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Shen Beauty Goes Bigger and Better in Brooklyn

The cult Brooklyn beauty boutique is banking on a modernized new location to lure customers back in-store.

After 10 years in business, cult Brooklyn boutique Shen Beauty is moving to a bigger and better space.

The new 1,550-square-foot location at 138 Court Street is set to open on Sept. 1, with four treatment rooms for services such as facials and microblading and a separate area for makeup, brows and lashes.

Founder Jessica Richards is known for her trend-making prowess, often stocking little-known niche beauty labels such as Kosas and Augustinus Bader long before they gained mainstream popularity. The store’s signature merchandising strategy homes in on a mix of “the best of clean and chemical products that really work,” reflecting the way Richards says women prefer to shop for beauty.

Since its opening in 2010, Shen has been a neighborhood fixture in the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. Part of the store’s folklore is that Richards, a former Vogue stylist turned new mom and Brooklyn transplant at the time, opened the store after a jar of her favorite expensive niche face cream fell to the floor and shattered and she realized she’d have to cross into Manhattan to replenish it.

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After a decade, the store had outgrown its original space.

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“We had a three- to four-week waiting list for facials, a brow chair shoved into a corner. It was so busy — everyone [had started] shopping us [for beauty] instead of Barneys,” she added, referring to the now-shuttered Barneys New York location on Atlantic Avenue.

Plans for the new store, originally slated to open on April 1, were underway long before the government-mandated retail closures amid the spread of the coronavirus. While opening Shen’s new shop in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is nerve-wracking, Richards is optimistic that customers — particularly her loyal band of local followers in Brooklyn — will welcome a chance to shop in person in an non-bustling, intimate environment.

“I have hesitation — are people going to shop or are they not going to shop?” she said. “But at the end of the day we’re neighborhood-centric. I do find that people I know want to get out and about, and they miss that human interaction.”

While the old Shen had a hip shop-around-the-corner vibe, the new location has been completely modernized thanks to creative studio Mythology, a design and branding collective known for working with national brands such as Peloton and Sweetgreen.

The store is split into thirds — an area for “self-guided search,” middle space islands for “exploration and discovery,” and the right-hand wall dedicated to services.

Richards wanted the shopping experience to feel bright and airy, with plenty of big mirrors to test products.

Speaking of testers, she’s developed a pandemic-friendly tester system involving personal painters palettes, bamboo biodegradable makeup brushes and single-use palette knives and spatulas so customers can safely play with products before purchasing. “It feels like we’re taking it back to what makeup is supposed to be about — the artistry,” she said.

Part of the new store opening is an upgraded web site and e-commerce presence. Like many businesses during the pandemic, Shen’s e-commerce sales were up significantly during the retail store closures. Shen’s specifically were up 1,500 percent, a spokesperson from the company said. Popular products have included Bynacht skin care, a German brand that claims to repair the skin overnight. Prices range from $200 to $300 for the brand’s serums and night creams, but while affordability is a factor Richards is thinking about during the pandemic, it hasn’t seemed to stop her customers. “They’re shopping smarter, not less,” she said. “People just want something that works — they’re shopping specific solutions, like acne, instead of buying a seven-product routine from the same brand.”   

While e-comm sales have grown and the pandemic is still raging in the U.S., Richards is focused on the retail experience. “Unless it’s a [replenishment] item, I’m not an e-commerce consumer,” she said. “I’m a Millennial but I don’t get it. Retailers will take returns and then throw things away — it’s wasteful and not sustainable.”

She is also looking to maintain the indie spirit she has cultivated over 10 years in business. “Of course I want to grow and I do have one more location in mind, but I’m not looking to open a million stores,” she said. “What I want for Shen is for women to feel comfortable and happy and feel good about themselves — I think that is what Shen is about.”