Shoptalk: Alter 109 and Alter 140 in Brooklyn

Monday, March 23, 2009

above: a shot of the interior of Alter 109 (men)
all photos courtesy of Tommy Cole

above: Alter 109 (men)

I recently had an opportunity to chat with the charming Tommy Cole, co-founder of the Alter 109 and Alter 140 boutiques in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. This is the first in a series of profiles highlighting emerging designers and independent boutiques. I hope you find it inspiring and welcome your feedback!

The story behind the Alter boutiques in Brooklyn began in 2004, when Roy Caires and Tommy Cole, both new to New York and working in retail, came up with an idea to start a menswear line called “This Old Thing?” consisting of one-of-a-kind, reconstructed, vintage pieces. While continuing to work their dayjobs, they were furiously producing new pieces to meet growing demand from boutique buyers. About a year later, the pair stumbled upon a revelation while scouring raghouses for vintage materials: “We were finding amazing vintage clothing that we didn’t want to do anything to,” Cole says. “So we started stockpiling.”

Cole had the idea to try selling their untouched vintage inventory at a pop-up shop in Boston, where both Caires and Cole had lived before moving to New York. The event was a success and two months later, the pair followed up with another sale in Boston. By September 2006, Caires and Cole had quit their dayjobs to run vintage sales in Brooklyn, beginning with an event at Galapagos in Williamsburg.

In late 2006, a friend tipped them about a retail space in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. “We had nothing, no money,” Cole recalls about their humble beginnings. “We lived in the back of the store for the first three months.” The store opened in February 2007 with mostly vintage merchandise and in August 2008, they opened a store across the street focusing on womenswear.

above: Alter 140 (women)

above: Alter 140 (women)

Today, they run a multi-brand business, stocking popular pieces from labels such as Cheap Monday, Kill City from Los Angeles and Preloved from Canada. The average Greenpoint customer, Cole estimates, is a fashion-forward person between the ages of 26-40, with the ability to shop at stores like Barney’s, but who want to own unique, well-priced items. “We’ve tapped into a whole bubble of people who really support local shops and have good taste,” he enthuses.

Despite difficult economic times, Cole remains optimistic about the future. While the pair would eventually love to open a store in Manhattan, they are focused on maintaining and growing their base in Brooklyn. The next step for Alter will be to launch their webstore in the coming months. Their blog has attracted a fan base across the country and around the world. “We’re literally a mom and pop operation... with no formal business education or investors,” Cole says. “We are just buying things we like and hoping people buy them.”

Alter 109 (men)
109 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 784-8818

Alter 140 (women)
140 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 349-0203 (current blog)


J said...

nice interview! this is near my nabe so i'm going to try to visit. they have some cute oxfords that they featured on their site.

Dream Sequins said...

Jeannie-- Thanks for reading! I saw those oxfords on the site. Really sweet! Most of their stuff is so reasonably priced. Glad you're supporting the local biz!

Modelizer said...

This makes me wish I covered smaller stores/Brooklyn. Although the Alter 140 store reminds me of Trina Turks in MePa for some strange reason.

Dream Sequins said...

Hi Modelizer! Just took a peek at your blog. What a great concept. I've actually been to the Trina store in meatpacking and you're right, it does have that same white-washed wood vintage-y feel. I love the open windows, however. So bijoux. I'm adding you to the slowly growing blogroll!

J said...

went to visit the store on friday and really enjoyed myself! nice pieces, well curated, most items friendly on the wallet. picked up a tank top and the oxfords. thanks for the reco :D
- jeannie

Anonymous said...

I did a little story on Alter on my Blog
and they where super supportive and great people. Please support Alter.

Dream Sequins said...

All My Little Words- Just checked out your blog-- really cool point of view. Thanks for reading! I totally agree-- support your local boutique!

Dream Sequins said...

And Jeannie-- I nearly forgot your posting above ;) Thanks for reporting back on Alter! Can't wait to check out your buys!

Anonymous said...

i wonder if they still carry vintage?

Dream Sequins said...

Anon: Hi! Yes they do...

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