Black Bear Vintage & Handmade is not, like we previously suspected, a children's clothing store— though owner Julia Duncan-Roitman allows that the lilliputian outfits and stuffed animals pressed against the 16th Street shop's front windows can certainly create that impression.
But no! Black Bear Vintage is a wonderland for grown-ups, pleasantly packed with artisanally-crafted curios and a seductive selection vintage clothing, hats and scarves.
Duncan-Roitman, 34, has owned the store with business partner Michelle Ferrara since May of 2010. We stopped by earlier this week to talk shop about the boutique's history, present and future. Below is the transcript of our conversation:
Patch: What made you want to open in this particular spot?
JDR: I lived here for awhile and there weren’t a lot of retail stores in this area, and I just really liked the community and thought it might work out.
Patch: How long have you lived here?
JDR: Off and on for about 9 years. I’ve lived other places in Brooklyn, and for a minute in Manhattan.
Patch: What’s your background?
JDR: I have a fashion background, and I’m really interested in handmade stuff—specifically artisan goods and folk art.
I went to the Fashion Intsitute of Technology for fashion after I got a bachelor's and a master's from NYU in cultural studies. I was pretty heavily immersed in folk art, and that combined with my fashion background is kind of—this.
Patch: What sort of pieces do you sell here?
JDR: We sell a lot of handmade stuff by local people. A lot of jewelry, bow-ties, hats, printed stuff, terrariums. It’s just a very creative community. Most of our products are from local people, and we also try to support the free trade artisan-made stuff in other countries. Specifically, saris and papier-mâché animal heads from Haiti.
Patch: What’s your most popular seller?
JDR: Most of our business is in the secondhand clothes, which is buy-sell-trade within the community.
Patch: How did you guys come to open the place?
JDR: We worked together for many years bartending at Union Hall. We were both ready to try something creative and strike out on our own.
Patch: Any plans to expand?
JDR: I would like to—I’m really interested in South Slope. Right now we’re just focusing on e-commerce, and then we’ll see. We have an Etsy store, and we’re working on our own website.
Patch: In a nutshell, how would you describe the store, and why should people come in?
JDR: It’s a pretty eclectic, and I think, a fun mix of handmade local items and a curated selection of vintage and modern clothing. I think you can find that perfect gift or that special piece for your wardrobe.
Black Bear Vintage & Handmade is located at 469 16th St.