Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue strip has always been a destination for affordable homewares, but in recent weeks a couple of young women have opened home design shops that stand out amidst the 99-cent stores and budget appliance centers. “Most of my clients are what I’ll call of the Williamsburg persuasion,” admits Erica Lewis, the 24-year-old who opened Copper + Plaid two weeks ago. Still, she and Ashley Burson, who last month opened Burson & Reynolds just a few doors down, hope to be embraced by the newcomers and the old-timers in their rapidly changing community.
Burson, who is 30, grew up in Laguna Beach, California where she started working in the fabrics and fashion industry at age 15. She says Burson & Reynolds, a boutique arts, crafts, and homewares store, was inspired by her two favorite stores in her hometown: “the store I worked for, Lala, which was started by my mentor Kerry Cassill, and a gift store that always smelled really nice and had eclectic cast-iron things,” Burson said. “I just wanted to have really interesting and affordable gift items because it’s hard to find around here.”
One half of the store is dedicated to bedding items, including organic wool covers from Washington state. The other half is dedicated to kitchen items (hand-carved wooden utensils, hand-painted Polish pottery) and other home items, like candles and picture frames.
Burson and her husband have been living in Greenpoint for just over five years (their two toddlers accompany her to work every day), and many of her customers are also families and young couples. “A lot of my clients have lived in the neighborhood for four, five, eight years. Some of them longer than I have. But they’re all roughly in their thirties and forties. But I still get locals, lots of old Polish ladies come for the bedding and pillows.”
Among her bestselling items, so far, are cast-iron bottle openers, especially two in the shape of a menacing bunny and bear that are wall-mounted. Candles, candle holders, picture frames, and pillow cases also sell regularly.
Affordability is Burson’s top priority. “People are consistently surprised by the prices. I’ve walked around and could not find a coffee mug for under $40. My most expensive one is $14,” she said.
Burson is aware of what’s happening around Greenpoint. “We’re getting right in the beginning of…I don’t want to say gentrification because I really like the Polish people in our neighborhood. But it’s changing. This used to be an old shoe store. Some of the places that have been here for twenty years either the owners are retiring or they’re just closing. Maybe it’s due to rising rents.”
While Burson brings in new items from around the country and world, Lewis’s store stocks vintage goods and antiques store.
Lewis was born in Jacksonville, Florida but has been living on a farm in Pennsylvania for the past 15 years. Since she was 13 she’s been fascinated by vintage items. She started collecting high-end clothing from the ’30s and ’40s and in her late teens moved into furniture from the ’60s and ’70s. After years of traveling all over the country and attending auctions and estate sales, Lewis was finally ready to open her own store. She did so in Greenpoint because it was “a very comforting mix of old and now new shops coming in and they’re intermingling and it’s very nice. I liked the traffic that came through, a mixture of old and young, people migrating from Williamsburg and then the existing Polish community who I think are extremely sweet, very nice people.”
She says 80 percent of her business are young professionals. “They like the atmosphere and going to a cute, little store.”
Everything in the store, a hodgepodge of clothing, furniture, artwork, and random other items (a cocktail suitcase), is personally curated by her. Hanging near the register are two sets of antlers, one caribou and the other an adolescent moose. Nearby lay a 1960s metal serving tray that was used for barbecues. Hanging on the wall among framed paintings is a Japanese poster from 1988 from a Japanese museum that no longer exists (she found it in Vermont).
“People really like bar carts. I had a really beautiful brass one that sold the first day I opened. A few people came in to look at it and a woman came rushing in and snapped it up. Glassware sells very well, I do a lot of 1960s, 1970s glassware people really enjoy. Vintage fabrics and scarves seem to be very big. I’ve also sold a couple really cool very unique needlepoint artwork,” she said.
Lewis believes that change for the neighborhood is inevitable and, overall, a good thing and she’s happy with the warm reception she has received. “It’s very important to me to feel like I’m a part of the community here,” she said. “Actually a lot of the people who have lived here a long time are open to the change and realize they need it to stimulate the neighborhood to keep it as a nice family neighborhood.”