It’s not a surprise that the brick and metal storefront of the Brooklyn ARTery beckons inside natives and tourists alike. Opened in 2012 by two Brooklyn artists, the east Flatbush gift shop sells an assortment of goods made by local artists: everything from candles to coffee. Not much has changed in almost nine years, according to Meredith Jacks, the current owner of the ARTery.
In this (edited) question-and-answer with Jacks, we were able to understand a little more about the history and day-to-day life of the Brooklyn ARTery, and its place in the community. When people talk about a neighborhood’s “character,” they refer to institutions like the ARTery — businesses not only owned by locals, but prominently featuring local artists and products.
Can you tell me a little about what the ARTery is?
Jacks: We’re focused on having a fun and eclectic selection of goods, and as much as possible we bring in goods that are made locally and/or by women, queer, and BIPOC artists and makers — of which there’s more excellence out there than we could ever fit on our shelves! My hope is that the ARTery is a place where talented makers can shine, especially as we still wait on bigger chains and stores to correct the lack of diversity on their shelves.
How did the gift shop get its start?
J: The ARTery was founded back in 2012 by Susan Siegel and Jocelyn Lucas-Kirouac, two dynamic women who live in the neighborhood and are both artists in their own right, who felt the area needed a place for folks to buy special goods made by local artisans. The shop has long been a hub in the community for both finding great gifts as well as (in pre-pandemic times) hosting meet-the-maker events, artist workshops, and childrens’ art classes.
In late 2019, Susan and Jocelyn were both ready to pursue other ventures and looked for someone to take over the ARTery — and as a neighbor and customer myself, I was thrilled to do it.
What are your best-sellers?
J: Our most-purchased item is definitely cards. We have a big selection, and we try to feature lots of different styles and multiple ways to say “Happy birthday,” “I love you,” “I miss you, “I’m sorry.” Whatever the message, we try to have the card for it.
After that, candles, jewelry, bath & body products and puzzles are probably our biggest sellers. And we’re always bringing in new and interesting products! My favorite item from the holidays was a tabletop fireplace that runs on rubbing alcohol (hello, coffee table s’mores!).
Have you ever struggled to make money through the gift shop?
J: Ha — well, I took over the shop in January 2020, so I had just a couple of months under my belt when the citywide shutdown took hold in mid-March. We were forced to be closed from then through late June when NYC entered phase two [of reopening]. Like so many other small business owners, I had to stretch and pivot and apply for loans to stay afloat through that period.
I’m very fortunate that since this entire venture was new and unknown to me, my husband and I had budgeted for an uncertain first year of the shop, and my other job meanwhile has been juggling our two small kids at home. But thanks to our incredible neighbors who have come out to support us and shopped small this past year, we are still here and hoping to remain here for the long haul.
Do you have any advice that you wish you’d known when you started the ARTery?
J: I was a middle school English and Special Education teacher for 13 years before taking over the shop, so from my vantage point it was a refreshing pivot to a totally different set of day-to-day adventures and challenges.
The main thing (which I should have known from teaching) was just to stay organized from day 1. Now that it’s tax season, I’m finding myself digging around for paperwork from early 2020 and thinking “gosh, couldn’t I have just started a tax folder back then?” So this year I’ll try to keep things organized as I go.
What, in your opinion, makes the ARTery exceptional? No need to be humble at all!
J: As a neighbor who lives just a couple blocks from the shop, I know that there’s no other place like it in our immediate community, and I take that to heart. I think about how the shop can serve the community at large with what we offer, and really try to have something for everyone, and at comfortable price points.
I really love our neighborhood and my hope is that the ARTery reflects who we are and has goods for sale that will brighten people’s day. It’s also really meaningful to me to know so many of our artists and makers, so I get to see their excitement when something they created gets bought by a happy customer. I think that’s special and is a nice antidote to the depersonalized Zoom-Amazon-remote life so many of us are living lately.
The Brooklyn ARTery is located in Flatbush, on 1021 Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, NY 11218.