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Marlow and Daughters
Photograph: Courtesy of Marlow & Daughters/ Mel Barlow

Brooklyn general stores share the surprising items flying off their shelves

Emma Orlow
Written by
Emma Orlow

General stores. Larder shops. Specialty grocers. Shops for sundries. Whatever you call your local corner store, they tend to sell niche products in the form of artisanal condiments, dried goods and sandwiches stuffed with locally-sourced greens—not so much a bodega as a space where you might find small, handbatch mustards and jams, and, maybe, even, a sense of community. As we reported late last month, many restaurants have pivoted to become upscale grocery stores themselves in order to keep their employees on staff and provide more accessible resources for their neighborhoods. But in more residential areas, particularly in the borough of Brooklyn, general stores have long been at the forefront of providing essential necessities and hard-to-find pantry items in gentrifying areas. 

But as the needs of society have changed, and regulars find themselves cooking at-home more than ever, so, too, have the aisles of New York City general stores—many of which are also opting to offer contactless delivery for the first time. 

Willoughby General
Willoughby General
Photograph: Courtesy of Willoughby General

On a recent Saturday, we stopped by Marlow & Daughters, Andrew Tarlow’s butcher shop just a short block away from his restaurant, Diner. The line ran down the block as customers stayed the appropriate six feet apart and only a few were let inside the shop at a time.  We were there, like most folks, to stock up on a litany of miscellaneous items, not thinking so much about how they’d come together as a meal back home as what would give us the most joy when we opened our refrigerator doors on the latest gloomy day in quarantine. In our case, that meant Red Rock cheddar cheese, Atina Foods’s herbal jam and, most importantly, Tarlow’s She Wolf Bakery focaccia. 

A representative for the Marlow Collective told us the team has been stocking more of their She Wolf bread—one might guess to satiate the overwhelming amounts of people documenting their bread-making on social media as well as those eager to have artisanal carbs without having to put in the work of baking it themselves.

Marlow & Daughters is joined by several other general stores that are reevaluating their current stock to meet the needs of their communities. Over in Bushwick, Foster Sundry has also been thinking about ways to become even more practical for locals. “We've definitely had a run on yeast! SAF Red Label baker’s yeast, specifically. We would get a request or so every few months for yeast before, but now we're selling it daily. (Same goes for sourdough starter, which we don't stock yet, but are planning to),” shares owner Aaron Foster, said in an email to Time Out New York

In addition, Foster Sundry is one of the many shops (including Marlow & Daughters) tapping into New Yorkers’ current fanatical obsession with beans, the perfect shelf-stable food that’s been made trendy by a company known as Rancho Gordo, where true fans can even join the dried bean subscription club. “We've always been passionate about beans—I know many stories have recently been written about the humble pulse—but Rancho Gordo went from a nice perk for discerning customers to flying off the shelf,” says Foster. Just this week, they’ve also brought in hand sanitizer that’s being created by Bootleg Kombucha, whose factory has temporarily converted to produce the cleaning product.  

Maya Bed-Stuy, formerly known as Bed-Stuy Provisions, is an order-at-the-counter eatery specializing in unique congee dishes (we gave it a rave review last year), Asian pantry items not easily found in the neighborhood and coveted Oatly barista-edition “milk” cartons. But, lately, owner Layla Chen has introduced several new items to the line-up. They’ve started to offer sensible items for the everyday cook such as Pat LaFrieda meat cuts, stacks of toilet paper and affordable ceramics to spruce up the home.

For the first time, the shop is also stocking $1 “dime packs of herbs and other rare goodies” to encourage customers to experiment more with their cooking: items such as star anise, Chinese yeast balls, coriander, goji berries, black sesame seeds and Szechuan peppercorns. They’ve begun jarring their homemade kimchi with custom Maya Bed-Stuy branding, as well. 

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Not far from Maya Bed-Stuy, at Willoughby General owner Lauren Cawdrey’s biggest sellers are also (unsurprisingly) bread loaves, but also CBD products and candles. “People desperately want to calm themselves right now, so those items have been moving quickly,” she shared. Where Willoughby General once carried more produce, a competing grocery store has since opened nearby, causing her to shift her focus away from perishables. She also recently added a bespoke card game to the roster.  

Since taking over the store in July 2018, Cawdrey has remained a prop stylist for editorial and TV projects and has yet to take a salary from the shop. The financial impact of the pandemic on so many is not lost on her. She notes that she’s always tried to find ways to support the community, including by offering up shelf space to “consignment” products for neighbors with side hustles, a small opportunity more important than ever in a bleak job market. On a recent afternoon, consigned items for sale included an enamel evil eye pin, honey from a local community garden, leather pouches and other artisan goods. 

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