Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brooklyn General

Brooklyn General (128 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, btwn Columbia & Hicks, phone: 718.237.7753, fas: 718.237.4688, is located in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. I took the F train from Manhattan to Carroll Street, got out at the back end of the train, and walked west on Union Street through Carroll Gardens. It turned out to be a fairly long walk by lots of pretty brownstones.

Union Street is in the part of Carroll Gardens that turns into a wonderland from Halloween to Christmas. The brownstones have little patches of garden out front that turn into Ghostlands and Christmasworlds with moving sculptures and tons of lights (and sometimes even noises). It's a huge attraction for the surrounding neighborhoods. Kids and adults alike dress up and walk through the streets enjoying all the holiday hullaballoo together.

After about 5 minutes of walking, I reached the highway bridge that crosses from Carroll Gardens into Red Hook. The store was on the next block. I entered and found an abundance of beautiful, high quality yarns. (Very much worth the walk!)

Brooklyn General carries many yarns that I love: Fiber Company's Road to China, Malabrigo, Blue Sky, Botanical Shades, Manos, and many more. The store also carries fabrics, notions, sewing patterns, felt, some clothing, and dolls. I would describe the feel of the store as "Knitty City meets Purl."

A very nice woman at the cash register (whose name, I am ashamed to admit, I did not ask) told me about the store policy of carrying entirely natural fibers. Only a few yarns have traces of synthetics (namely the sock yarns: a little bit of nylon can add a lot of durability). In the coming weeks, many of the yarns will be available through an internet store as well (on the website).

(photo from their website)
Brooklyn General is owned by Catherine Clark and Katie Metzger. Catherine is also a midwife and works across the street. They used to run the store out of a tiny space adjacent to the midwifery. Everyone was very happy there, but when the space became available across the street, the two grabbed the opportunity and gained lots of room for new yarns and fabrics...

When I took my pictures, I noticed that people seem to enjoy hanging out in this store. The back is very roomy, with a comfortable couch and a large table. Yarn shelves separate the area from the front, creating a sense of privacy. A large selection of books begs to be explored. I was very tempted to stay and hang out, but I had to get going, so I browsed a little, leaving with two skeins of worsted Malabrigo for my nephew's birthday. When I got home, I emailed my questions to Catherine, who answered promptly.

Me: When did you open your store?

Catherine: In 2003

Me: How did you choose this location?

Catherine: We live in the neighborhood. In fact, I live across the street. When Frank's Department Store became available, we couldn't resist the old "general store" appeal. We always wanted our shop to be like the Olsen's store in "Little House on the Prairie".

Me: Who is your staff?

Catherine: We have several part time staff: Heather Love, Laura Cromwell, Jennifer Divina, Esther Rosenberg. Katie Metzger runs the fabric side of the shop, and I run the yarn and fiber side of the shop.

Me: How do you choose your yarns?

Catherine: I choose my yarns with my heart (and certainly not my head!). If I love something, I will stock it. I choose only natural fibers because I love the way they feel and smell.

Me: Who makes your store samples?

Catherine: I make most of the store samples.

Me: Do you offer classes, and if yes, which ones?

Catherine: We offer many classes, too many to list. They are on our website.

Me: What got you into yarns?

Catherine: I have been knitting since I was 5 years old. I don't think being a midwife really has much to do with the yarn business, but there are many overlapping aspects to my two careers. Helping women is the primary mission of both businesses. In addition, I often have customers that become my clients and vise versa. Sometimes I will see a client for a visit and then run to the shop to do some work, and I end up helping the same woman in the shop.

Me: Do you think people are knitting more or less since the recession?

Catherine: It seems people are knitting more since the recession. I think people want to occupy their time with handwork rather than go out to dinner. Even though you need to spend money for supplies, you have the process as well as the final product .

After I left the store, I walked back east on Union street to Court street. Court Street houses my favorite bakery, Sweet Melissa, which catered our wedding desserts: madeleines and chocolate covered strawberries. Sweet Melissa is known for its chocolate, pistachio, and hazelnut madeleines (as well as many other things). I would kill for them, so I decided spontaneously to celebrate our anniversary. When I came home I put the bag in front of Adam.
"Happy anniversary," I said.
"But it's not our anniversary."
"Well," I said," it is the 10th anniversary of our being together on a September 21st--so there! Happy September 21st Anniversary!"
We both laughed and enjoyed our madeleines. Later, as I was falling asleep, I thought up a perfect trip:

First, I'd take the IKEA ferry from Battery Park in Manhattan (I think it's still free) over to Red Hook, then I'd walk the couple of blocks north on Columbia Street to Brooklyn General (rather than walking from the subway). I'd go yarn shopping at Brooklyn General, then walk over to Court Street (hopefully during Halloween or after Thanksgiving). Then I'd go to Sweet Melissa and grab a bunch of madeleines. Full and happy, I'd head back home on the F train.

I hope I have time to do that, soon! :-)


Penny said...

the signs i've seen at the store state that the ferry is no longer free unless you spend at least $10... don't forget a stop over to fairway!

Sinje Ollen said...

Thanks. I looked it up. Here's what I found: "The Water Taxi will now run Monday to Friday, from 2:00pm to 7:40pm and costs $5.00, however Ikea customers who spend $10.00 or more per person will receive an immediate $5.00 credit on their purchase to ride the Water Taxi the same day. Children 12 & under ride for free. Weekend service will remain free of charge to all riders and will run 11:40am - 8:00pm."