Real Estate

A Variety Store by Pencil Shop’s Caroline Weaver

A close-up of the goods at Locavore Variety Store.
Photo: Meghan Mcneer

Will there be pencils? For Caroline Weaver, who ran the delightful CW Pencil Enterprise for nearly eight years, the answer is obvious. “I wouldn’t have opened another store without pencils,” she says. But her new Greenwich Village shop, the Locavore Variety Store, will have a lot more than that.

The shop, at 434 Sixth Avenue, is an “emporium for local goods, all grown/baked/fabricated/assembled/concocted/sewn/stuffed/pickled within 100 miles of New York City,” as the signage reads. It’s the brick-and-mortar version of the Locavore Guide that Weaver started after closing down CW Pencil, a directory of more than 14,000 shops and counting.

The name is a bit of a throwback, a familiar slogan from the early-aughts buy-local movement. But Weaver is deeply committed to the concept. “You can find almost everything you could ever want out your front door in New York City — where else can you do that?” she says. “If you’re going to pay the crazy rent and make all the compromises to live here, you ought to go out and experience analog shopping.”

Caroline Weaver on the counter made by M. Fried, a local manufacturer in Canarsie.
Photo: Meghan Mcneer

The shop’s curation reflects her own wandering around town. While conducting research for the Locavore Guide and answering user requests (like where to find roller skates for teens or a candlewick trimmer), “I would just pop my head into factories on these long walks,” she says. “So much of it came from snooping.” This is how she discovered M. Fried, a manufacturer in Canarsie who made the shop’s gondola shelving and its custom clementine-colored Formica countertop. As for the pencils, there will be some from General Pencils, which is headquartered in Jersey City, a company credited with founding the first pencil factory in the United States. Weaver even sourced the “Say it with flowers!” paper that comes with bodega bouquets to use as wrapping paper. An asterisk on the sign outside admits there are a few exceptions to the 100-mile restriction, and they include items like No-mes nail clippers, made just a bit farther north in Troy, New York.

From left: Photo: Meghan McneerPhoto: Meghan Mcneer

From top: Photo: Meghan McneerPhoto: Meghan Mcneer

But it’s not all novelty and nostalgic packaging. Weaver wanted to build a haven for those like herself who are simply obsessed with shopping. “I just want regular people to shop here and have fun and feel like they can touch everything,” she says. While there are some familiar brands, most of the offerings don’t have their own stores or a presence in lower Manhattan retail. Quality comes before cutesy packaging. “A lot of these smaller brands are so focused on making a great product that they don’t have the budget or resources to hire an agency to do a certain type of packaging design,” she says.

There’s Pizza Suds, a liquid dish detergent for pizzerias from Glissen Chemical that’s manufactured in Borough Park; a natural version of Sun-In, a hair product, made by Goldies in Queens; and egg fettuccine from Borgatti’s in the Bronx. Then there are the items that are perhaps the most local of all: a Caroline’s House lip balm — “I tried to reverse engineer the discontinued Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers” — and her “flagship product,” as she calls it: homemade bug spray, using a recipe she’s been perfecting for years. She makes both at home, of course.

The store itself, which used to be a hair salon and a smoothie shop, is a combination of its past iterations mixed with the elements of a general store: pegboard. “It’s kind of like buying vintage clothes; I like all the lives it’s lived,” says Weaver. “Somebody put wood paneling up that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I love the texture, and the dimensional ceiling I call our ‘outdated mall ceiling.’”

Weaver says the Locavore Variety Shop will keep evolving as shoppers drop by and her network of equally eager shopping fiends trade tips. And what is a shopkeeper, if not a concierge for oddball requests?

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