Shop Brooklyn Small Businesses and Give Back

Sachin Bhola

(Updated 05/07/2021)

Among the many things 2020 has taught us, one important lesson is to be more mindful of where we spend our money and how that affects New York City’s local businesses. What better time to put this mindset into action? We’ve rounded up five BIPOC-owned stores in Brooklyn that not only stock quality products but have owners who are giving back to the community and creating communities of their own.

Rony Byas and Harvey Leon. Courtesy, Byas & Leon

Byas & Leon

404 Tompkins Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant, byasleon.com
In 2013, native New Yorkers Rony Byas and Harvey Leon started a line of button-down shirts tailor-made in Haiti. Their goal: to support Haiti’s economy, a mission these childhood friends hold close to their hearts as first-generation Haitian Americans. Six years later they opened Byas & Leon, a Bed-Stuy boutique that has quickly become a must-visit for clotheshorses.

In addition to selling their namesake label, the shop carries clothing, accessories and wellness products from BIPOC-owned brands, including 84Gem, a jewelry line handmade in Brooklyn, and the Summer House, a sustainable apparel brand based in India. You’ll also find a well-curated selection of vintage wares; gender-neutral items, such as patterned shirts and colorful bottoms, nod to styles of the 1960s and ’70s.

Byas & Leon emphasizes ethical and sustainable practices that not only inform what the store sells but how the products connect with the community. The co-owners regularly host events like Root(ed), a free class that educates people on how to live an environmentally conscious life.

Sincerely, Tommy

343 Tompkins Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant, sincerelytommy.com
After managing stores for Artizia and Chanel, Kai Avent-deLeon opened Sincerely, Tommy in her native Bed-Stuy in 2014. The shop is a go-to for fashion insiders to discover emerging brands and designers of women’s clothing, accessories, art and housewares.

Avent-deLeon stocks products that are statement making and full of character. Take the black-and-cream hand-painted Raini D2 dining chair, an eye-catching, whimsical object good for gifting to others (or to yourself). The Building Black Bed-Stuy long-sleeve tee speaks to the mission of the shop: to support Black businesses and the neighborhood’s economy.

Indeed, Avent-deLeon is a cofounder of Building Black Bed-Stuy, which provides financial assistance to Black business owners. Sincerely, Tommy helps serve as a community hub: starting this past September, the street corner in front of the store—Tompkins Avenue and Monroe Street—became the site of a weekly Sunday block party and marketplace for Black business owners to sell their products.

Courtesy, Happy Cork

Happy Cork

51 Buffalo Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant, happy-cork.com
Unlike your run-of-the-mill liquor store, Bed-Stuy’s Happy Cork feels warm and inviting when you enter. Its owner, Brooklyn-born Sunshine Foss, uses her design skills to create a space conducive to lingering. Meanwhile, the shop’s selection of wines and spirits includes a wall dedicated to ones from Black-owned producers.

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Take note of the sauvignon blanc by the McBride Sisters, which was one of the first Black-owned wine companies when sisters Robin and Andrea launched it in 2010. The Napa Valley Three By Wade cabernet sauvignon—from a winery owned by recently retired NBA star Dwyane Wade—is also worth a try.

In addition to alcohol, Happy Cork stocks smaller items ideal for gifting, such as candles, handmade coasters, wine glasses and pins, most of which are made by BIPOC and women artists. Be sure to check out Happy Cork’s Cocktails & Convo, an Instagram Live series that features interviews and virtual tastings with BIPOC winemakers, including an episode with music icon—and owner of Sun Goddess Wines—Mary J. Blige.

Courtesy, Lichen

Lichen

98 Moore St., East Williamsburg, lichennyc.com
Lichen founders Jared Blake and Ed Be are on a journey to make high-end interior design available to all. The two are mindful of their East Williamsburg neighborhood’s rapidly changing landscape and of budget-conscious New Yorkers, and have thoughtfully kept most items under a $500 price point. The minimalist Lichen V1.5 coffee table is made in Brooklyn, ideal for small apartments and sells for a fraction of what a similar product might sell for at other design-forward furniture stores.

In addition to its in-house line, Lichen specializes in vintage furniture and homewares sourced from around the world, carrying brands like Eames, Piero Palange and Werther Toffoloni, and Alvar Aalto.

The founders want to foster a sense of shared connection. Their simple act of offering house-made coffee encourages shoppers to hang out and socialize in the store. They’ve also launched a program that invites a selection of students and independent furniture designers to sell their work at the store.

Summer 2020 Doodle Mule. Photo: Christopher Sherman. Courtesy, Brother Vellies

Brother Vellies

71 Franklin St., Greenpoint, brothervellies.com
Walking into Brother Vellies feels like stepping onto a set for a fashion shoot. But beyond the Instagrammable scenes and displays is a brand on a mission to use traditional African design practices and techniques while creating and sustaining jobs. That brand was begun in 2013 by Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based Aurora James, who has combined her love of fashion and humanitarianism by developing a line of sustainably made luxury shoes and accessories.

James employs artists across the globe, in places such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and New York City, who are paid living wages to create spectacular products. Some favorites are the huaraches for men, which are handwoven leather sandals made in Mexico, and the women’s Tofi Mule, a low-heeled shoe both contemporary and timeless. Her point of view on sustainability and fashion landed her a win at the 2015 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, a prestigious award that helps new designers develop their businesses.

In addition to running Brother Vellies, James has been an important voice in advocating for Black businesses. She founded the 15 Percent Pledge, urging major retailers nationwide to allocate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

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