the backyard where I'll have my DJ friends play sets and we'll have free beer.
We don't sell workwear, necessarily. We're not Carson Street Clothiers. That's a great store, and I love their stuff, but our vibe is more casual and playful. That's a big part of nightlife—I can wear a printed t-shirt and a fun jacket whenever I want, I don't have to worry about ties and blazers. I don't think our customers are worrying about that either.
So the DJ thing is here, in a way. It's not a store for club kids, although I'm happy if they want to shop here.
Hannah: But the music is important. It has to connect with the vibe of the store.
Do you make the playlists by season?
JD: I do it by weather. We've been playing a lot of Odessa, Little Dragon—that stuff sits really well in the store. It's chill enough and background enough that it's not in your face. But it also has enough tempo to keep people moving.
Hannah: On rainy days we love a little reggae.
JD: People come in from the rain and they're like, "Maybe it will be warm again at some point. Maybe I will get to sit on a beach." Then that Mac DeMarco, airy guitar stuff is really great in a store. On Friday nights we might pump it up a little more with some hip hop.
Hannah: When you change the music it changes the whole vibe in the store.
"During our first buy I was like, ‘Culottes are amazing. They're about to be everywhere.’ And he was like, ‘What are culottes?’"
How do you split up your buying? Hannah, do you choose most of the women's pieces? JD, do you choose most of the men's?
JD: Hannah takes the lead for the women's. I trust her final decision making in all of that. And I'm definitely more involved in the men's. I'll put my foot down a bit if I feel like we should buy a certain piece. But it's very collaborative.
Hannah: Yes, very collaborative. I hadn't had a ton of background in menswear before, and he's learned so much about womenswear it's hysterical. During our first buy I was like, "Culottes are amazing. They're about to be everywhere." And he was like, "What are culottes?"
Now sometimes I see him talking about stuff in store and I'm like, "Oh my god. He has his wings!"
Do you just beam with pride?
Hannah: I really do!
JD: But then I hear myself saying things to my friends and I'm like, "Who have I become?"
Buying for this season was so much easier, because of the fact that we've been open. For the first two seasons that we bought for, we weren't even open. We were just guessing at everything. Amounts. Sizing. Price points. Now we can say, "For this brand, the knits were great and the pants were great, so let's focus on those again.
Hannah: Luckily we work with a lot of local designers, so if there's a sizing issue, or something is off, we can switch things up. They've been really accommodating about doing some tweaks along the way.
JD: It's nice working with small designers because they'll really give you the information you need to make the right choices. It's not like working with a sales rep for one of these giant brands, where they're just trying to get you to buy as much as you can.
"Larry David is like the New York spirit animal. He's kind of disdainful of everything."
What can't you keep in stock? What do you constantly sell out of?
Hannah: Larry David shirts.
Are men or women buying them?
JD: It's both.
Hannah: We sold out of the extra smalls and smalls the first day we had them.
JD: Larry David is like the New York spirit animal. He's kind of disdainful of everything, and the face he's making on the shirt is like, "Ugh, really?"
What did you think the Williamsburg retail landscape was missing when you decided to open a store?
JD: The big player is obviously Bird. That was always very clear to us. Bird is an amazing store, but they've achieved a certain level of success and can push their price point up there and carry more high-end designers than they did five years ago. We felt like there was a hole in the women's market for clothes at a slightly lower price point—something fun, accessible, and a little bit younger.
Hannah: And especially for guys.
JD: There was just a hole for cool menswear.
"I think the people who have moved here recently are conscious of what they look like and what they're presenting."
Hannah: There was a lot of workwear and suiting.
JD: I thought there was room for some of these fun Scandinavian brands that we carry.
Hannah: I think the people who have moved here recently are conscious of what they look like and what they're presenting.
JD: Exactly. You're very conscious of where you're living, so style conscious guys are definitely out here and they need more places to find their way into it. Not everyone comes out here and is a fashion plate. There are a lot of guys who want to dress better and want to find new stuff. And it's not the easiest. I think Swords-Smith is the only shop out here that carries menswear with a similar idea, but they're way Southside.
Hannah: Northside, for women's there's pretty much Jumelle—which has been here for a while and has great brands—but I felt like there needed to be something fresh, and something that was grabbing a lot of new designers.
JD: We're surrounded by new construction, and there are so many people who want stuff for their apartments. That's a category that we're figuring out.
"As a couple, we wanted more stores where he goes to his side, and I go to my side, and then we meet up and go to the home section together."
Hannah: A lot of people come in this store and they're like, "Oh my gosh, I wish this was my home." I like that because it makes me think that they feel warm and cozy and welcome here.
JD: They're thinking about whatever lifestyle we're trying to evoke as a livable lifestyle. If you walk in and you're like "I want to live here," that means the lifestyle makes sense—the clothing, the decorations, and the home goods are a coherent experience.
Hannah: As a couple, we wanted more stores where he goes to his side, and I go to my side, and then we meet up and go to the home section together. Obviously it's not just couples shopping here, but I love seeing that.
As a couple who works together, do you have any rules for not talking about work at home? Where do you draw the line?
Hannah: Maybe we should!
JD: That would be a good rule.
Hannah: I wake up in the middle of the night like, "JD, maybe we should have put that jacket at the front of the rack." It's ridiculous.
JD: I think the fun of working with your significant other is being able to talk about it whenever you want. I mean, yeah, it can be stressful to think about it all the time and to not have your significant other as the outlet from work. But I think there's something really nice about brainstorming while you're lying in bed together.
