It was a humid Thursday evening in Bedford–Stuyvesant, a neighborhood of 153,000 inhabitants in Brooklyn. In November, it’s not supposed to be this hot. The people are mixed here. Men dressed in suits walked briskly beneath umbrellas while others carried on casual conversations on street corners, sleeveless and wet. During this time when ‘gentrification’ is a dirty word in New York City, the complicated culture of a place is both the appeal and controversy for local business owners. On the one hand, buying and selling within a multicultural community is their chance to support multiculturalism. On the other hand, there’s always that risk of business influencing culture, instead of it being the other way around.
For the final interview of local business owners who support their communities, I walked briskly and without an umbrella to an address on Lexington Avenue. I came to Bed-Stuy to ask Shane and Johnna what it means to buy and sell locally. The answer of these two business owners was similar to those of Gaia, Erica, and Brandy and Sean, all of whom operate in different neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. The diversity of Brooklyn fuels them, and the business of buying and selling locally here is the business of job creation, self-preservation and multiculturalism for everyone—no matter who you might be. Keep reading to learn more about six local business owners who keep their communities of Brooklyn beautiful.
“Shopping local is supporting the people who comprise our community. If we all support each other, we can continue to grow and flourish.”
Shane Quinn and Johnna West hop into their van monthly to find and recover great pieces of furniture that come from another time. The mission is to provide their local community of Brooklyn with quality pieces at an affordable price. Preventing that shipwrecked scene of IKEA materials cluttering neighborhoods on trash pick-up day, Quinn CASA always houses beautiful vintage pieces that connect you with the history of design.
Why is Quinn CASA located out of your home in Brooklyn?
We choose to live here because of the exciting pace and culture. [In Bed-Stuy] we’re surrounded by like-minded people who share our lifestyle and interest in different cultures coming together. It makes our time here both an education and an adventure.
How has your understanding of ‘shopping locally’ evolved over the years?
Technology has really enabled more people to become entrepreneurs, and as more and more people continue to do so, the more options you have to buy locally. We find that small businesses and local goods tend to have more ‘heart’ and attention in their products
and services. That is something we try to exemplify and support.
What’s the vibe of Quinn CASA squeezed into a single word?
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
“Shopping local means you know the owners of the businesses [here], and they know you and your family. It supports the creation of jobs and keeps your hard earned dollars in your community.”
The store By Brooklyn is the only one out there that exclusively sells products made in Brooklyn. Inspiration and integrity informs the selection of goods available in the store, including tasty treats, apothecary, apparel and much more. For local business owner Gaia, shopping local isn’t just a thing to do; it’s a way to create community. For this reason, every item in the store By Brooklyn is made in Brooklyn.
Gaia, your shop is always amazing! How do you choose the products that you carry?
I’m fortunate that most of the new makers we work with come to us, but occasionally we’ll reach out to someone if we learn about a compelling product. For selection, first and foremost the product must be made in Brooklyn, which means raw materials are collected and a finished product is created within the borough. Once the criteria are met, curating the goods is a subjective process. Mindy Dulberg, By Brooklyn’s buyer, and I review the quality and integrity of the product. Is it something we are proud to sell? Will it last? Does it taste good? Can the maker satisfy orders in a timely manner? Finally, will our customers like it?
Why is your business located in Brooklyn?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost 20 years. I left my corporate job in 2008 not knowing what the next chapter of my life would be. I explored farm-to-table restaurants, developing a specific interest in local manufactured food products, and the idea for ‘By Brooklyn’ was hatched. The history of manufacturing in Brooklyn – the sudden growth of small batch makers that started 10 years ago – meant the store would be in Brooklyn!
What’s the vibe of your business squeezed into a single word?
Neighborhood: Red Hook
“Shopping local means supporting your neighbors, recognizing their hard work and dedication, and making sure they won’t go out of business because of big-business.”
Erica launched Queen Majesty Hot Sauce in April of 2013. All of her sauces are 100% vegan, gluten free and without sugar or unnatural preservatives. She selects all of the ingredients herself, buys organic ingredients only and local as much as possible. Oh, and did I mention she’s a local DJ in the reggae scene? Not only does she make the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted (and I’m from the South), but also Queen Majesty is a DJ.
How do you choose the ingredients that you use?
Well, my inspiration comes from New York City – from being exposed to many different cuisines here that I love and want to complement. My newest sauce, the Red Habanero and Black Coffee Hot Sauce, is the only one based on my upbringing in Buffalo. It’s is a Buffalo-style sauce.
What role does your community of Brooklyn play in the identity of your business?
We make our hot sauce by hand every week in a commercial kitchen located on an industrious block in Red Hook, Brooklyn. My assistants and I use this small but comfortable space at night while other female-owned businesses make sweets during the day. There’s a whole family-feel to the process, and this family – everyone who’s working hard to produce quality local products for one another – is doing it in Brooklyn.
What’s the vibe of Queen Majesty squeezed into a single word, or should we say bottle?
Yellow House Collective
“More now than ever, when you buy local you are reinvesting in the neighboring community by giving that business the means to grow, to hire, as well as to collaborate with other powerful minds on creative endeavors.”
Husband and wife Sean and Brandy live in Greenpoint and work in the film industry together. Because of their background in freelance production, the progression to local business owners of Yellow House Collective was a fairly natural one. They knew there was a void in themselves that the film business wasn’t filling, and bringing vintage modern props onto set – and into your home – felt like the perfect way to fill and fuel their need for creativity.
How has your understanding of ‘shopping locally’ evolved over the years?
Because of social media and the number of websites that offer local classified advertising for small business, ‘shopping locally’ can start online and at any hour of the day. Technology is now a powerful tool that enables a local designer, fabricator or artist to have a competitive edge in the marketplace. This is great because, unlike big box chain stores, a small business owner understands how hard work and all that goes into making its venture successful will benefit its employees and local customers.
How do you choose the pieces of furniture that you carry?
We strive to find items that are timeless and versatile, as all of our products are heavy on mid-century modern influence. When you shop at Yellow House Collective, you are not only supporting us as a local company but, in turn, the artists and designers we team-up with up for refinishing or re-upholstery. It’s important to us that each piece comes from a good home with local roots.
What’s the vibe of Yellow House Collective squeezed into a single word?
Thanks, Brooklyn! Keep being you.