WILLIAMSBURG — After debating a cross-country move from San Francisco to open an electronic cigarette lounge where smokers could sample vapors "like tasting wine," Ilana Orshansky knew she had to make the leap when she found a rent steal of $800 on the Williamsburg waterfront.
"This is the reason I moved my life here," said Orshansky, 28, of her cheap overhead for Vapor Lounge, a boutique e-cigarette shop opening Aug. 1 in a brand new building. "Rent includes Wi-Fi, AC and environmental light bulbs."
Orshansky and dozens of other entrepreneurs are starting businesses for low costs in the eco-friendly company Green Desk's latest venture on Kent Avenue and North First Street in an area that's become known for its skyrocketing prices. From an Ecuadoran craft shop to an offshoot of Brooklyn Cupcake, the stores have been quietly opening since the start of July, but most residents still don't know the giant retail center exists next to the former Domino Sugar Factory lot.
"The foot traffic usually stops at North Third Street," said Jacqueline Yu, the owner of Green Desk's inaugural shop OAT jewelry and hat boutique. "It's a small area [from us] but there's a power plant behind us, a sugar factory next to us and there are a lot of warehouses around us."
Yu, who said she had actually expected even worse business than the sparse customers she'd had, called the Green Desk store space "an investment" since massive development is planned for the strip.
"It's already getting better. We've had repeat customers, and cafés have taken our card to put in their shops," Yu said. "Hopefully it'll get a lot better in two or three years."
Green Desk's Williamsburg rental director Melissa Rios said the company intentionally offered low rent (with a pledge of no price increases) and no lease commitments so small businesses could plant their seeds — and she noted that the building had "a lot of potential" to draw crowds in the future. The site also features two full floors of offices and a commercial kitchen incubator for start-ups and home-based businesses to use.
"We have 16 businesses now, opening in July, August and September," said Rios, noting that 20 more spots were available. Current businesses include Radikal Ecuadorian goods, Ess juice bar and a massage parlor.
And for Orshansky, who will sell tiramisu-flavored, cotton candy-tinged, and dozens of other all-natural vapors (including non-nicotine varieties) for reusable electronic cigarettes, the building is a chance to share her own new passion with Williamsburg.
"I used to smoke 14 to 17 cigarettes a day," said Orshansky, who quit earlier this year. "[Electronic cigarettes] have allowed me to change my life."