A Summer Shopping Experience
by Atim Annette Oton and Bonnie Sandy Sterling
Summer is here and already the traffic is hectic and in full blast. Who’s coming? Who’s going and what to take with you for vacation? What can you get? And more importantly, where can you find it? The age-old shopping questions prevail.
This summer, a good number of Brooklynites are preparing for trips to their home towns or countries, having a friend or relative visit them, or, our favorite, visiting the homeland of newfound friends. As always, the summer brings street festivals, ethnic celebrations, crab festivals or for the Caribbean community, an exhilarating trail of carnival destinations and endless boat rides. This year’s celebrations start off earlier with June’s Caribbean Heritage month celebration. May brings BAM’s Dance Africa on Memorial Day weekend and the International African Festival begins on July 4 rather than ending on it.
If this is not your first summer in Brooklyn, take note, things are changing here. From Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill to Prospect Heights (Flatbush, Vanderbilt and Washington Avenues), these venues are again becoming shopping destinations, while the shops of Lewis Avenue and Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood businesses are taking a proactive approach to marketing. All this will make visiting the heart of Brooklyn and your shopping experiences even better, and you will be well prepared to navigate these destinations.
Much has changed, so both the Brooklyn Fashion Gallery (www.brooklynfashiongallery.com) and the magazine editor went shopping to see some great old places and the new places that have popped up. And based on this, we urge all businesses to update their information online, as a good number of shoppers are searching for them that way.
If you are new to Brooklyn, just park your car, get a subway pass and hop on a train or a bus. The conventional trips to malls and trendy Manhattan shopping areas may be fun, but hold your wallets. There have been recent trends in the return of Brooklyn shops, “Fast Fashion” and a new wave of “cheap-and-cheerful stores” that are becoming the places to shop. Most importantly, these places have honed on the market and created thriving neighborhood discount stores that have become the place to shop today.
As passionate as we are about Brooklyn designers, we also enjoy the variety of “fast fashion” outlets and the small retail shops that have distinct Brooklyn character. Now to our first summer shopping escape. Be prepared – Brooklyn’s summer sun can be damaging even to dark skin tones. So, remember to use sun block. Most importantly, dress appropriately, as you will be walking a good bit with shopping bags.
When you mention shopping to Brooklynites, some people may be tempted to direct you to the malls — Gateway Mall, Atlantic Plaza Mall, and Kings Plaza. We’d much rather keep you in three key neighborhoods: Prospect Heights, Fort Greene/Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant. These three places are redefining shopping at small stores and the concept of “boutique” shopping.
Revitalization has reached Prospect Heights. In the rents and diversity of the new movers, places to shop are popping up across these heights. This neighborhood is small and walkable. We suggest beginning the journey on Flatbush Avenue with two favorite haunts – Harriet’s Alter Ego and Redberi- for delightful fashion and accessories. Make sure you pause to see the latest exhibition at Harriet’s. Walk a block away from Flatbush to Vanderbilt Avenue, and explore Red Lipstick, a great find; Soles, for shoes; and Pieces to complete your fashion wardrobe. Just remember, Brooklyn retail rules apply – most of these shops are closed on Mondays.
Further on Washington Avenue, two blocks away, we suggest you check out Calabar Imports, of course. It may be our editor’s favorite place but if you are seeking to decorate your home rather than yourself and you have a tendency for diverse, eclectic and exotic taste, this is the place for unique gifts. Come back there for late night shopping every first Saturday of the month for great steals and join their mailing list, like all the other stores. Down the road is the newly opened Jamila’s, who has returned to the market, this time on Sterling Place with unique clothing and accessories. Just two blocks down, before you end your Prospect Heights adventure at the exotic Hersadia for lingerie on Franklin Avenue, yes, Franklin is becoming a new place to look. And a stroll back into the Brooklyn Museum or maybe the garden with some of your purchases is a relaxing pause for the day.
At St. John’s Place and Washington Avenue, hop on the bus to Bedford Stuyvesant. Begin on Tompkins Avenue. Nestled between Hancock Street and Jefferson Avenue, there are two fashion shops, Calabash and Debonaire, doing fashion the Bed-Stuy way. On the same block, stop in at three other shops for your home decor needs — Ibo Landing, Jefferson Antiques and the Victorian. Remember, a great find is a great find, and this is a great trip to spend a few hours shopping, If you end up bringing home a couch, good thing delivery is available.
After Tompkins, we suggest you move on to Lewis Avenue to three others — FreeStyle Kids, Little Red Boutique and House of Brown.
