Gowanus Canal T-shirts and canned wine: Come see Fifth Avenue in Park Slope
Feminist books for babies. Extra virgin olive oil named for the world’s longest venomous snake. T-shirts that celebrate the Gowanus Canal in all its toxic glory.
Shopping in Brownstone Brooklyn is fun (if you pick the right street). Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue commercial corridor is one excellent choice.
Entrepreneurs with ingenuity and staying power rule the roost on this picturesque thoroughfare, where many of the storefronts are situated in historic rowhouses or old-fashioned multifamily buildings.
I strolled down Fifth Avenue on Thursday and spoke to merchants about the top-selling items in their shops.
A baby shower basket with the cutest toothbrush ever
Baby shower baskets are a very big thing at Brigitte Prat’s shop.
People from all over the city call to order them from LuLu’s For Baby. The store at 44 Fifth Ave. sells clothes and toys for children ranging in age from newborn to 4 years old. Prices for the baskets start at $80, Prat said. Some custom orders cost as much as $500.
Some gift-givers ask for jungle-, mermaid- or unicorn-themed baskets. Some want baskets to be themed to reflect the occupations of the baby’s parents, whether they’re chefs, scientists, artists, teachers or whatever. Some gift-givers request gender-neutral baskets.
One of the gifts in a basket I photographed was a tiny, short-necked toothbrush with a circular handle. A Japanese dentist designed the Baby Hamico, which is what it’s called.
Another big seller at the shop is “Baby Feminists,” a book for preschoolers written by Libby Babbott-Klein and illustrated by Jessica Walker. It depicts famous women such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and artist Frida Kahlo as adults and babies.
The book is on a display that Prat and her assistant Elizabeth Stassi call “the feminist table.” It is stocked with books, toys — and T-shirts and onesies Stassi designed that say “mini feminist” in heat-pressed vinyl letters.
Right down the block from LuLu’s For Baby, there’s a related business called LuLu’s Cuts & Toys that’s a combination kids’ hair salon and toy store.
A comfy sleeper sofa
For houseguests who’ve tossed and turned on the wiry springs of fold-out sleeper sofas, this sounds like a miracle.
A furniture company called American Leather makes a couch that turns into a platform bed without springs or bars.
“It’s like sleeping in your bed at home,” said Natalie Morgan of Items of Interest at 60 Fifth Ave., a furniture and home goods store coupled with an interior design business.
American Leather makes more than a dozen models of the Comfort Sleeper, as the manufacturer calls them. The version that’s popular with Items of Interest’s customers is the Conley Queen Plus Sleeper, a sectional sofa priced at $4,949.
A bike that fits like a tailored suit
It’s sleek and speedy and costs anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000. Albert Cabbad’s customers love it.
The BMC Teammachine is one of the top-selling bikes at R&A Cycles at 105 Fifth Ave.
It’s Swiss-made for professional racers and is “responsive and very comfortable,” said Cabbad, who co-owns the store. “It fits many people’s body types like a tailored suit — but we don’t have to tailor it.”
P.S. It’s a road bike, meaning it’s meant to be ridden on pavement rather than dirt, gravel or sand.
Olive oil named after a snake
Cobrancosa — AKA King Cobra — is one of the most popular extra virgin olive oils that O Live Brooklyn sells.
The Portuguese oil is named after a feared and revered reptile and is peppery, pungent and robust. It costs $12.95 for a 200-milliliter bottle.
Greg Bernarducci, co-owner of the shop at 140 Fifth Ave., keeps his olive oils on tap in stainless steel containers called fusti. A label on each container notes the “crush date,” which is when the oil was made. Twelve months after that date, it’s no longer fresh.
“Age will destroy olive oil,” he said.
A sell-by date on a bottle of olive oil is meaningless, he said.
Bernarducci’s got 50 types of olive oils, balsamic and wine vinegars, truffle oil and sesame oil in stock. In addition to extra virgin olive oils, there are olive oils infused with fruits, herbs or hot chilies.
A T-shirt for niche Brooklyn humor
A T-shirt that says “Gowanus Canal Swim Team” is one of the popular items at Something Else on Fifth, a clothing store at 187 Fifth Ave.
People who move out of state buy them.
“They want a little piece of Brooklyn to take with them,” said store manager Malvina Kola.
Customers purchase a lot of them as holiday gifts.
Adults’ shirts are priced at $36 and kids’ shirts are $24.99.
The idea of swimming in the Gowanus Canal is a bit of grim whimsy. As Brooklynites know, this Superfund site is repulsively toxic.
Activist Christopher Swain has braved the putrid waters wearing a puncture-resistant dry suit. The point of his most recent swim, which he took last year, was to protest the inadequacy of the federal government’s cleanup effort.
A piece of the ‘part of the Park Slope uniform’
In 2015, clothing boutique owner Diana Kane made a T-shirt with the word “Feminist” in gleaming gold letters on the front of it. It was a big seller then, and it’s a big seller now, at the shop that shares her name.
“It has become part of the Park Slope uniform,” she said.
A mirror behind the cash register at the 229B Fifth Ave. shop is covered with snapshots of women wearing the $40 shirt. Look closely and you’ll notice they include pictures of comedian Samantha Bee and actress Sissy Spacek.
Kane displays the shirts beneath a gallery of feminists’ portraits that artist Jenny Belin painted. The works are priced at $450 to $600 apiece.
In the years since Kane designed the Feminist T-shirt, she has become vocal in her support for feminist causes.
In September 2018, she was arrested in a U.S. Senate building in Washington during a protest against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.
Vino on the go
Canned wine is an especially popular purchase this time of year at Heather Johnston’s shop.
It’s light and easy to carry when you’re on the go, said the owner of Good Wine at 327 Fifth Ave. You don’t have to worry about the bottle breaking if you put it in a cooler to take to a picnic.
Looks can be deceiving. The cans hold more wine than you might think — 375 milliliters, which is half a bottle. That’s two generous glassfuls.
One of the selections in stock is the Limited Edition Rose Bubbles. The brand name is House Wine. It’s priced at $7 per can.
For every 24-can case that’s sold, House Wine will donate $2 to the Human Rights Campaign, which is an LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.
Now that warm weather has returned, L’Albero dei Gelati’s walk-up window at 341 Fifth Ave. is busy.
This time of year, the fruit sorbets sell well, said Oren Cohen, who works behind the counter.
By chance, I ran into Krista Scenna, the owner of nearby Ground Floor Gallery, at the gelato window. One of the flavors she ordered was lemon honey ginger.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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