In 2010 when David Alperin opened Goose Barnacle, his upscale menswear boutique, steps from the western terminus of Atlantic Avenue, those closest to him thought he was crazy. Brooklyn Heights wasn’t exactly a retail destination, and prior to Barneys and the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, most of the traffic in the area came from people queuing to get on the BQE. But when Alperin, a lifelong Brooklyn Heights resident, decided in 2009 that he wanted to open a store, he knew his neighborhood was the only place he wanted to do it.
On an unseasonably warm November afternoon, we sat down with David at Goose Barnacle to discuss his store, philosophy, and future plans.
MG: Tell us about your origins, how did you get here?
David Alperin: I was born in Long Island College Hospital, which was right across the street until it closed earlier this year. My father worked there for 35 years and my grandmother owned the Long Island Bar on the corner since 1948. We’re very much rooted in this neighborhood. I was raised here in Brooklyn Heights and really only left for college.
After college I worked in banking until 2009. I was 30 years old and I was a bank Vice President, but I wasn’t really happy. Almost as a blessing from above, the economy crashed and the whole department I was in was let go. I was given a nice severance package so I took some time off, traveled, and studied design at FIT for a year. I had this idea that I could combine all of my interests into a creative space in the neighborhood that I grew up in, and really be genuine. I always felt that as a banker I was playing a role, and I wanted a job where I could be super honest and genuine with the things I’m passionate about in an area of New York that really is special to me.
MG: So Brooklyn Heights is very special to you, but you mentioned earlier that it was kind of sleepy back then. Were you worried that it wasn’t a great place to open a retail store?
DA: Like you said earlier, everyone thought I was a little crazy because there was nothing down here. There’s this old rundown hospital, no retail. Brooklyn Bridge Park hadn’t been developed, Barneys wasn’t there yet, and everyone thought I couldn’t make it happen. I had this vision that it was going to slowly grow and that I had the time and the patience to slowly grow with the neighborhood, and it gave me time to figure out what my model was and who my customer was. And slowly we’ve been able to improve and that’s really always been my mission—to constantly improve and find ways to make my offering more special than the rest. There are a lot of other good stores out there, but none like mine, and I think that’s the one thing I feel like I can stand behind.
MG: How do you go about making your offering more special than the rest?
DA: I start by never looking at other stores or blogs. The last thing I want is to read a fashion magazine and have it tell me what to buy, and I don’t want to be inspired by the same medium that I’m working in, so I look to art, architecture, my friends, or wherever I happen to be traveling for inspiration. I’m constantly seeking inspiration through experiences because that’s how we evolve. Beyond that I listen to my customers. As much as everything in this store is special to me and something that I’d wear, I realize that some of my customers need a different fit or have a different lifestyle. So it’s a balance of staying true to what I’m into, what feels special to me, and what my customers value. For instance, we just recently started retailing online.
MG: You’ve been open for five years but just started retailing online?
DA: We’ve been doing the online store for a year and it’s because our customers want it and we want to be able to extend that additional level of service to them. That said our focus will always be on our brick and mortar store because that’s where the experience is. I want to get people off of their devices and back into touching products and testing things and listening to the music and talking to me and my employees. I think there’s going to be a return to experiences and a lifestyle where people want to leave the house and meet up with friends to go shopping, go to restaurants, and that appeals to me. I want to focus on that.
MG: That’s a lofty goal, people are hooked on their devices.
DA: It is, but again, it’s genuine, it’s what I know. I’m not really an online shopper, so it’s easier for me to focus on the in store experience. We’ve got a great space and we’re starting to utilize that more as not just a store but a gallery as well, which adds to the experience while shopping. Whether my customers realize it or not, everything in here from the furniture to the fabrics on my sport coats, to the art on the walls is all connected in my mind. We house our Malin + Goetz products in an old Bell Company phone booth from the fifties that was in my grandmother’s bar. When I first started designing this place I knew I wanted to start with those, so when I was looking for a desk or a couch or a table to display products on I thought about what would look good with those phone booths.
MG: We’re honored that they house our products! You mentioned using the store as a gallery space, and I know you just had your first show.
DA: Right, Richard Sigmund.
MG: Is that indicative of where Goose Barnacle is headed?
DA: It’s definitely one of the things I’m interested in, making better use of this great space. Right now we’re getting ready to start construction so we can move our stock area to the basement and we’ll open up the back to give us more rack space and wall space. Another thing we’re working on that I’m really excited about is expanding our private clothing label. We’ve done some hats and shirts and things like that but I really want to expand that and make a product that has all of the details I’m looking for and has my stamp of approval. I can stand behind everything because I made it. We always want to have a great selection of products from around the world, but if we can create a core private label brand for those people who really want something that came from my mind and this little shop in Brooklyn. Those two plans together go side by side and I think will be a big change for next year and enable us to do a lot of things.
MG: We look forward to seeing it happen. Thanks for hanging out with us.
DA: Thanks for coming to visit.