Editor’s note: Hook Lines is a new biweekly column by Sadie Stein, an editor at the blog Jezebel and a Brooklyn resident, about the property and daily life of Red Hook. The first column can be read here.
“Sorry,” says Anne O’Neil, running across the street, clutching a sandwich, to unlock the door of her new shop, Tiburon. “I had to get lunch at Fort Defiance.” Usually, the longtime Red Hook resident explains, she’ll pull a passing acquaintance off the street and ask them to grab food.
But this weekend, that of the Fourth, a large party of Red Hook locals has traveled to one family’s country house in Vermont, where they are preparing a float of an enormous snail to enter in the town’s annual Independence Day parade. “So,” Ms. O’Neil says, “it’s kind of dead here.”
The shop, however, is anything but. The window is decorated in red, white and blue, with hand-painted baby onesies flying through the air like fireworks. (Artist friends are taking turns at window-dressing; this is the work of a former boss.) The airy interior bundles together jewelry and art, CDs by local bands with deliberately kitschy souvenir postcards and T-shirts featuring the neighborhood’s distinctive “R” sign.
To anyone familiar with Red Hook’s gritty small-town ethos, the shop’s somewhat casual beginnings—it opened in April—will come as no shock, even in an era when small businesses are tightening belts and looking anxiously at the bottom line. Not that the recession doesn’t figure into Tiburon’s history.
“I’d been laid off,” says Amy Sarisky, the shop’s co-owner, “or I could never have done it. … I’d been wishing the area had a shop, a place where you could just stop in for a small gift or a card. As it was, you had to travel out of the neighborhood.”
“I was making dresses to avoid writer’s block,” says Ms. O’Neil, whose breezy cotton shifts, made from vintage men’s shirts and sold under the name “Archibald Leach,” are one of Tiburon’s biggest sellers. “And when my friend said they wanted to lease this space, it just seemed like fate.”
“Anne ran into the Good Fork one night,” says Ms. Sarisky, of Red Hook’s premiere restaurant, “and she explained that this local artist wanted to lease part of his studio—she didn’t even know that opening a store was a dream of mine.”
So they took the space. Until last week, it doubled as the artist-landlord’s studio, and they had to work around his desk and dismantle their displays at the end of the day. “All our friends pitched in … we definitely cashed in all our favors,” Ms. Sarisky says. “And we wanted very much to integrate the neighborhood into the space: One friend made us shelves out of a piece of driftwood from the pier; almost all the pieces have history.”
The name came easily; after discovering that “Fort Defiance,” the 18th-century Red Hook stronghold, had already been claimed by the restaurant their friend was opening across the street, they chose to name the shop after a late, lamented bodega that had existed further down Van Brunt. “And of course,” Ms. O’Neil says, “that gave us the shark theme to play with.”
Then there was the inventory. “Almost everyone we know here makes something, and we loved the idea of having a showcase for it,” Ms. O’Neil says. They approached those people who they knew crafted as a hobby, and others started coming out of the woodwork. “Someone would say, ‘Hey, I knit hats,’ or, ‘I’m trying silk-screening,’” Ms. Sarisky explains. “And the great thing is, we could afford to let them try it.”
Of course, the DIY ethos—and the fact that the owners are friends with nearly all the suppliers—has meant some aesthetic flexibility. “It’s required some diplomacy,” Ms. O’Neil says carefully. She admits that sometimes dealing with friends lessens the sense of obligation a supplier might feel, and adds that “it can be hard to play professional business owner when everyone at the bar knows I got locked inside my apartment for a full day.” And “professionalism” can be a challenge at the best of times. “Basically,” Ms. Sarisky laughs, “these are all people who are too lazy to do Etsy.”
When they opened (with a raucous gala catered by friends and featuring free local beer Six Point), the two figured the majority of their business would come from day-trippers visiting the twin meccas of Fairway and Ikea—“some people act like Red Hook’s another planet; they buy the postcards”—but as it turns out the business has been largely local. “I think they’re happy that we’re actually of the neighborhood,” Ms. Sarisky says. “And it really is filling a vacuum.”
Given the number of local contributors, the community’s investment is literal, although Ms. O’Neil says the pair hopes to add more wholesale and, as Ms. Sarisky adds, “now we have a few things made by people we don’t know!”
But Tiburon will, they hope, remain a neighborhood spot first and last. “It’s nice to be able to give our friends a check every month, even if it’s just $50,” Ms. Sarisky says. The shop has quickly become a gathering place, and the owners look forward to a time when they can do small gallery showings or maybe use it as a performance space. Whether the shop signals a renaissance for Van Brunt or a triumph of the will, it’s easily become a part of the landscape. “When I get down,” Ms. O’Neil says, “I’ll realize I can’t close because all of Red Hook has our back.”