The hunt for a new space has begun for the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange after learning they will not be able to stay in their home of 40 years on Pierrepont Street.
The not-for-profit shop, which supports the work of more than 300 artisans, has operated out of a storefront at 55 Pierrepont Street since 1980, but recently found out that the landlord plans to take over the space. The building, constructed in 1928 as a club hotel, was converted and opened in 1980 as the Pierrepont House for the Elderly, providing a low-income housing option for seniors. The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange volunteer-run shop operates out of 2,200 of the street-level space in the building and has almost three years left on its lease. The organization is hoping to find another location within Brooklyn Heights that will allow them to continue to operate.
Originally founded in 1854 as the Brooklyn Female Employment Society, the charitable organization made it possible for women in need to support themselves through needlework. From early on the charity included a shop where items could be purchased and also provided clothing, blankets and other soft goods to local orphan asylums and other aid societies. During the Civil War, garments made by Brooklyn women were purchased by the U.S. Sanitary Commission and distributed to wounded soldiers. The organization changed names several times as it merged with similar charities before becoming known as the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange in 1936.
The goods sold in the shop have changed over the years — bed jackets and calves-foot jelly have given way to modern tastes, and the artisans now include men and women — but supporting the work of individual artists has remained central to organization’s mission. According to the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, 70 cents of every dollar goes directly to the crafter, providing critical income without the burden of operating their own virtual or brick-and-mortar shop.
In announcing the news to a gathering of the organization on Tuesday night, Brooklyn Women’s Exchange president Joanne Mack told the assembled crowd, “We want to stay in Brooklyn Heights to continue to serve the community where we began 165 years ago and we are looking to all of you for your ideas as we begin our hunt for a new space.”
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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