Call it an elevated convenience shop, a curated micro-store, or a modernized version of a newsstand without the newspapers.
Bridges General, a compact, grab-and-go format best suited for lobbies and the office worker crowd, is expanding quickly across America. It fills a lot of daily, last-minute needs, selling personal care and beauty products, travel accessories, tech accessories, coffee, wellness and healthy snacks and beverages without the usual GMOs, chemicals and additives.
“It’s the 2.0 of convenience stores. We are reimagining the fast-casual convenience environments with a curated assortment,” Aaron Battista, chief executive officer of Bridges General, told WWD. “So many people spend most of their days in office environments.”
There are seven Bridges General shops, in New York and San Francisco; 20 are slated to open by year-end, and about 100 — from 300 to 1,000 square feet each — are expected to be up and running in 2020.
“We are looking at residential buildings, hotels, hospitals, cruise ships, as well as office buildings, and avoiding higher-rent situations like Grand Central Terminal and Westfield World Trade Oculus,” Battista said.
Asked if rolling out to 100 units by 2020 is ambitious, Battista replied, “Not really. We have incredible access to a network of landlords.” During his 25-year retail career, Battista has opened more than 700 stores, including Swatch, The Body Shop, Gucci, Lucky Brand, Seven For All Mankind, Vince and Rebecca Taylor. He also held top retail posts at Kellwood Co. and VF Corp.’s contemporary brand coalition.
Bridges General is funded by Retail Worx, a two-and-a-half-year-old holding company, founded by ceo Jonathan Krieger. It has raised about $26 million to date to incubate, own, operate and scale up hospitality, health, wellness, fitness and retail brands. In addition to Bridges General, Retail Worx owns and operates the Taco Dumbo and Omakasa restaurants in Manhattan, Bluestone Lane coffee shops in different parts of the country, Randolph Beer brew pubs and the 399 Lafayette event space in New York, plus the upcoming BIA fitness concept in NoLIta, which will include a Bridges General health bar.
Interviewed at the 800-square-foot Bridges General shop in the lobby of 110 Greene Street in SoHo, Battista and Shu de Jong, chief brand officer of Retail Worx, gave a run-through of the products sold at the shop.
Forget about Diet Snapple and Cheetos. Bridges General offers rosewater from Gulsha, Hu Kitchen chocolates made with unrefined organic coconut sugar and no cane or refined sugar, emulsifiers, soy or dairy; Dirty Lemon collagen or activated charcoal, and Rise nitro coffee.
“The assortment is more curated to people having healthy choices. We are really in the natural and organic sector,” said Battista.
There are also on-the-go products such as Eo deodorant wipes and hand sanitizers, C.O. Bigelow lip balms and fragrances, Poraso shaving products, Marvis toothpaste, Pure Castile Soap from Dr. Bronners, Monq vaporizers, greeting cards from Paper Source and SmartyPants vitamins, among other items.
There are 15 categories and prices range from $2 for gum to $35 for a Swell traveler mug.
About 15 percent of the merchandise is sourced locally, and most of the merchandise is narrowly distributed, such as Bears Fruit, which makes Kombucha in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Stuart & Co., a potato chips manufacturer also in Brooklyn.
“This is a local play. We pay homage to local brands wherever we take real estate,” said de Jong, a former pro basketball player from Amsterdam who had a consulting firm specializing in spirits and fashion brands before joining Retail Worx.
For the Los Angeles stores opening in early fall, Bridges General will sell, among other products, Malibu Honey, which sources honey from bees that forage in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains.
For a small space, there are plenty of services available, or soon to be, including Urban Stem to preorder and pick up a bouquet or have one delivered, and monthly appearances by brand founders to discuss how they became “disruptor” entrepreneurs and possibly stage trunk shows.
“Every brand we sell has a story to it,” said de Jong. “This will help foster a local feel, and an approachable feel,” added Battista.
There are also outposts for Happy Returns, where you can drop off an item that needs to be returned and get your credit quickly recorded online, and for Denim Repairs for fixing jeans and jackets.
The design of the Bridges General store is clean, modern and distinguished by its white railroad wall tiling for a retro touch, deep blue signage, workers uniformed in Jeans Shop denim, and flexible fixtures that can be rearranged to grow, shrink or add categories. “Everything is sort of modular,” Battista said. One possibility for the future — selling periodicals. Battista favors Artforum, The Paris Review and Financial Times. Apparel is another possibility, working with Jean Shop.
For Battista, shifting from apparel retailing to launching Bridges General isn’t all that much of a stretch. “It feels good. I want to apply the same level of engagement,” he said. “The process of creating an experience is the same whether it’s apparel, supermarket or convenience stores. It’s about paying attention to who your customer is, what they asking for, and educating them on new products. Just as there are trends in fashion, you do have trends in food. The whole health and wellness mind-set plays right into people wearing activewear and the active lifestyle.”