A Bushwick store with strong ties to the community is celebrating ten years in business.
Friends NYC was created by Mary Meyer and Emma Kadar-Penner. The two were friends prior to opening the store and lived together when Kadar-Penner first moved to New York City. Meyer was working as a designer for a fashion line at the time while Kadar-Penner was working with her when Meyer floated the idea of opening a store together.
“She knew how much I loved vintage clothing, and I was working in fashion in museums,” said Kadar-Penner. “So it was really organic when Mary said, ‘Do you want to have a vintage store with me here’ in this space that she had, and I said yes.”
The two started the store with a 90s feel, with the name of the store not only referencing their own friendship but also the TV show “Friends.” Both Kadar-Penner and Meyer worked multiple jobs before the store took off, allowing them to make the store their full-time jobs.
“We both come from different backgrounds that we didn’t study business, we didn’t come from a place of having worked in a corporate retail environment, and then decided to open the shop,” said Meyer. “Other than high school jobs, I don’t think either of us had worked in retail before this.”
The store itself has gone through many iterations over the years, starting out as just a rack and a table and eventually evolving into a unique spot that is sort like a hidden treasure in Bushwick.
“We’re in a really weird space, it’s an industrial converted commercial space, not a traditional retail space,” said Meyer. “It‘s semi-subterranean, there are pipes everywhere and high ceilings. It has this Brooklyn effect, tourists love it.”
Currently, when you walk into Friends NYC you will find a plethora of unique home goods and gifts, including their original line of tube socks and candles (including a pizza-scented candle that will be hitting shelves soon). The store has evolved from its original vintage clothing roots, but still has a good boost of nostalgia. Meyer and Kadar-Penner pride themselves on offering products that you won’t find anywhere else.
“We’re millennials, so basically a lot of what inspires the home goods, the smoke stuff, kind of has a nostalgia having to do with being a young person or a teenager,” said Kadar-Penner. “Then we also focus on whimsy and funny, so anything that makes you kinda chuckle or say, hey this is unique, that’s another thing that influences what we buy. We really try to find stuff that’s locally made, made in the community, and also things that are well made in other countries, supporting artists is a big part of it. We try to have stuff that not everyone else will have.”
Very early on, Friends NYC was very community-oriented. Meyer and Kadar-Penner started to host public events in the space, including “Natty Thursdays,” where customers can drink natural wine and shop around, and flash tattoo events, where a tattoo artist is on-site giving flash tattoos while customers shop and party.
“I feel like we were community-oriented from the beginning. Previous to this, I had a live/work space in Greenpoint. We used to throw events in that space and have bands play, have parties and that sort of thing. When we transferred over to this space, which also was like had a similar vibe, in the beginning, we were throwing shows and would have DJs in the space,” said Meyer. “Now we’re at a point where we can’t facilitate that type of party because there’s too much merchandise in the current space we’re in.”
Regardless of what kind of space they were working with, Kadar-Penner and Meyer felt it was very important to be involved in the community the store was in, and it all came together very naturally.
“It evolved very organically and had to do with the community that Emma and I were a part of here in Brooklyn,” said Meyer. “Also just the fact that we had a public space and wanted to share that and just be able to offer forth something that we had.”
Like many businesses in New York City, Friends NYC faced shutdowns in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The store closed down from March through July, and during this time, public events came to a full stop and the store started to really get its online store (which opened in 2018) off the ground to keep sales up.
When the store was able to open back up, Friends NYC drastically cut down how many people would be allowed in the store at one time.
“We were pretty conservative with that. Although the store is pretty big and open, we were lucky in that we could have more people than a tiny boutique,” said Kadar-Penner. “But there were less people. We were used to Saturdays where we were packed to the gills and there were 10 people in there. That affected sales quite a bit.”
However, despite the pandemic setback, Meyer and Kadar-Penner saw that their customers were excited to get back to shopping in person once again.
“We noticed people wanted to shop right away, people were missing that experience,” said Kadar-Penner. “Even though online sales went up during that time, having a store definitely also was helpful because everyone likes to touch and see and feel.”
Last month, Friends NYC started to host events again, with several planned for the summer, including a flash tattoo event on June 23, a Friends NYC x Stems Brooklyn Collab + Charity Initiative on July 8 and a Friends NYC x Sackville & Co Collab event planned for August. On July 21, Friends NYC will be going all-out celebrating its 10th anniversary with food trucks, flash embroidery, tooth gems and so much more.
“We’re really stoked about 10 years and are excited to celebrate. We’re throwing down like we never have before,” said Kadar-Penner. “It feels good, it feels like we accomplished something. Like Mary said, we really didn’t know what we were doing in the beginning so I’m always proud of us that we figured it out and are good at it. It’s pretty amazing.”
“Friends is such a part of my DNA for so long, when COVID started I never was like, oh we’ll shut down. I never thought that would happen to us. But as the months went forward, I had to be like this might happen,” said Meyer. “I would see everybody else closing and I just think it’s through Emma and I — we have such a combined strength together, and I just feel like through leaning on each other and pushing forward, we’ve managed to get here and I’m very proud of us.”
Friends NYC is located at 56 Bogart St. in Bushwick. For more information about Friends NYC or to shop online, visit friendsnyc.com.