Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Love and Longevity at Union Max

Union Max, which opened in the Spring of 2000, is often cited as being one of the first businesses to open up among the new wave of shops, restaurants, and bars that have emerged during the revitalization of our area - and it has managed to stay open while many others have not. Opting not to sell online or even maintain a website, they choose to stick to what they know and love, selling vintage beads, jewelry, clothing, and other collectible goods out of their storefront on the corner of Union. St. and Columbia. Making it even more special, the shop is a true family business, run by a mother and two daughters. We recently caught up with one of the daughters, Rachel Goldberg, to talk about the shop and the neighborhood, and to take some photos of their great merchandise.

WoCS: What did you do before opening Union Max?
UM: We sold at fleamarkets and trade shows

WoCS: How did you land on Columbia St.?
UM: My sister moved to an apartment on Carroll and Hicks in 1998 and we had heard about this great antique furniture store owned by Barry Jetter called "general Nitemare. We made the huge trek over the BQE to check it out. My mother who had been in the antiques business for over 20 years had seen many shops go out of business because of landlords raising the rent once a neighborhood got more popular. We always wanted to open a shop but she refused to rent. She wanted to be able to buy the space out right and at the time we were able to buy our store for a ridiculously low amount.

WoCS: How has Columbia St. changed since you first opened?

UM: Incredibly, I moved to the neighborhood in 2000 when we opened the shop. When we first opened the only shops were General Nitemare, Margaret Palca bakes ( who was only doing wholesale at the time) and us. They had just padlocked a building that was a drug den on the corner of my building. The building on the corner of Union and Columbia ( across from us) was an empty lot. The foot traffic was nil.

WoCS: Have these changes impacted your business in any way?
UM: It took about 3 years but now there is now steady traffic in the neighborhood and like I said we don't have a landlord who wants to raise our rent. My Mother...Smart Lady.

WoCS: Is most of your clientele local, or do people travel from around the city?
UM: We get both. We have a steady clientele from the neighborhood. We've been around long enough and we have such a unique stock that we get people from the city coming and buying from us to resell in Manhattan.

WoCS: What are your favorite hangouts in the neighborhood?
UM: Mazzat is great great food. I was sad to see Pit Stop close

WoCS: How do you explain the high concentration of vintage shops in the neighborhood?
UM: I think people open vintage shops because they are in love with antiques. You have to do it for the love in this neighborhood. We all have second/real jobs that feed our habit.

Rachel is also part owner of Brooklyn Collective with Tessa Phillips. An interview with Tessa about Brooklyn Collective will be coming soon.