We've been in Brooklyn long enough to recognize subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, signs of change. And often, when you own a small business, those changes can mean an increase in foot traffic. But almost just as often, along with that uptick, comes another, more ominous increase in rent.
When we left our 3rd Avenue sewing studio about four years ago (which, btw, is now occupied by the amazing Brooklyn Robot Foundry) we started asking ourselves what we really wanted out of the next studio space we moved into. We've had a shop for over 15 years but, except for a brief period in 2004/05, our teaching and production have usually been off-site. So as we talked it over (and over and over), weighing our options, again and again we came back to the same theme: a beautiful retail space with an open-view of a bustling studio where we would teach classes, manufacture a local brand of clothing, and offer creative opportunities to our neighborhood. Dare to dream, right?
Then about a year later it started to become clear that things in the North Slope were changing and changing fast. Businesses that had been there for years with a robust clientele were closing their doors and either moving physically or leaving brick and mortar behind and moving online. We had to start to contemplate whether we'd be able to look at that location as a long-term possibility anymore. We'd been hard at work for all these years and the idea that it could all vanish in a flourish of a pen was a bit hard to swallow. We really couldn't bide our time.
I'm not going to go on and on about how bad stadiums are for small retail businesses (they are) but I will say that with the opening of Barclay's Center the retail climate of the area was rapidly changing and small shops like ours were facing enormous increases in rent (and sometimes experiencing surprising decreases in foot traffic) when their leases came up. Wanting the high rents that food and drink can more easily support landlords were making it impossible for small retail tenants to stay. Even though it meant sometimes entire blocks of storefronts were vacant while they waited for a big ticket occupant it wasn't enough to dissuade them. We saw the writing on the wall and not ones to be caught unaware we started to make plans.
We were very drawn to the South Slope for obvious reasons. We've been in business in Park Slope for almost 12 years. Many of our regular customers seeking more reasonable rents and more space had already started making the move in that direction so it seemed only natural to follow suit. Patti saw a listing and we suddenly found this space (that story I will leave for another time) and we decided to bite the bullet. We sunk in every extra penny we had to build it out exactly how we imagined it and it turned out beautifully!
For two years we carried on with both locations but in October of last year we sat with our landlords of 11 years and we all shed tears as we realized that they wanted more rent than was sensible for us to pay. We didn't want leave the North Slope and they didn't want us to go but we had to all make the decision that was best for ourselves and in the end we turned down the renewal they offered us. It was maybe the hardest business decision we'd ever had to make and up to the moment we closed the door behind us we still asked ourselves if we made the right decision.
And we haven't looked back! We have enough space for retail, teaching, and manufacturing. We have great neighbors like Roots Cafe, The Grand Prospect Hall, Sidecar, Freddy's, Sea Witch and Woops! bakery. We have our incredible customers who come from far and wide to support us and spend their money with us and say nice things to us. We are fortunate that we have a huge community of people who appreciate what we do and we hope they know that we appreciate them just as much and likely a lot more than they can even imagine. We have creative students making everything from stuffed animals to wedding dresses and independent designers throwing trunk shows. We make beautiful clothing and hold sewing camps during school breaks. So in the end, as difficult a decision as it was to make, we made it. And we couldn't be happier that we did.