During a recent visit to Amy’s Bread in downtown Brooklyn, the blue metal chairs out front sat empty. Inside, a lone customer ordered coffee. But don’t let the emptiness fool you; behind the counter there was a line of orders from Shop IN.
Shop IN NYC is a startup that connects small businesses to local shoppers. Launched in 2017, the app incentivizes foot traffic to small businesses by offering users personalized discounts.
Founder and CEO Maya Komerov wanted to create a business that helps people. Before Shop IN, she created a tech startup that sold software in Israel, where she’s from, but she didn’t find it fulfilling. “And after eight years, I’ve sold a company, I decided that I don’t want to sell more enterprise software,” she told me over Zoom, tucked away in her grey cowl neck sweater. Instead, she wanted to create a business that “solved big problems.” So, she made Shop IN.
However, the shutdown last March threatened her business. How do you incentivize foot traffic if people aren’t allowed to go anywhere? But Komerov and her colleagues saw the shutdown as an opportunity. People couldn’t go into local stores, so it was time to bring local stores to them.
Komerov and her team began signing up businesses who wanted to start delivering and rounded up a gaggle of drivers. They kept the stores in compact areas so drivers could pick up items from different locations without needing to drive halfway across the city. As more businesses joined, they created new driving routes– first in Brooklyn, then in Manhattan, and hopefully in the other boroughs soon.
Though Komerov wants to emphasize the community engagement and dedication of places like Amy’s Bread, Shop IN had one main competitor: Amazon. They wanted to combat the simplicity of shopping on Amazon, by making it easy to shop locally, and still receive your items within 24 hours. “We are better in service, we can come faster,” says Komerov. “We connect all the stores together to become an everything store.” Around 100 shops are currently signed on to sell everything from pet supplies, to home goods, to clothing, to books, and more want to join all the time. Komerov often likes to scroll through the gift section of the website to see what’s new.
One potential drawback is cost. “We’re not competing on prices. Probably the local businesses are not the cheapest one.” But Komerov is sure that people care more about supporting local business than price. Their catchy slogan– “Brooklyn Not Bezos,” later changed to “Boroughs not Bezos”– is splashed across New Yorkers’ social media.
M Collections in DUMBO started using Shop IN before the pandemic, wanting to increase their foot traffic. As a furniture store, they weren’t trying to stick some poor delivery driver with a couch. When the shutdown happened they were closed for three months. Though Shop IN’s switch to delivery wasn’t entirely feasible for M Collections, they were able to deliver smaller items. “It helps us get rid of accessories, with the traffic being down so much,” says Paul Walsh, one of the partners at M Collections. “We used to make our accessory sales through tourism, people just coming in being in the area.”
Walsh, who is tall and slim with a sleeve of tattoos, has been working at M Collections for three years. “They promote small businesses, which is perfect for us,” he says. “And I think it’s a great community builder, for sure.”
While Komerov says the business is “growing like 50 to 100 percent month over month” due to local shoppers, it has also caught the attention of some bigger names. Mayoral candidate and former presidential hopeful Andrew Yang supports Shop IN. His website lists it as one of the businesses he wants the city to invest in if he becomes mayor: “We can offer to directly invest in this company or in others looking to expand to the other boroughs.”
Tracey Solomon runs her company, Flatbush Granola, by herself, with the occasional help from friends and family. Tracey started selling her homemade granola in November 2019. Unsurprisingly, it became difficult to grow a fledgling company once New York shut down.
Solomon was determined to become one of the businesses on Shop IN. “I just started stalking them,” she tells me on Zoom. “I started sending the founders emails. I’d jump on their chat, like, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard from anybody yet.’”
Komerov wasn’t initially convinced that Flatbush Granola would sell, but was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “When she asked to join, I said, ‘Okay, let’s see how much granola she will sell,’” Komerov tells me. “I’m all the time surprised by the amount of granola that she’s selling.”
Solomon loves being on Shop IN because they care. “They’re constantly looking for new and different ways to feature and highlight the brands,” she says. “And they really engage us in those conversations, like what are different ways that we can tell your stories.”
Not only do they engage business owners, right now Shop IN wants to engage local chefs. They are working on launching a program where chefs around New York can share some of their favorite recipes. Then customers can have all the ingredients delivered from local businesses. The main advantage over other subscription boxes like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh? Everything from Shop IN is local.
Komerov doesn’t want to just connect the community through shopping, she also wants to give back. When you are doing your online shopping, you can also sign up to donate 1 percent of all current and future purchases to your school of choice. Dan Barman, the head of community outreach at Shop IN, tells me he reaches out to school PTAs to get parents involved. “Now you can have, you know, 40, 50, 100, 200 — you can get all the parents doing the online shopping that they’re gonna do anyway, and donating money back to the school,” he says.
Barman is bald and bearded, and sits in front of a Grateful Dead poster in his Williamsburg apartment. He thinks part of the reason he first got his job at Shop IN is because he has lived in Brooklyn for 13 years. “I just am very familiar with a lot of the businesses and the neighborhoods, especially in the north and northwest corner of Brooklyn.” This familiarity helps him reach out to new stores and grow the Shop IN community.
For customers looking for alternative ways to give back to the community, Shop IN offers care packages based on what local schools, shelters, health organizations etc. say they need the most. Then shoppers can view those lists and purchase donated goods.
“That’s what makes Shop IN special, they recognize that want to feel that feeling of neighborhood and community,” Solomon tells me. “And part of that has to do with getting your olives at Sahadi’s and walking down the street and getting some Amy’s Bread. That feeling is really priceless and is something that needs to be preserved. And you can’t get it from shopping at big box.”