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When Jen Mankins announced on Friday that she was closing her beloved store, Bird, she immediately started getting emails from customers. One of them, now a very successful real estate broker, recalled a day years ago when she was browsing the racks and a fellow shopper walked up to her and uttered the following rat-a-tat monologue: “Listen, I’m getting a divorce. I have a big house I need to sell quickly. I want you to do it. If you’re here at Bird, I can trust you, because you’ve got great taste.” That was her first major sale. “My store has sort of been the foundation of her whole career,” Mankins says with pride. “Now she’s selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate every year. I don’t think technology can replace those kinds of real-life experiences.”Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.
Like Colette, Opening Ceremony, and so many other stores before it, Bird was what the sociologist Robert Oldenberg would have called a “third place,” somewhere that is neither home nor work. For its regulars, it was a place to drift between the personal and professional, to interact with people who weren’t blood relatives or sentient business cards, to let chance lead you to a new find that might change your life, or at the very least your wardrobe. Whatever the conveniences of online shopping, you’re unlikely to have a profound experience while typing “green wool high-waisted pants” into a search bar.
Bird’s original Park Slope outpost opened in 1999; when Mankins took over the store in 2004, she remembers, “the retail landscape was just so focused on Soho and Nolita.” Its rise coincided with the boom of the contemporary market. “It was really exciting and fun,” Mankins recalls of that time in fashion. “And it wasn’t happening in Brooklyn, at all. None of those designers had any exposure or representation in Brooklyn, and I lived in Brooklyn.” From the beginning, she never conceived of her audience as being solely made up of quote-unquote fashion people; she saw her neighbors as “like-minded people, whether they worked in food or media or art.” The designer Rachel Comey, championed early on by Bird, thinks that was crucial to the store’s appeal. “The fact is that many people love fashion, outside the narrow-minded world that is the fashion industry,” she says. Mankins “wasn’t afraid that a bit of fashion would scare off her community. She believed in her customers and in turn, they trusted her to dazzle and dress them.”
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