By Xiaoxian Liu
Music played in the background, comedy films were shown on the wall, and people, mostly from the same neighborhood, gathered in a cozy space on Queens Plaza South Thursday evening. They talked, laughed, drank, and relaxed as the weekend approached.
Contrary to impressions, the group of friendly neighbors aren’t at a community center. Instead, they’re sitting in a pop-up shop named “Made in Queens,” located near the Queensboro Plaza subway station.
Operating six days a week since it opened last June, the Made in Queens shop in Long Island City sells a rotating curation of artisanal products, crafts, food, home décor, and accessories that are exclusively made in Queens.
“This is a place for people to come together and find items that are manufactured locally with a local soul,” said Sante Antonelli, the manager of the store.
The store hires its own staff to help sell goods in the store, so makers, as the store calls the manufacturers of the borough-made products, do not need to peddle their wares themselves or even be on site. They can drop off their products and “go to work, go to vacation, and make more,” says Antonelli.
While many New York City markets charge vendors up to $150 per day to sell merchandise and $300 per day to sell food, the Made in Queens store charges a monthly fee of $100 to $300. Furthermore, 100 percent of the sales generated are the manufacturers to keep.
“We offer a great place for makers who don’t have big budgets or have full-time jobs other than manufacturing,” said Antonelli, who is also the director of business service at the Queens Economic Development Corporation. “We don’t guarantee to sell out all their products, because they have to guarantee their products are good and unique. We are more of a boutique shop rather than a flea market.”
Proposed in March 2016, the Made in Queens store is one of the Queens economic development group’s projects to mobilize locally made products and help small businesses in Queens.
“We’ve been wanting to promote local products for a long time, and noticed that many great small manufacturers lack a place to sell their goods,” said Seth Bornstein, the executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, who came up with the idea of opening Made in Queens. It received a one-time start-up grant of $40,000 from Capital One bank.
The store has attracted about 40 local manufacturers, including several small batch food manufacturers, local designers and tailors, as well as painters. It requires food makers to have a 20-C license, which is meant for food processing establishments. They all have to have the authority to collect sales tax.
“It’s not expensive to be there, and the store has been helpful for small business like us to grow,” said Ashleigh Crowther, who co-founded Ash Apothecary, a syrup manufacturer, with Demetrious O’Neil. “For us, it’s a great start to traditional retail.”
The Ash Apothecary produces all-natural syrups for cocktails, coffee and more in Long Island City, which are mostly sold at $14 dollars a bottle. Flavors include chocolate, honey, and vanillina.
“It’s good for the area,” said O’Neil, who created the recipes for syrups. “It’s still developing as other retail locations do. Our sales are increasing since we have been there, but it takes time for people to catch on.”
Daphne Yeh, an employee at the store, said the foot traffic for these three months has been relatively slow, but that’s probably because people were on vacation during the summer. She expects it will pick up during the holiday season.
Sandra Smith, a customized handbag maker in Flushing, says the store has given more her more publicity than actual profits. But she is more than okay with that.
She says that since she put her hand-made leather and cotton lining bags in the store, three media outlets have reached out to her and others have asked her to participate in craft shows. “It’s all about the exposure,” said Smith, who actually sells most of her products online, ranging in price from $20 to $220. “It’s wonderful that people wrote to me, saying that they read my story and were inspired, and wanted to buy my stuff.”
Antonelli, the store manager, said only one or two makers have not broken even. But he pointed out sustainability is a big issue for the store, as they are still looking for more makers to participate The goal is to transition to Made in Queens 2.0 in 2017 by opening another store.
“I hope the store becomes a place where new products can go through the R&D process to learn more about what consumers need and also a place where small local entrepreneurs can get exposure before going to a big retail store,” said Antonelli, “Maybe they will be able to open their own store one day.”