Recap: Tenement Museum Hosts Etsy Talk With ‘Shop Life’ Tours

Posted on: March 4th, 2013 at 12:09 pm by

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Photo: Lori Greenberg

In 2013, amidst chain stores and online shopping, what is the equivalent of a “mom and pop” shop? Are they a part of a lost past, once epitomized by business districts of local shops like the Lower East Side, but now doomed by mass production and cheap overseas labor? Or has the globalized, digitized world come full circle and enabled a new opportunity?

Perhaps in an attempt to answer this, the Tenement Museum hosted a presentation by Etsy last week, the site that is arguably the new home of homemade. The event coincided with the new “Shop Life” exhibit (read more Boogie coverage here) which recreates the historical businesses that previously existed at 97 Orchard St (home of the museum). Billed as exploring the broad impact of commercial activity in New York through the last 150 years, the evening consisted of a talk and a reception, as well as tours of the “Shop Life” installation.

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Interactive exhibit at “Shop Life.” Photo: Lori Greenberg

Our evening started with a fascinating tour of the exhibit from our wonderful guide Nick Capodice, where we learned about the history of a German saloon from 1864, newly recreated in its former space, and also got to play with the cool interactive exhibit in the vestiges of what once had been a kosher butcher shop in the 1890s. We then headed up the street to the Etsy presentation and reception at the Tenement Museum Visitor’s Center.

Many NYC Etsy sellers and their diverse wares were in attendance (with some serious representation from Brooklyn in the house). The crowd in the very packed room seemed to be eagerly devouring both the Etsy designers’ product and the old-school Lower East Side “appetizings” – in this case, a variety of knishes provided by Katz’s. (Hey, we were definitely not complaining!)

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Photo: Lori Greenberg

Morris Vogel, president of the Tenement Museum, kicked off the talk, praising the entrepreneurs of the “Shop Life generation” along with the Etsy generation, describing both groups as “people who took nothing, and turned it into something,” adding “as opposed to Citibank.” He then thanked Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson for “bringing so many Brooklynites to the Tenement Museum.”

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Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel. Photo: Lori Greenberg

Dickerson then took the mic, ad libbing that he does not bank at Citibank. Describing Etsy as “reimagining commerce,” he took us through the history of the Brooklyn-based startup. Keeping a local element to the talk, he compared his previous pre-Etsy experiences working in Silicon Valley to New York City. Clearly, he preferred the latter, calling New York “a melting pot – like the internet itself.” He also reinforced the parallel between the strong communities created in the businesses of the “Shop Life” exhibit and the Etsy universe.

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Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson. Photo: Lori Greenberg

A few fun facts that we learned in Dickerson’s presentation:

  • New York State is the second largest community of Etsy sellers, with Manhattan having the most buyers, and Brooklyn having the most sellers. (No word on who is number one, but we don’t like them!)
  • 75 percent of Etsy sellers are women, and most sellers are home-based.
  • There are 1.3 Etsy sellers for every taxicab in NY; 6.9 sellers for every laundromat in NY; and 133 sellers to every museum and cultural institution in NY.

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Photo: Lori Greenberg

Dickerson also discussed the “Etsy Economy,” which created full time careers for many people who started on Etsy, initially expecting just a little extra income. As a result, the online community has become an economic force, a point that Dickerson recently made to the US Senate.

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Photo: Lori Greenberg

The “Etsy Economy,” arising from the determined efforts of individuals and small businesses, may have more similarities to the local economics of the “Shop Life” era than it would at first seem. Online, though, you can’t chase disrespectful customers away with a broom, as my grandmother did.

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