Hannah: It's fun because we share in the highs of it—when we've had a really amazing day, or when we feel like the store is coming together we both get so giddy about it and we get to celebrate it together. Some couples just aren't meant to work together, but we've always known that we want to.
He's much more business-minded and I'm more creative and a bit of a perfectionist in ways. So we balance each other out. He has his duties and I have mine so we're not always on top of each other.
"We've lived out here for a while, so the Williamsburg customer has changed. Manhattan is coming out here a bit. The style isn't as in your face as it once was."
Who is your customer?
JD: Realistically, they're in their early thirties. They probably live out here in one of the newer buildings. To be in Williamsburg at this point they have some money. I think they're working in creative industries. They like to go out on weekends, they like to eat at restaurants. They like the good life, right?
Hannah: Yeah. They like to take it all in.
JD: They're us. We are the customer. We're a young couple who likes to take advantage of all this neighborhood has to offer.
Hannah: We've lived out here for a while, so the Williamsburg customer has changed. Manhattan is coming out here a bit. The style isn't as in your face as it once was.
JD: A lot of people need stepping stones to get there. I like the idea that you can buy a simple button down here, or get something really crazy and push yourself further. Guys slowly work their up to the crazy stuff.
Hannah: We are kind of like a stepping-stone. We're like a gateway into fashion.
JD: Maybe you'll start here and you'll end up at Barneys buying crazy things.
Hannah: I think some of the girls who just moved out here may not know some of these designers, but they want to dress differently than all their friends.
JD: We're still trying to find our customer, and expand our customer, and push them in different directions. There are certain people who come in, and I'll know that we don't have anything for them, but I'll want to find something for them. We want to make sure we have a wide variety.
Hannah: That's what we've learned in the six months we've been open—how to evolve to cater to different people while still staying true to us.
How would you describe Concrete + Water's aesthetic?
JD: Easy breezy.
Hannah: A lot of people walk in and they're like, "Is this your second store? Have you had a store on the West Coast?" I think a lot of people are surprised—in this neighborhood there's been so much of the dark wood, harder materials. It's refreshing to walk into a store that's light and airy.
Our whole idea is that we live in Brooklyn, surrounded by concrete, but nature is so essential to us—we love to get out of the city, we love to surf, we love to hike. That's how the name came about.
JD: It's the balance of indoor and outdoor.
Hannah: I think that aesthetic does play out in our store. We have lots of plants, the backyard—that sense of nature comes through.
What are your price points?
JD: It goes from $50 t-shirts up to an $850, one of a kind, reversible satin bomber. For guys, we try to keep button downs between $100 and $200.
Hannah: Women's mid-range sits around $250 or $300. Shoes we try to keep under $300. For home goods, it goes from $4 stickers and soaps to a $600 rug.
JD: At first we were just trying to buy great stuff that we were sure people would love, and maybe we didn't think about the price point as much as we should have. But now that's a huge part of it. If you're going to push someone up into the $400 range you have to make sure that it's a very special piece they're going to fall in love with. They can't feel like they can find something similar for half the price somewhere else.
Which lines are you excited about for spring?
Hannah: For women, I'm excited about this San Francisco brand First Rite. I think we're one of the only stores in New York to have her. I'm wearing one of her jumpsuits right now. It's just these easy, breezy pieces. They're either black or white.
JD: I'm excited to have Ganni in the store, that was a huge pull for us.
Hannah: Ganni is this cult Danish brand. It's their first season in any stores in the states.
JD: You can go in any direction with a Ganni buy, their stuff is amazing—especially the outerwear. On the guys' side, Creep is really cool. They're a Japanese-by-way-of-Toronto brand. The best thing you'd find at a vintage store is the way I'd describe Creep to people.
Hannah: And then Anne Thomas. She's an amazing French designer and she doesn't have much stock in the states. I think it's just us, Assembly, Totokaelo, and Need Supply.
What's next for Concrete + Water?
JD: We're building out the backyard. We're doing big planters and built-in seating and a stage.
Hannah: We've been working with a landscape artist and we're excited to turn this into an actual event space. We have some fun stuff lined up—pop-up shops, stand up comedy shows, food vendors from Smorgasburg.
JD: We've talked to people about doing braid bars and flower pop-ups.
Hannah: This summer we want to try everything out and see how people respond. Maybe next year we'll have something a bit more permanent.
JD: People ask us if we're opening a coffee bar out here all the time.
Hannah: I think that might be too overdone by now, but we'll see.
Time for the lightning round!
8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Cats or dogs?
Hannah: Sorry, we can't choose. We grew up with both!
Beach or mountains?
Hannah: They're both so special to us!
JD: We surf, but we're also getting married in Telluride, Colorado.
Favorite vacation destination?
JD: Telluride, Colorado
Hannah: Costa Rica
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
JD: Kasia's. It's the little Polish luncheonette on Bedford. I get mushroom barley soup and a tuna salad sandwich. It's the best.
Favorite neighborhood happy hour spot?
Hannah: Park Luncheonette
Tea or coffee?
And how do you take it?
Hannah: Soy cappuccino
JD: Iced Americano
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Both: Mad Men
Bagels or croissants?
JD: With lox
Beyonce or Rihanna?
Hannah: If I was to be one for one day I'd like to be Rihanna.
JD: Cause she smokes weed and listens to reggae.
Hannah: She's so cool. Fashion-wise I'd rather raid her closet than Beyonce's.