Friends & Neighbors / Spoonbill & Sugartown.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In Friends & Neighbors, I'll introduce you to some of my favorite creative businesses in Williamsburg. With a new expensive store or chain restaurant opening seemingly every week, there's been much talk these days about how Williamsburg is "over." This series showcases shops, restaurants, and studios that make the neighborhood special, and prove that integrity, creativity, and an artistic spirit are still alive and well. They're places that make me proud to live here, and to call the faces behind their counters neighborsPhotographs by Jacquelyne Pierson.


Located amid the chaos of Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue is Spoonbill & Sugartown, an independent bookstore stocking new and used titles in a wide range of genres: cooking, art, design, architecture, music, literature, and everything in between. (It's also home to one of my favorite magazine racks in the neighborhood, and an always-dependable selection of books on sale for just a few dollars each, on display on shelves and tables outside.)


Opened fifteen years ago by Miles Bellamy and Jonas Kyle, the shop has been around long enough to witness an almost complete transformation of the neighborhood. Lining what were once much emptier streets are now a Madewell, a J. Crew, an Urban Outfitters, a Dunkin' Donuts. Whole Foods is set to open steps away in 2015. Still, Spoonbill remains standing. (Five years ago,  The New York Times reported, the store celebrated a decade of business with women in white singing, "May the books flow 10 more years.")


Funnily enough, my first memory of Brooklyn is of this very store. I was visiting the city in 2002 as a high school senior, and my older brother brought me to Williamsburg, telling me it was an area he'd heard was popular among "the cool kids." I remember feeling confused as we emerged from the subway station — it was quiet, and seemingly empty. Nothing like the New York City I imagined (or the Williamsburg that exists today). Why would anyone want to live here? I wondered. Then we walked through Spoonbill & Sugartown, and I felt suddenly, surprisingly at home. It was, unbeknownst to me then, just the beginning of a long, much-cherished love affair.


Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers, 218 Bedford Avenue, (718) 387-7322
Mon-Sun 10am - 10pm

Five Minutes with Jonas Kyle:

Tell me about opening Spoonbill fifteen years ago. What inspired you to start a store? It was 1999. Williamsburg wasn't anything like it is now. It was grimier. It didn't have a worldwide reputation. The warehouses and factories were still functioning as warehouses and factories, and it was still a relatively unnoticed part of the city. I'd known Miles, who was working with his father in the art business at the time, since we were in high school. He'd always wanted to open a bookstore and asked if I wanted to do it with him. We got wind that this building — an old sweater factory —was being converted into apartments and stores. There was an art community based here, and we decided to open our store to serve that community.

What's surprised you most about the ways in which the neighborhood has changed since then? The speed and scale of the changes have been remarkable. What's funny to me is that a lot of people think we're a tourist spot. In many ways, we have become that. Many of our customers are visitors to the city.

Lastly, do you have any reading recommendations to share? The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink was very good. I'm reading In the Dust of This Planet now — it was featured on Radiolab; after that, people started asking about it. I'm also reading Adventures in the Anthropocene, by Gaia Vince, a science writer who basically gave up her job to wander the earth exploring the effects of climate change. It's very smart.

Thanks so much, Jonas. Visit the Spoonbill & Sugartown website for more information, here.

10 comments:

Daina Ankrum said...

Lovely feature! I taught Miles' daughter several years ago when she was in second grade. :)

Megsy said...

Oh I love this profile! Spoonbill and Sugartown was my first experience of Brooklyn too, back in 2009. I am always drawn to bookstores and this had about the best name and the best selection and just an all over comforting feel. I think I spent an hour in there, and bought a Dorothy Parker collection for the plane ride home to Sydney, as it felt so New York.
Beautiful feature... xx

Kathy said...

I love this place so much! I want to read all of Jonas's book recommendations. Also...there's a J.Crew in Williamsburg, now??

Sydney said...

love this store so much. one of my all-time brooklyn favorites.

Shoko said...

Daina, that's amazing! What a small world!

Megsy, thank you! And that's such a wonderful story - you'll have to come back next time you're in New York!

Kathy, yes! On Wythe!

Sydney, mine, too. It's like an old friend!

fai o. said...

I love your new series so much - such a fun read!

burntfeather said...

It's nice that the little guys are getting a voice through your series! It's the small creative businesses in a place that definitely make an area interesting :)

Megsy said...

Oh don't you worry, I've been back to NYC since and it was one of my first stops!

PS It's a small world (when you're from Iowa, anyway)- say hello to Nick for me, tell him Meg sends a hug and hello xx

Shoko said...

Megsy, ahhh! Small world indeed! That's amazing. I will absolutely tell him you say hello — and next time you're in New York, give me a shout :)

max said...

so cool.

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