“Buying. That’s my addiction,” admitted Oliver Harkness, the Irish-born owner of Quality Mending Co. speaking with us over the phone. Walking into Harkness’ recently opened branch on Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, the fruits of his vice are plain to see.
A rack of old 45s (mostly early reggae), a bucket of name patches (Earl, Steve & Joe), some Daniel Johnston cassette tapes and limited edition Opinel “Tour de France” knives are just some of the welcome additions to Quality Mending Co.’s more staple stock of handmade denim wares and vintage leather jackets, available in the new Williamsburg space.
One might consider this a rather eclectic collection, but that’s exactly why Harkness opened his larger branch in the first place. “The Prince Street store is quite small, so I can’t really show everything I wanted,” he said, noting the difficulty in finding decent square footage in the city. Bringing the store to Williamsburg was as much a practical decision for Harkness as it was an inevitable one. “There’s a market in Williamsburg [that] I’ll get a chance to learn from, experiment with and find what I have that I can bring to the area,” he said.
In a way, this is not too different from what Harkness has always done — experimenting with tastes and markets across two continents over the past 30 years. Like most long stories, the company bio begins with a girl. “Back in ’78, I had a girlfriend in North England I’d visit every few weekends when she was at university,” recalled Harkness. He took to hunting for “things” on these trips and would go on to sell them at London’s vintage mecca, Camden Market.
Harkness traded in Camden for over a decade, continuing to sell to clients even after he made the jump across the pond to New York. But as his collection grew, he began to find many of his buyers unable to front the money. He decided at this point to move into retail. While this decision bought Harkness a certain level of security, he’s come to find owning a store has its own set of complications (his Prince Street store’s basement flooded, twice, on the eve of the Williamsburg branch’s opening).
“I’d say we lost between $20-25,000 in merchandise that was in the basement from the first flood. I didn’t even count from the second,” said Harkness, adopting a zen-like approach to the whole matter. “It’s not the landlord’s fault, it was likely a rusted pipe or something. I believe everything happens for a reason and right now all I can do is focus on getting the Williamsburg store up and running.”
To that end, Harkness has taken a space previously occupied by artists and a one-time “pickle factory” and turned it into a denim-strewn, vintage menagerie complete with an impressive collection of Big Boy dolls and a pair of original 1969 Jimi Hendix tour posters. Given as a “good luck gift,” the posters are just one of the many gems Psychic TV front(wo)man Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’ has contributed toward Harkness’s stores over the years. “[P-Orridge] is constantly sending me little boxes […] his taste is incredible, it’s always stuff that I say, ‘Why the hell did you get that’ but then I stick it up on the shelf and it sells right away,” he said. In turn, Harkness acts as the sole stockist of Psychic TV merchandise, further defying Quality Mending Co.’s unique sensibility.
Just how unique? Now is likely your best time to find out, seeing as the store is running a 50%-off sale until Labor Day. And for the isle-inclined, in an effort to help recover some of the flood losses, the store will also be holding a $5-55 sale at its Prince Street location, too. Primarily the sale is aimed at helping bring revenue back into the store, but more so for Harkness, it’s comes down to enablement. “I just want to sell more, so I can go out and buy more — that’s the addiction, unfortunately.”
Quality Mending Co., 705 Driggs Ave., bet. Grand and S 1st Streets; open daily, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.