West Elm Grows In Brooklyn To Craft Community Concept

BROOKLYN, NY— Set in a vibrant park right on the East River, West Elm recently opened its new Brooklyn flagship store in the DUMBO neighborhood as a unique showcase that allows the retailer to highlight its deep relationship with the New York borough it calls home.

As part of a HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® store tour, company spokesperson Dru Ortega pointed out that the DUMBO location, set directly in Brooklyn Bridge Park, draws both locals and tourists.

A landmark former coffee roasting plant and warehouse, the building complex, dubbed Empire Stores, also houses West Elm’s headquarters directly above the retail operation. In both the store and offices, West Elm preserved wooden columns and rafters that might otherwise have been lost in the remodeling process as well as entire stone walls, all to create an authentic sense of the building’s historic place in the community, and even left intact some graffiti that lasted through the 50 years between the building’s abandonment and its recent refurbishment.

Both the store and headquarters are relocations from facilities that operated only a few blocks away. West Elm’s shift into the building, which continues undergoing development as a commercial and retail property, certainly has symbolic value, but the move also has practical advantages. For example, the DUMBO store acts as a West Elm early floor store where it can test and tweak merchandising before broader roll outs.

The new location is an ideal place for West Elm to show off what makes the banner and its trend-oriented, urban-focused home assortment unique, noted Ortega. Its presence in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a sprawling space that includes a carousel, riverfront walk, green space and a cultural center, draws tourists from across the U.S. and world. The park hosts an ongoing event schedule including seminars, festivals and workshops that enhance its allure for locals as well as tourists.

“We’ll try to capitalize on any festivals or outdoor activities that are happening with Brooklyn Bridge Conservancy because we’re on their property technically,” Ortega said.

The Marketplace Cafe operating in the DUMBO store fortifies the store’s relationship with park goers and the community beyond. The original DUMBO store was operated as a full-blown West Elm Marketplace, which acted as a separate shop alongside the home furnishings operation.

In switching locations, West Elm has created a more dynamic operation that incorporates a demonstration kitchen and access to the park just outside, where shoppers grabbing food or drinks in its cafe can consume their purchases. They can also eat at two long communal tables beyond the counter and beside the test kitchen, an accommodation West Elm also can use for demo events and workshops on home-related topics, Ortega pointed out.

As for merchandising, the store mixes open spaces and more intimate niches, providing West Elm with various presentation options. Lifestyle displays combine furniture, bedding, tables, lighting, housewares and related items in various combination to demonstrate how shoppers can put together room looks, with a current emphasis on mid-century modern and rustic styles. Large and small category displays supplement the vignettes and pull together, for example, motion chairs or organizational items.

The DUMBO store offers a special Brooklyn product display in its Marketplace section in addition to a nearby Local product showcase that promotes artisans and makers from the greater New York area. Also, Ortega asserted, the DUMBO West Elm participates in a larger program offering pop-up displays from artisans and makers active nearby in another initiative that emphasizes the bonds between the store and the community.