Do we really need $900 bags? Or does it matter?

This post by Clintoncentric:For those of you who’ve already been in Stuart & Wright, or read about it on this blog or in the New York Observer, this will sound like old news. But I actually hadn’t gone in until this Saturday, when I met some friends for drinks at Stonehome Wine Bar. I got there early, and in need of killing time, I wandered into this new, amazing boutique that seems to have appeared from thin air. I wasn’t in the market for clothes — I generally can’t afford boutique clothes unless they’re heavily discounted or I’m searching for a birthday present for someone, and can justify spending $40 on a shirt, because that’s how much T-shirts at boutiques cost on sale. But I could play the guessing game, so I flipped through the rack, and tried to guess how much each item cost. I was pretty right on with the dresses—all were in the $200 to $300 range, but when I opened up a leather bag, with handles that look like bridles, I thought to myself, surely this can’t be more than $500. I was wrong. It was $895 — more than my rent. (Yes, I have it that good here!)

Now, before I begin this spiel, and it is a spiel, let me make two disclaimers.

1. I know the owners are locals, and I wish them nothing but success, even if that success baffles me.

2. I have bought things at Cloth, and while it was still around, Sodafine, but in general, I’m the wrong person to be writing a critique about a boutique, since my idea of shopping is going to the Tanger Outlet Mall on Long Island, where I just did my once-every-three-years shopping spree this weekend. Sure everything I bought was made in Macau, and yes millions of women own the same thing as me. That’s the sucky part about industrially manufactured clothes, and the beauty of boutiques: you get one-of-a-kind threads, often handmade by someone locally — like a fine, artisan cheese, something I don’t mind splurging on because I like food more than I do clothes…which in a round about way is leading to my point.

There is not one restaurant in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill whose dishes come close to the $30 range—which is up there on the chi-chi scale. So how is it that this store can sell $900 bags?

I tested this “no fancy restaurants should equal no fancy boutiques” theory on my husband Mike, who quickly shot me down with a lecture on “the beauty of capitalism” — basically, that you can put a store anywhere you want, and charge anything you want, but the market will dictate whether it will last, and if people are buying this stuff, who am I to diss it?

Fine, maybe I needed to work on my logic, and really pinpoint what it was that made me so distressed about this store. Perhaps it frightens me that there is a market in FG/CH for $900 bags, and I have been naïve to think that there isn’t. And I’ll admit, that is definitely part of it.

But I also had to consider Suzy Hanson’s theory in the NY Observer piece about Stuart & Wright and other Brooklyn boutiques. In it, she writes, “Women who live in Brooklyn chose ‘creative fields’ over law or Wall Street. The boutiques make them regret that decision, even though they tailor themselves to the tastes of those who made it. From the lushly lit storefronts of Smith Street, Seventh Avenue and now Lafayette, the message is: Even freelance graphic designers deserve Diane von Furstenberg.”

Now, I’ll be honest. I did choose a creative profession and I don’t make a ton of money and that’s partly why I moved to Brooklyn and it bothers me that I can’t afford everything I want. But I would be more angry at myself if I didn’t follow my passion just so I could earn more money and tote a $900 bag, so that’s not really on my list of grievances about this fancy boutique.

What is on that list, is change. I feel a deep affinity for this hood, despite its lack of amenities. In fact, it’s what I love about it. Or what I used to love, because Stuart & Wright, to me, is really the beginning of the Smithification of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

Or should I say the Manhattanization? As the NY Times reported this Sunday, locals are incensed over the prospect of upscale stores taking over Fulton Mall. As one man explained, “When they close down all these local shops that cater to our hair, the clothes we buy, the food we eat, where are we going to shop?” Ms. Cruickshank asked. “Round up 10 people here, and I guarantee you they won’t say they want a Banana Republic. We don’t want another Manhattan. Let Brooklyn be Brooklyn.” (hear, hear!)

There are really two things being said here: one is that this Manhattanization of Brooklyn is really a whitening of Brooklyn, and that by installing upscale chain stores you’re uprooting discount, ethic chains like VIM jeans. But the other, equally salient point this man is making is that Manhattan has basically become one big mall for rich white folks, while Brooklyn remains both ethnically and economically diverse — i.e., the real New York.

This diversity is what I love about FG/CH. But I also love the fact that when I walk to the farmer’s market on Saturday, DeKalb feels relaxing to me. It’s not crammed with boutiques, bars, gourmet food stores, antique shops and urban gardening centers — though I’m sure they’re all coming, which is wonderful for small, home-grown business owners and, yes, residents like me, who will enjoy supporting shops that cater to my needs. (Primarily my artisinal cheese needs.)

But there is also something to be said for a neighborhood that doesn’t cater to your every last whim. As one of Mike’s basketball buddies complained to him recently, a new sushi joint has opened up in East Flatbush, which is predominantly Caribbean. Why, this friend wondered, did they need to open a sushi joint, when he could easily get sushi in Park Slope? Why did his neighborhood — why does any neighborhood — have to mirror the Manhattan model of convenience?

The Luddite in me, the one who enjoys the tradeoff of having fewer stores in exchange for more sidewalk space, more breathing room, and more of a distinct personality from every other hot neighborhood in Brooklyn and most of Manhattan, is saddened by the prospect of $900 bags, and it’s disheartening.

That’s it. My spiel is over. But I’m curious if anyone else is thinking the same thing, or feels differently.