Neighborhood boutiques–the intimate alternatives to department stores, are a dying breed. But who doesn’t love a store with unusual finds that makes shopping more like a treasure hunt? Or a place where you can pop in just to say hi (no sales pressure)? Welcome Shoppe, a jewel-box size boutique, is that kind of place. For anyone who prefers unique, artisanal clothing it is not to be missed. The store’s allure is not surprising; owner Robin Weiss is a retail veteran and pioneer who brought Dries Van Noten and Marni to Brooklyn 15 years ago at her store Butter. (Weiss recently had twins, so most days you will find Marie at Welcome Shoppe; Marie has equally exquisite taste and will happily pull down anything from the folded stacks to help you find what you want.) Here Robin tells TFI why Welcome, her new favorite brands, and more.
What inspired you to open Welcome Shoppe?
After Butter I took a hiatus and traveled. When I moved back to New York I found an apartment on 12th and Broadway. One day my friend and I were walking around the neighborhood and found this jewelry store (we were looking for a wine bar). The owner was so nice, she proceeded to tell me her life story and said that after 25 years she was giving up the space and leaving in two weeks. I looked at my friend and said ‘Am I going to open up another store?– which I had no intention of doing. It was serendipity. Two weeks later I was signing a lease.
I started with nothing, I sold some cute cotton striped T-shirts I manufactured, and then I called a bunch of old Butter designers such as Monika from A Detacher and asked for stock.
How would you define Welcome Shoppe?
Welcome Shoppe is similar to Butter in that it is all about the new and the unexpected, and just things I love and people I enjoy doing business with. It is about clean lines but also pieces that are hard to find, things that are adventurous, and things that aren’t so polished and perfect. With my space, which is 80 square feet, it’s all about the pieces and not about brands. I love the craft—how it’s made, where it’s made and who makes it. I like seeing the humanity in the stitches.
What are your favorite brands now?
There is a line called Pero, made by an Italian who works out of her factory in India. The craftsmanship on her pieces is phenomenal, and they are not cheap, but she let’s me customize pieces, which is really cool. I love Kapital from Japan. I buy their men’s because that is what they bring to the U.S., but they bring some women’s for me. I love A Detacher…Mona is a true designer and even though she has a store in New York, I can buy her collection my way. For shoes I love an Italian line Officine Creative—they are cool and classic with a little twist. I’m also a huge pottery fan and it’s interesting working with potters. I carry work from Suzanne Sullivan, a Brooklyn designer and school teacher. I give her a budget and she makes what she wants and drops it off at the store whenever it’s ready. And you pray that she’ll make you more stuff. I put it on Instagram the day she was dropping pieces off and we had people waiting outside for the store to open.
Neighborhood boutiques seem to be a dying breed. Why do you think it has been so successful?
Because of our customers and the neighborhood. Our customers are so supportive, these people can afford to go anywhere and do whatever they want, but they really want me here.
People will come just to say hi. Holly Hunter used to live in the neighborhood and she would come over and say ‘you need something from around the corner, a bottle of water or something?’. Now she lives in Brooklyn, but she and her husband still come to the store and shop. We have a client who comes from Morocco to visit her sister in New York and loads up twice a year.
I’ll never make a million off this store, but I love the retail business at this scale, it’s fun.
What’s next for Welcome Shoppe?
We just launched our site and it’s still a work in progress. I want to do more kids and home online. I love textiles, but it’s hard to sell them in the store. Plus now that I have two babies I am immersed in that world. Marie is such an amazing vintage jewelry buyer so we’re going to add more jewelry to the site. But who knows? If another space pops up…..There are no good shoe stores in New York anymore. Maybe a Welcome Shoes….