Leave Bed-Stuy and head to Fulton Street in Fort Greene. This strip is packed with major bargain chains and outlets. They have upped their quality, and have access to the latest fashion — bringing in fierce competition for the small shops that we love to shop at. Begin at Raif; at the corner of Vanderbilt and Fulton, this is the beginning of Bogolan, the place that make Brooklyn fashion hip and created the concept of not your everyday “off the rack” clothing boutique. Here, you find tailoring the one-of-a-kind way and an array of fabrics with African-inspired patterns embellished with playful splits.
Walk on further and pass the park and Cakeman Raven. You are now in the shopping heart and soul of Fort Greene, a place called Bogolan. First, there is 4W Circle of Art & Enterprise, a retail cooperative boutique and incubator where you can find the works of a conglomeration of artisans and craftsmakers. On the stroll downward, you will run into Moshood, Brooklyn’s premier African urban fashion designer. Then stop at Addy and Ferro, a boutique for emerging and established designers for men and women (great place to pick up a Tracy Reese). Across you will see Michael Shane Bridal, a place to go for those looking for wedding gear. But make sure you stop in to see Courtney Washington’s new set of summer cottons and knits. Spend some more time here to explore other great finds like Brenda Brunson Bey’s Tribal Truths on South Oxford, which opens late afternoons and is one of the places for an Afro-fused line of clothing. While you’re there, check out Yu Interiors on Greene Avenue for a mix of vintage and new furniture.
Finally, we head to the end of our escape — to Clinton Hill and Myrtle Avenue. Who would have predicted that this thoroughfare would become associated with shopping? But when Jonathan Adewumi moved his Nigerian Fashion and Fabrics there, we knew that more businesses would follow. After his experience down the road in Bogolan, the change was coming, though he has moved on to Franklin Avenue. Much should be credited to the work of the Myrtle Avenue BID and the store owners who had the gumption to build the avenue. And here, you will find Tres Elegante, Karen’s Body Beautiful, Head Over Heels for shoes and Kiini Ibura Jewelry. Make sure you head to Frosted Moon Emporium, around the corner on Vanderbilt Avenue.
Outside these three areas of Brooklyn, three shops seem to be Brooklynites’ trade secret. Chernin’s Shoe Outlet on Livingston Street. A Chicago based shoe outlet chain, here you can find bargains from major shoe labels. Simply, forget DSW — they may be the competitor … but we love Chernin’s better. The second is one that most people pretend not to shop at: Bobby’s is where the Caribbean community comes for “cheap” shopping thrills. The Flatbush/Church Avenue shopping area sees bus loads of visitors descend with empty suitcases baring shelves at this store. It’s a clean-up, alright! And the newly opened Olives on Halsey and Malcom X Boulevard is looking to be another winner.
After this varied and rich experience, you will no doubt understand that Brooklyn is the new black, and the “Brooklyn Style” edition of New York Magazine that said that Brooklyn is “looser and more playful than its Manhattan counterpart, homey and ironic, comfortable but always conscious of its looks, and often of its politics (green and recycled are key)” is right on track. Brooklyn is hip and cool. And it is the place for shopping in New York.
Brooklyn Shopping Escapade Listings
Compiled by Atim Annette Oton
In Prospect Heights:
Calabar Imports, 820 Washington Avenue, 638-4288
Hooti Couture, 321 Flatbush Avenue, 857-1977
Jamila’s Boutique, 461 Sterling Place,
Pieces, 671 Vanderbilt Avenue, 857-7211
redberi, 339 Flatbush Avenue, 622-1964
RedLipstick, 560 Vanderbilt Avenue, 857-9534
In Fort Greene:
B2Gear, 777 Fulton Steet,
Courtney Washington, 674 Fulton Street, 852-6899
Michael Shane Bridal, 771 Fulton Street, 237-1450
Moshood, 698 Futlon Street, 243-9433
My Little India, 96 S. Elliot Place, 855-5220
Raif Atelier. 887 Fulton Street, 622-2377
Tribal Truths, 117 S Oxford Street, 643-8322
Yu Interiors, 15 Greene Avenue, 237-5878
In Clinton Hill:
Tres Elegante, 386 Myrtle Avenue, 522-9850
Karen’s Body Beautiful, 436 Myrtle Ave, 797-4808
J. Love Gifts, 485 Myrtle Avenue, 638-6333
Kiini Ibura Jewelry, 388 Myrtle Avenue, 213-9686
In Bedford Stuyesant:
Afroart, Stuyvesant Avenue,
Calabash Clothing, Lewis Avenue,
Ibo Landing, 402 Tompkins Ave, Brooklyn, 230-7900
Jefferson Antiques, 397 Tompkins Ave,
Off the Main:
Bobby’s Dept. Store, 1601 Church Avenue, 693-7600
Chernin’s Shoe Outlet, 282 Livingston St, 260-0077
All area codes are 718, of course!