On the Road: Brooklyn General Store
128 Union St.
Catherine Clark has a beautiful vision: She wants to see everyone in Brooklyn, New York, making their own things. For the past three years, she and partner Katie Metzger have been doing their best to morph this vision into reality.
Their locally legendary shop, Brooklyn General Store, in Columbia Terrace—a family-friendly outpost of artists and other creative types along the borough's commercial shipping waterfront—stocks a delirious array of materials for making all sorts of things.
Bolts of vintage fabric, brightly patterned ribbons, spools of thread, needles and notions and milk paint and felt and fleeces and, of course, yarns were previously tucked into a snug, embracing shop a few steps down from the sidewalk on the north side of Union Street. (The back room served as an office for Catherine's midwifery practice.)
But Catherine and Katie have just finished moving the whole stash across the street to a 1,400-square-foot former department store, leaving their first locale entirely devoted to Catherine's often-overlapping clientele of craft junkies/new moms and moms-to-be. (It presents the sweetest-smelling waiting room anywhere in the city, redolent of lanolin and freshly washed handknits.)
Plans are underway to open up a skylight at the rear to let in even more natural light, and to stick a few lounging couches in nooks here and there amid the cubbies and bins. There is also room for three or four spinning wheels. "We've always wanted to offer spinning classes," says Catherine, "and now we can!"
The fall's roster of classes has begun already: sock, sweater, and quilting workshops; sewing and crochet classes; and special offerings for kids and 'tweens. And yes, one session of spinning is already up and running.
In addition, Catherine and Katie host Friday morning knitting breakfasts and Wednesday evening knitting clinics, as well as the unspoken promise to regulars that any time the shop is open is a good time to come in, sit and chat, get something going on the needles—and sit some more.
Says Catherine, "Our shop is like a community center. Before we opened, I always felt like I was intruding when I went in to a yarn store. I want the main focus of our store to be that it is welcoming." As a result, "We offer a lot of free help, and people come here to make their own projects, and they stay all day." Additionally, and unusually, kids-in-tow are encouraged—they can settle in to small chairs and knead yarn, pull down some Käthe Kruse dolls from the rack, or set themselves up at the spacious table in back to sculpt with modeling wax.
A Personal Venture
Understanding the history of the shop's owners, none of this seems at all surprising. Catherine and Katie are best friends, and both women have three kids, who are also each others' best friends. Brooklyn General seems to exude this sentiment, and to extend these personal relationships to all comers.
Catherine explains that the idea for the shop came from "wanting to do something creative—otherwise, I’m miserable." (Although she also admits that, due to her busy midwifery schedule, she often has to live vicariously through the creations of others.)
For years, she and Katie would go out and pretend to have business meetings and discuss what materials they needed to open a store, finally deciding that it should contain "everything we love." Ultimately, she says, "There wasn't much risk to actually doing it. I had a lot of the stuff in my house already, and when we opened, it was with two shelves of yarn we'd ordered from Rowan."
On the Shelves
Their yarn supply has come a long way since then. Catherine goes out of her way to buy an unusual and inspiring assortment, directly from farmers whenever possible. The latest fibers of her fancy include luscious Morehouse Merino, which the shop carries in three weights and a comprehensive collection of colors; silk and wool blend Tess' Designer Yarns, made in Maine by a woman named Melinda; and Decadent Fibers yarns, hand-dyed by two fiber artists in Pennsylvania.
With their new, abundant space, Catherine and Katie look forward to accumulating more supplies for the fabric arts. "Once we make money, we'll spend it," she says simply. Because Brooklyn General, you'll realize pretty quickly after arriving, is not so much about business as it is about having fun and making things.
About the author
Lela Nargi's most recent book is Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitter’s Life, an anthology featuring contributions by Teva Durham, Elanor Lynn, Clara Parkes, and a dozen other famous and not-so-famous knitters. Visit her at lelanargi.com.