Shop, Idea or Both?

Photo by Tristan Mosser

ENTER ANY BROOKLYN BOUTIQUE and you’ll probably find products sourced from all over the world, be it blankets woven in Nicaragua or a scent sold exclusively at a single fragrance studio in London, sitting directly adjacent to a blouse sewn by a designer who lives just down the street. What you’re less likely to find, however, is a cup of coffee.

Until recently, anyway. Take Homecoming, the Greenpoint florist that doubles as a café, or Norman & Jules, who’ve just added a backyard play space for classes and concerts behind their Park Slope toy shop. There’s Rough Trade, a record store that holds concerts and art exhibitions and sells food; Flirt, a boutique with a back studio for sewing classes; Whole Foods Gowanus, an organic grocery mecca with its own rooftop restaurant, and Budin, a design shop that also doubles as a café. And then there’s Space Ninety 8.

Urban Outfitters’ five-story ode to all that is Brooklyn-branded and commodifiable is only the buzziest example of the recent rise in retail concepts that defy one’s typical shopping experience. Space Ninety 8, which opened in April, contains not only everything you’d expect from an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg, but also a place for local designers to showcase their work, pop-up art exhibitions, a swanky rooftop, an equally swanky basement, and a restaurant that cooks a whole pig’s head—snout, ears and all—for dinner.

Call it the flea market-ification of Brooklyn, or a nostalgic hearkening to the days of neighborhood taverns and speakeasies, where the lines between public and private spaces were blurred. Call it whatever you want, but it’s worth noting that many of these hybrid marketplaces are homegrown.

Last year, designer Jill Lindsey had a similar thought. She would combine her fashion expertise with her love of hosting (Lindsey calls herself the younger, more indie version of Martha Stewart), and set it just three blocks from her Fort Greene home. Her eponymous shop soft-opened in May, while the café, which serves wine in the evenings, and the backyard garden for classes and special events were added in July. “We do everything from wine tastings to therapy to crafts and fashion,” Lindsey explains. “And we’re doing Sunday afternoon DJs, where there’ll be drinking and dancing in the garden.” Jill Lindsey is, first and foremost, a boutique, a place for Lindsey to sell her own clothing designs and those of her peers, as well as jewelry, home goods, apothecary products and custom dresses. The only difference is, no one seems to know where the boundary lies between owning a boutique and inviting someone in to your living room.

The idea of the mixed-use space, or the “concept store,” seems to be one that popped out of nowhere, sprouting up independently among entrepreneurs with a strong and staunchly personal vision of what a store could be. “We definitely didn’t set out to be part of a new retail trend,” explains Vanessa Chinga-Haven, co-founder of Greenpoint’s Homecoming (previously Caffé Spina), now one year old. Instead, these sorts of shops are an opportunity for owners to reflect their own tastes in all facets of life, not just fashion, music, or flower arranging. It’s also proven to be an effective way to generate goodwill among locals and promote artists’ work, like the home goods, ceramic pots and soap that Homecoming sells. “The shop has become a microhub for all our favorite little things,” says Chinga-Haven. “Many of the manufacturers are local, and all are independent.”

A bit farther south, there’s the three-story compound on Williamsburg’s Wythe Avenue, compromised of Kinfolk 90, a café and bar, Kinfolk 94, a nightclub, and the Kinfolk Store, a menswear boutique. Though all technically separate properties, “the idea is that Kinfolk of Wythe Avenue is a compound fulfilling the various needs of the neighborhood, in the ways of style, entertainment, nourishment and beyond,” explains Felipe Delerme, Kinfolk’s Communications Director.

These endless possibilities for growth and expansion are what make hybrid businesses so lucrative. Both Chinga-Haven and Delerme have plans to expand their respective brands to the West coast (Kinfolk already has a lease in Downtown Los Angeles, but as of now, Homecoming LA is still in “daydream” phase.) As for Jill Lindsey, she’s planning a bridal annex in her store’s basement, where when brides arrive for their fitting, they’ll also be able to meet with photographers, DJs or sommeliers. And since being in business just a few months, Lindsey has already been approached by four separate investors, including two hotels, to expand her business outside Fort Greene. “I can’t really talk about it,” she says, “But there’s more in the works. This is definitely going to grow faster than I’ve ever expected, and I’m so excited.”

When the subject of Space Ninety 8 comes up, Lindsey simply laughs. “My friends were all like, ‘It’s your plan! But they did it faster than you! And it’s bigger!’ And I was like, yeah, but it’s different. It’s Urban Outfitters. It’s like you’re in someone’s home when you come into my store. The other day, this woman walked in with her dog and asked, ‘Are you Jill?’ And I said yeah. And she was like, ‘Thank you. Thank you for doing this,’ and walked out.”

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