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This Artist Wants to Re-Create an Entire Convenience Store Using Felt

By Nicole Levy | August 17, 2016 8:35am | Updated on August 19, 2016 4:38pm
 British artist Lucy Sparrow poses at her 2014 London art installation,
British artist Lucy Sparrow poses at her 2014 London art installation, "The Cornershop".
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Lucy Sparrow

This takes comfort food to a whole new level.

A pop-up convenience store selling all your favorite junk foods stitched out of soft and cozy felt cloth will open in Manhattan next summer if its founder reaches her fundraising goal of $53,000 within the next two weeks.

Artist Lucy Sparrow's Kickstarter campaign could bring an Americanized version of her popular London installation — a corner shop stocked with typical British grocery items, all constructed from the wooly textile — to New York City. More than half of all donations to the fundraiser financing that 2014 project came from the United States, she said.


Backers who pledge the equivalent of £500 to Sparrow's Kickstarter earn a shopping basket filled with up to 10 felt food items of their choice. (Credit: Lucy Sparrow)

The 30-year-old Brit is calling her new store "Eight Till Late", a "Jeff Koonz approach" to the 7-Eleven franchises dotting Manhattan streets around Madison Square Garden. 

"It was a play on words," Sparrow said. "I also want to be open for the exact times, so it’s as much a performance piece as anything else.”

The idea for the modern convenience store was born in 1927, when Jefferson Green decided to sell milk, bread and eggs in addition to ice at the Southland Ice Dock in Dallas, Texas. Locals could buy food at an ice dock open 16 hours a day, seven days a week — long after local grocery stores closed. Seeing potential in Green's idea, the Southland Ice Company expanded its inventory at other locations.

"It was the mid-'40s that they officially changed their name to 7-Eleven, and that was for the hours of operation: 7 in the morning to 11 at night," said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. Today, there are more than 154,000 convenience stores serving roughly 11,000 customers per day in the U.S.

Roughly 2,400 of those stores — including bodegas — are in the New York metro area, estimated Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores. (While New Yorkers distinguish between convenience stores like 7-Eleven and the bodega on your block, the association does not.)

They do more for their communities than stock groceries, Calvin said: "They're also a source of interaction among people from many different walks of life, who see each other, hold the door for each other, who otherwise might not come into contact with each other."

Eight Till Late would operate like any other convenience store, inviting customers to browse the aisles, fill their baskets with felt items in the shapes of Twinkies and Lucky Charms, and purchase them with real money at a checkout counter to take home. Actors would play store employees, joined on the floor in uniform by the artist herself. 

If Sparrow can lock down all the funding necessary, half of which she expects to come from angel investors, it will take her and five sets of helping hands seven months to sew an 8,000-piece inventory by hand. On that list is a functioning slushy machine, filled with beads instead of ice.

more food

Some of the goodies you'll be able to shop for at Eight Till Late.

"I’m going to pay really close attention to local delicacies that people are really going to notice," said Sparrow, who plans to include a deli counter in her store. 

That's in line with convenience store trends, according to the NACS. 

"We're seeing more prepared food and fresh food, which is probably a little bit harder to make in felt," Lenard said. Other big items Lenard and Calvin suggest Sparrow add to her list: beverages like coffee and beer; fruits like bananas, apples, oranges; dairy products like yogurt and string cheese; and staples such as lottery tickets and cigarettes. 

Sparrow hopes that her attention to detail evokes nostalgia and an "unbelievably warm, hugged feeling," she said. "I want people to go to this and it be appealing for absolutely for everyone ... all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds."

"Whether you’re in New York City or out in the most rural part of the country, [a convenience store] is something you can identify with," said Lenard, who described Sparrow's concept as "taking something common and twisting it sideways."

Still, it will be a challenge for someone living across the Atlantic to manufacture products that strike New Yorkers as truly authentic and familiar, Sparrow acknowledged.

"I think it’s so easy to get it wrong," said the artist, who last visited the city for an art fair in April and is taking some of her cues from the 1994 Kevin Smith film "Clerks." "I’m going to have forget like 30 years of anything I ever thought of New York and train my brain to do it properly.”

Eight Till Late will ideally open for three weeks at a SoHo location in June 2017.