It wasn’t until late summer that Catbird’s founder Rony Vardi and creative director Leigh Plessner began to make regular trips from Brooklyn to Manhattan. While each has lived in New York City for two decades, “We never went, it was a thing to pronounce we were going to Manhattan,” said Plessner who, like Vardi, bases both work and family in Brooklyn.
That’s changing today, as Catbird — a beloved multibrand jewelry boutique that was among the first retail enterprises to populate Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue — will open a Manhattan outpost. Located at 253 Centre Street in SoHo, the store’s 1,700 square feet will dwarf Catbird’s 200-square-foot original location across the East River.
Catbird’s membership to “O.G.” Williamsburg retail has helped designate it as an authentic Brooklyn brand. In 2015, the company participated in Le Bon Marché’s Brooklyn product expo and has had similar resonance in international markets like Japan. Due to Catbird’s strong social media voice, the company is regarded by Millennials as an approachable jeweler that reflects new generational values like inclusivity, price sensitivity and escapism.
Founded in 2004, the company has grown its online business and in-house jewelry label (which is crafted by a team of 35 bench jewelers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard) while using the Bedford Avenue storefront as a small, immersive retail environment. It sells approximately 2,000 units of Catbird label jewelry per week across brick and mortar-and-online, with the company’s web shop accounting for 65 percent of revenue.
Despite Catbird’s fast growth, Vardi and Plessner have long objected to opening further retail units — instead preferring to invest in e-commerce and designate their one storefront as a destination boutique.
An expansion to Manhattan “happened accidentally,” Vardi said — the result of a search for new locations when the Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that it would close the L train, which services Brooklyn. While the MTA did not ultimately suspend L train service, the idea of a Manhattan outpost stuck in she and Plessner’s minds.
“We were growing, so we thought, ‘Why would you put capital there?’ It then became the exciting idea of building spaces. The physical experience of coming into the store feels so important to me, I never want to be a one-dimensional online brand, I want stores to be very tactile, very emotional — a real experience where you are welcome and there is a sense of discovery,” Vardi said of her objective.
Catbird was founded as a multijeweler boutique that also sold a charming selection of knickknacks, home goods, perfume and trinkets. Over the years, the store’s curated ephemera disappeared to make room for Catbird’s growing in-house jewelry line.
Now with additional room in their Manhattan outpost, the trinkets will return. “One thing that will be really nice is that there will be more room to walk around — it’s tough to give people a customer service experience in such a tiny, crowded space. There is so much more room for gifts and home goods and just more breathing room,” said Plessner.
The store will initially open as a holiday market with gifts like homemade candlesticks, handbags, pillows and candy — much of it priced for less than $50. The initial concept, which has a “candy store, very mercantile feeling,” according to Plessner, was crafted out of necessity.
“We make all our jewelry at the Navy Yard and don’t have the bandwidth to open a whole other Catbird in November,” explained Vardi. “It will take us about six months to build up the stock. After Valentine’s Day we will close to do a small renovation and all the jewelry will come in for a springtime opening.”
The initial store will stock a selection of giftable Catbird label jewelry. The location will also permanently house Catbird’s welding program — in which delicate gold chains are soldered onto shoppers’ wrists to create permanent bracelets.