Is New York The Only Place For Dreamers?
How much does location matter these days? Conversations with three vintage shop owners reveal an answer: it depends.
Just to get this out of the way at the beginning– no, I didn’t forget about LA. Everyone knows about LA. For decades now, the young and hungry have flocked to the wider Los Angeles area in pursuit of wealth and success. I mean, Hollywood– ever heard of it? But today we’re not talking about the Angelinos. We’re going to be zeroing in on NYC– mostly because that’s the area I have the most experience in. They do say “write what you know”, don’t they?
I had made the collegiate pilgrimage to NYC years ago, like many others before me, and attended a private university that was honestly more of a glorified ponzi scheme than a school. But it gave me access to the city, and access to “making it” as an artist– so it felt worth it to me at the time.
I didn’t stay for too long– I graduated during the pandemic. So, after a half-hearted Instagram Live ceremony put on by my school, I high-tailed it to Virginia to move in with my childhood best friend. I’ve since laid roots in Richmond — a town known more for its controversial stance on Confederate statues than its artsy, underground crust punk scene — but it’s home.
Now I’m faced with the conflict: Can I still be an artist even though I don’t live in a coastal city? For the dream to happen, does it really have to happen in New York?
The world is almost entirely online these days. Even when I lived in the city, I felt like all the real conversation was happening on our phones. The parties and lunches and dinners and picnics in the park felt honestly just like hollow stages for Instagram photoshoots, not actual moments in time. That was an aspect of the NYC art scene that I began to resent.
So, while I do feel a greater ease in genuinely collaborating with other artists while in Richmond, I still feel the bias of being away. While trying to connect with other writers online, I knew as soon as I received that fateful DM — “are you in NYC?” — that was the death knell of our friendship. My “no, I’m actually in Richmond!” message would never receive a reply.
People view you as less important if you’re not “in the city." You’re less serious, less cool, you have less social clout for them to build from. It’s an aspect of the creative world that people have been harping on since time immemorial, so I won’t waste your time regurgitating it for you now.
What I really wanted to explore was how other people were handling this pressure. I’m certain I don’t have a unique experience, and I needed some advice on how to deal with this inner conflict. So... I reached out! I interviewed a couple of Vintage Shop Owners, some based in New York, some not. I picked their brains on how they find themselves “hacking it” in this ever-changing socioeconomic landscape.
I started with Emma Zack of Berriez. She owns a vintage shop that specializes in reclaimed vintage for plus sizes. She is very cool — a sweet, gentle presence with shrewd opinions on the fashion world. Berriez has blown up in recent years. She’s been covered by Vogue, i-D, and The New York Times. She’s filling a niche in the fashion community that has been gaping for quite some time. Big girls want cool clothes! We want well-made clothes and ethical clothes and all the types of garments that have long since been available for straight sizes. Zack has the market wrapped tightly around her finger, all she has to do is deliver.
It is incredibly expensive to run a shop in New York City, prohibitively so. The sky-high rental prices eat up almost your entire operating budget, leaving you with next to nothing to hire a team of people to help you as you scale. So, you’re forced into running a solo show. But it’s next to impossible to be able to rent out a storefront, man that store, source inventory, prepare and photograph the inventory, maintain a website, manage online orders, manage customer service AND promote your brand all by yourself.
The way Zack has managed to tame the beast that is Berriez HQ is by adopting a “Buying Appointment” model. Limited stock is uploaded to the website and the majority of the archive is only available for viewing via a private buying appointment.
While this method does sustain Berriez’ ability to remain in NYC, it only hinders Zack’s overall success. Berriez would blow up if she adopted a fully-online model. She has a sharp, cool, fresh vision and a demographic that is chomping at the bit for her clothes. The only hangup here is New York. Yes, it is the place that undoubtedly provided her with the connections and cool-factor needed to skyrocket her business, but it is also the same place whose untenable cost of living is holding her back from scaling.
Emma Zack of Berriez
Suzy Berry of Dainty Rascal Vintage is the perfect example of someone who has built a successful business that operates fully online. She works solely on Instagram and specializes in nightgowns and sheer dresses. Her marketing gimmick involves trying the garments on and dancing around seductively for the camera.
Suzy runs the shop as a way to support her horse sanctuary. She is a tried-and-true Horse Girl. When we meet, she tells me about the first time she rode a horse named Pop-Over and fell in love, her smile beaming throughout the story. Eventually, she hopes to develop the sanctuary into a luxury wedding venue, where glamour-obsessed brides can come to live their Dainty Rascal fantasy.
She’s tried the brick and mortar route before, which resulted in “a fantastic failure like you wouldn’t believe.”
She explained that most of the hours spent in her shop felt wasted. Most of the customers were just people who wanted to come in and talk. They had no intention of actually buying anything. Or they would be people who would come into the store, try everything on– sometimes breaking it (“oh how many broken zippers,” she said wistfully), and then would, again, leave without buying anything.
Suzy Berry of Dainty Rascal Vintage
“I shuttered the doors of my shop when I made $1,800 in one day on Instagram. Now, I have had days where I can make over $20,000 in a day. The whole world is my customer base. I can’t fit the whole world in my shop.” I asked Suzy if she ever felt pressure to move away from her Sonoma County headquarters into a more flashy city like NYC or LA. “No, there’s way too much competition," she said.
Another shop owner, Francheska Dominguez of @fffranshop, is someone whose business belongs in New York. I know I’ve spent the last 1,000 or so words harping on the irrelevance of NYC in the digital age, but you truly can’t deny that there is a real creative magic to that city.
Fran is a fashion lover with a dedication to “grown and sexy” glamour. She differs from entrepreneurs like Zack and Berry by seeing her shop as more of a vehicle to promote her styling business than as an independent vintage store. The connection to the city, the ease of collaboration, the instances of just running into someone on the street and starting a project with them are inimitable.
She needs that life, that fire, that magic to propel herself forward in a creative career. And, with little financial overhead on her online business, she seems to be finding great success there.
Francheska Dominguez of Fffran Shop
All in all, what I’ve learned is this: The world is changing. Priorities are changing. The effigies of what used to be “success” are crumbling, which is forcing a lot of creatives to feel disillusioned by the “need” to be a starving artist in New York.
Ultimately, we have a lot more freedom than generations of the past to forge our own careers. You don’t really need VC investors or a background in business to run a successful brand these days. You just need a social media account, customers, and a dream.