Bed-Stuy has got everything, from tons of local coffee shops to trendy art. One little store, just 300 sq ft, seems to encapsulate the same idea. Willoughby General carries everything a Bed-Stuy resident could need: fresh produce, cold brew, cooking items, quality detergent, locally made crafts, and more.
The store provides a welcoming environment for anyone who passes by, and that’s how Owner Lauren Cawdrey hopes Willoughby General is seen by members at Common Tompkins.
What was the inspiration behind this store in Bed-Stuy, and how did you get into the business?
There was nowhere in the neighborhood to get basic groceries, fresh produce, or prepared food other than Chinese takeout and bodega sandwiches, so we realized the need for that. Willoughby General provides an assortment of grocery staples, in addition to a menu that is dictated by what is in stock and what needs using up. We’re very conscious of food waste, and it’s a creative way to provide healthy and affordable meals. In the first few weeks, I had never seen people so excited about vegetables before. The response was and continues to be extremely positive.
We love that you are a female-owned and operated business. Do you have any tips for other female entrepreneurs, artists, and business owners?
Seek out grants, free courses, and mentorship opportunities! Other than that, I don’t think there’s anything female specific about being an entrepreneur. It’s about building credit, trusting your intuition, and hustling nonstop. We had no clue how to run a general store, but we trusted ourselves and put in the time to figure it out and lucky for us, it’s working.
What are the best things about living and working in Bed-Stuy?
I’ve lived in Bed-Stuy for 8 years. What I’ve always loved about it is the history. So many of my neighbors grew up in the homes they still live in. There’s a pride to the neighborhood that I hadn’t experienced previously living in other parts of Brooklyn. I’m pretty active in the community too. I’m on the beautification committee for the block association and the treasurer of the PTA at my daughter’s school, which is a block away. It feels pretty idyllic to have my daily life contained to a two block radius.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now and why?
Any item that’s made by individuals expressing their talents is exciting to us. We directly help support independent makers and that feels impactful. Right now alone we have earrings, natural beauty products, ceramics and even sauerkraut, all made by people in the neighborhood.
What’s the mantra behind Willoughby General?
It’s “Wants & Needs.” It’s so important to recognize the difference between the two. It’s also important to us to provide a good mix of high and low brow items to accommodate that. I love that you can stop in Willoughby General, and get everything from a cheese plate to a little gift under $20 and a greeting card to go with it. It’s a well-curated balance for a 300 sq ft space.
How do you hope people use your space?
The building has always been a neighborhood spot. It used to be Star Lite barber shop before Willoughby General, before that a kind of “social club” and even a candy store back in the 50s. We’re tiny, but we love hosting events here. We’ve done popup shops, had “planting parties,” and we also offer consignment opportunities. It’s a win-win! We don’t have to buy inventory upfront which helps financially, and we bring in lovely items, made in the community.
What are you waiting for? Willoughby General is open every Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you have an inquiry, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or find some answers on their website. Follow their Instagram and Facebook page to stay updated!