After one year in business and a steady stream of press from all over the world, owner Gaia DiLoreto is a testament to the belief that if you enjoy what you do for a living, the rest of the details will work themselves out.
"This is the first job I've ever had where I can honestly say that I live and breathe my work and I love what I do," says the owner inside of her Smith Street shop.
By Brooklyn, a boutique devoted to goods designed, created and produced in our borough, is one of those fabulous businesses that, once it exists, you can't believe it wasn't around forever. After all, Brooklyn has a long history of manufacturing to be celebrated. But with the recent love affair that everyone from Floridians to are having with all things Brooklyn, the timing for DiLoreto's store couldn't have been better.
"In the last two or three years, [Brooklyn]'s just become this magnet," she says. "I'm continually realizing how much potential this concept has."
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do," DiLoreto admits when reflecting on the genesis of the store. After working unhappily for several years in IT, she left that job with the goal of finding something more soul satisfying. "For a few months, I was fortunate enough to be able to commit myself to thinking about that and I decided, 'Well, I really love food. So I will study that.'"
In fact, she enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan with the intention of eventually opening up her own restaurant. But a funny thing happened on the way to the industrial kitchen. One afternoon DiLoreto was reading a food article in Nona about a Brooklyn beekeeper selling homemade honey and it caught her interest.
"I have always loved honey," says DiLoreto. "So I was excited to try it. But when I looked for it at the shops in the neighborhood at the time, I couldn't find it anywhere. I thought, 'Hmmm, that's strange.' The idea stuck in my craw for a while and, the more I visited the Brooklyn Flea and thought about all of the foods I could sell that were being made in Brooklyn, I started to get really excited about it. Then, it occurred to me, 'Why limit it just to food?' I decided to devote my entire final project at ICE to the concept."
Her passion paid off. Upon graduating, DiLoreto had already completed a business plan for By Brooklyn and was ready to seek out a home for the store, finally in a space that had been vacated by .
"I live four blocks away, so it's literally the best commute ever," says DiLoreto, who has called Carroll Gardens her home for the last 10 years.
Becoming part of the community
One of the best parts of being a small business owner, DiLoreto tells Carroll Gardens Patch, has been the sense of community.
"So many regular retail stores are just literally checking off boxes on an order sheet," says DiLoreto, "Whereas I really get to know the people who make the products I sell. I have them come in and do tastings with the food products or teach people how to make soap. They come in to drop things off themselves, we chat. It's a relationship. We help each other out."
Likewise, DiLoreto's neighbors on Smith Street have become part of an extended family of business friends.
"I am in Winn Beauty at least once a week. I know there may be somewhere else I could find the same product and it might be less expensive, but that's not what it's about to me," says DiLoreto musing on the importance of supporting local businesses.
For the same reason, DiLoreto says she is quick to recommend local restaurants for lunch when a patron asks for a recommendation, and to suggest other stores nearby if there is something she doesn't carry.
"Why wouldn't I want them to succeed?" she says. "It's important to be kind to your neighbors."
First Brooklyn, then the world
The inventory at By Brooklyn has grown substantially in just over a year, having expanded to more than 1,000 different products. From a .50 sea-salt caramel to a $280 pair of earrings, the average price point is between $15-20.
"Mainstays would be the pint glasses that are designed by Adam Suerte," she says. "And the map totes and baby onesies. I will always have Liddabit Sweets in some way, shape or form—and Fox's U-bet Chocolate Syrup! That's an old school Brooklyn product from Brownsville and that's something else that I am trying to represent, Brooklyn's long history of manufacturing.
"I'm always looking for other things like that," she continues. "In fact, I'm having lunch with someone from The Brooklyn Historical Society soon so that I can learn more. I want to celebrate not only what's coming out of Brooklyn today but what's been coming out of Brooklyn for 100 years."
With new items and old finds constantly feeding her enthusiasm, it seems there are no limits to what DiLoreto may do next. Recently the shop started producing some of its own products, including custom-printed pencils. It has also entered the wedding industry by providing local brides with a resource for creating Brooklyn-made favors or themed gift bags for out-of-town guests.
"I absolutely think about expanding," says DiLoreto. "The first piece of expansion was online and that business has been doing well. But I definitely see myself opening other stores. Whether they are specifically By Brooklyn stores remains to be seen. But, I have ideas. This can't just be it."
About this column: Meet the Owner allows you to get to know some of the owners of local businesses here in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. To nominate someone for this spotlight, email editor Joanna Prisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.