Opening a Brick-and-Mortar Store in Brooklyn: Is It Worth It?

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Robicelli’s Bakery
Allison and Matt Robicelli

The Approach: Learn From Bad Experiences, Go All In

“Owning a brick-and-mortar is having a series of failures and trying to recover from them constantly,” says Allison Robicelli on a warm Sunday afternoon at the LIC Flea. “It’s so hard for me to tell people to do this.”

Before Robicelli and her husband, Matt, opened their extremely successful bakery in Bay Ridge, which has led to a book deal and appearances on The Today Show and Chopped, they were burned by a failed business. After five years of catering, the couple buckled under the pressure to have a permanent location despite having major reservations and opened up a gourmet shop in the fall of 2008. Most of the nightmares that come with opening a store happened to them. They had their tip jar stolen multiple times. Customers mistreated them and one even tried to fight Matt “because he’s tall.” And for three months, no one could access their store by car because the city tore up the street in front of the shop. A few weeks later the recession hit, most of the catering clients lost their jobs and their business opportunities dried up along with the job market. Within a year, the store went under.

“We ended up losing everything and it was awful,” says Robicelli as locals lazily stroll by the booth. “I’m still paying off loans for a business I haven’t owned in over five years and I’ll be paying it off for the next 25 years.”

It was four years until the Robicellis, now full-time bakers, felt comfortable enough to open a new store and the second time around, they were more careful, spending a year searching for a new space. Over that time they developed a set of hard and fast rules.

“If you’re opening up a brick-and-mortar shop, get to know your landlord,” says Robicelli. “That’s the best piece of advice I can give. You gotta think of it as a marriage.”

On top of that, Robicelli says it’s important that business owners realize that your rent will most likely increase when the five-year lease is up. Most landlords are loathe to see a tenant do well and not get a cut of their success. Second, she warns that owning a business is extremely time consuming. On this particular Sunday afternoon, her children aren’t with her or her husband because both parents are working, one at the market and one at the bakery.

“If you’re okay with working seven days a week for the rest of your life, then you should go brick-and-mortar,” says Robicelli. “If this is a hobby, do a market. And if you’re insane like me, do both.”

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