As their website says, Friends NYC began in 2012 as a friendship pact between wannabe-sisters and BFFs, Mary Meyer and Emma Kadar-Penner. These two women are the perfect match: Mary brings her experience as a fashion designer and Emma, expertise in fashion/textile history and a legitimate obsession with thrifting. The store grew out of a real friendship and the business continues to thrive on the foundations of love, respect, and FUN.
Clearly, they don’t care about the old adage of never mixing business with pleasure. Instead, friendship permeates through all aspects of the business. They are friends first and that is at the core of how they run the show. Knowing each other SO well means they usually know what the other person will think and/or how they will respond to most situations. There is a natural rhythm to the way they operate. Their biggest challenge seems to be sharing a social calendar (pre-pandemic, of course!) which means both of them being gone from work at the same time. Or getting sucked into “work talk” when they are out. But if those are the biggest issues, they’ve sure got a good thing going. Plus, if they ever both DO need to both be away, there’s a whole awesome team at Friends NYC to make sure things run smoothly.
Emma hails from Toronto, Canada, while Mary is a California girl. Emma met Mary’s brother at McGill University, and the winding road of life and the energetic pull of New York F-ing City brought everyone together in Brooklyn. Emma’s first job in New York was at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in fact, she never had any intention of owning a business, nor any business training before taking the leap. Mary was already a successful entrepreneur with her brand, Mary Meyer Clothing, but is also a self-taught business owner. Friends NYC was born out of their DIY sensibilities, their impeccable taste, and their commitment to friendship.
Their vision has always been to have a store that was a welcoming, community spot. A Central Perk of sorts (Friends reference!) with contemporary and vintage clothing, unique accessories and jewelry, gift and home items, stoner delights, and more! Friends is one of the pioneering stores in the now hopping Bushwick neighborhood. Located in The BogArt, a converted warehouse and a central hub of the Bushwick art scene, they neighbor the artist studios and galleries in the building. And all around there is a vibrant community of artists, musicians, misfits and dreamers.
When asked how the pandemic has affected their business and vision, Emma said, “It forced us to diversify our business REALLY quickly. Since we didn't plan to be closed for three months, we immediately had to pivot to building our web store and hiring qualified people who could help us with it. I'm proud of us for shifting things so quickly, plus shopping online is here to stay so, even post-pandemic, the URL is where it's at.” Mary added that “URL has the option of unlimited growth, and that’s what friendship is all about.”
Both Emma and Mary are very proud of how their business gives back. They have employed so many people and are committed to supporting local vendors. They run a Toys for Tots drive every holiday season, as well as regularly donate portions of sales to various causes, including Callen-Lorde, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, Sierra Club, Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, and Bad Ass Brooklyn Animal Rescue.
For the future, both Emma and Mary are heartened by how their customers have really supported them and other small businesses through this time of uncertainty. They themselves have also made a concerted effort to shop local and shop small and are hopeful this focus on the small business continues after Covid-19 is a distant memory. Emma said: “It's pretty hard to come back from world domination by Amazon and the Kardashians, but maybe small businesses can take a larger market share than they had pre-pandemic.”
These two powerhouse megababe BFFs have put their hearts and souls into this business. Their friendship is the lifeblood, and their love and inclusiveness RADIATES. Two cool people doing cool shit, taking care of each other, their community, and the world. It’s living the dream, really.