Williamsburg's Mini Mini Market Closing After 14 Years

By Dana Varinsky on March 7, 2014 8:37am 

WILLIAMSBURG — After a 14-year stint on Bedford Avenue, Mini Mini Market, a women’s clothing and gifts store in Williamsburg, is closing its doors.

The store’s co-owner, Dana Schwister, said her rent was being raised from $5,600 to $12,000, and she and her partner, Erika Vala, could not afford the increase.

“It would have to be a whole new store,” Schwister said. “We would have to sell much more expensive stuff.”

Mini Mini Market will join a growing list of stores priced out of Bedford Avenue. The Bagel Store relocated to South Williamsburg two years ago, Supercore, a Japanese cafe on South 1st Street closed over the weekend, and Earwax Records, which had the same landlord as Mini Mini Market, moved to North 9th Street in July.

Schwister said Mini Mini Market's sales had remained flat for the past three years, and she and Vala were not willing to make the changes the rent increase demanded.

“My family is kind of poor, so I’d feel almost embarrassed if I’m going to sell a $400 shirt,” Schwister said. “It just feels foreign to me.”

Although the store will not close completely until May, Schwister and Vala began their going-out-of-business sale Tuesday. Schwister said the store has a lot of inventory to sell, since spring merchandise was ordered before the decision to close.

The duo opened Mini Mini Market in 1999 — they like to say the store has been open since the last century — and at the time, their rent was $1,600.

“We were the first store to open in this mall,” Schwister said, referring to the Williamsburg Mini Mall between North 4th and North 5th Streets. Schwister moved to the neighborhood in 1991. 

“There were no other shops on Bedford whatsoever,” she said, recalling a storefront across the street where elderly men just hung out and kept birds.

Since opening, Mini Mini Market has developed a loyal Williamsburg clientele.

“They have original things that you can’t find anywhere else. “ said Charlotte Czeru, who lives near the store and has been shopping there for eight years.

Amy Castaldo, who used to live nearby and is still a regular customer, recalled a pair of black and white striped leg warmers that she still wears. She said the store represented a sense of individuality that is disappearing from Williamsburg as the neighborhood gentrifies.

“I know you have to grow and develop and change, but it’s just homogenized,” she said.

The gentrification in Williamsburg hasn’t been all negative for Schwister and Vala, however — the pair opened Shoe Market on North 6th Street in 2007, and they plan to keep that store open. But that hasn’t stopped customers from expressing their sadness to see Mini Mini Market go. Schwister said she has even had a few customers cry.

“We represent a time and a place, and people have memories of the store, or memories of times when they were wearing something they bought here. It’s sentimental,” she said.

But despite the emotion, Schwister said she does not feel bitter about having to close. 

“I think it’s a New York story," she said. "Do I wish I’d bought a building on Bedford? Yes. But I feel fortunate that we got this opportunity to try something, and it worked for us.”

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