Joey Franquinha is hanging up a row of two-inch paintbrushes on the wall. Which makes sense, because hanging up new two-inch paintbrushes is something you might find yourself doing if you owed a hardware store. And Franquinha does. Specifically, the 30-year-old with a truly epic black beard co-owns Crest Hardware and Urban Garden Center, the Williamsburg, Brooklyn outfit started by his father Manny 50 years ago. The elder Franquinha, now 84, still comes in four or five days a week, but his son is the primary guy now. And so, Joey hangs up paintbrushes, in addition to all the other duties required of a small business owner.
But Crest is a bit different. It’s your neighborhood hardware store for sure, but it happens to be located in a strange, diverse, constantly changing neighborhood. Crest’s clientele alternates between plumbers, electricians, and construction workers who remember the good old days and Williamsburg’s current residents, the never-ending flow of hipsters attempting to create some new good times. The store caters to both sets, offering ten-penny nails next to two cases of Montana spray paint. Franquinha serves as the center. Today, as he hangs up paintbrushes, someone tapes it for a video. Elsewhere in the store, a small team sets up half a dozen massive amplifiers. Later in the day, Mini Cooper is staging a pop-up happening with the band Real Estate. The car brand wanted a “real” location, and they picked Crest. They could do much worse. In today’s Brooklyn, the hardware store on Metropolitan Avenue is as real as anything gets.
That feeling comes from the two generations of Franquinhas who head the shop. The father successfully built the business, and the son expanded it into the new reality of Brooklyn. In college, Joey minored in business, figuring it would help him when he eventually returned to run Crest, but his sociology major made a bigger impact. “Until I was in the store again full time on the regular post-college, I never realized how important that degree would be. It’s about the study of people in their environment. Making them feel comfortable in an environment they might be new to is how you keep a customer for life,” he says. “Probably 40 to 45 percent of our demographic is female. That alone should speak volumes of a customer’s comfort level coming into the shop.”
Crest is all about service and comfort. Sometimes that means sending a potential customer to another location if Crest doesn’t have what they need. “We make sure we’re knowledgeable enough about our own neighborhood. We want to let people know where they can get what they need locally without having to go to some type of big box and get lost in aisles that are 250-feet long,” Franquinha says. “That was something that was impressed upon me by my dad, and I’ve tried to take what he taught me and bring it into the 21st century. He’s gotten this far because he’s been doing something right.”
That inclusiveness extends to the menagerie of animals that have called Crest home over the years. There’s Franklin, a pot-bellied pit who earned a profile on NYTimes.com. Finlay, an African Grey parrot, lives in a cage near the cash register. A dalmatian named Oreo hung around for 14 years before passing away. One day, Franquinha arrived and found a german shepherd on the doorstop, so he took her in. “Her name was Offset, because her spine was offset. When she’d walked down the isles, she would walk sideways. She would knock all the stuff off the bottom peg hooks with her ass because she thought she was walking straight but she was actually walking askew,” he says.
In recent years, Crest expanded to include a robust garden center. What started as a small endeavor has grown into a massive operation as Williamsburg’s hipster set finds its green thumb, and the area’s landscapers purchase truckloads of mulch from the warehouse a few doors down. Around the holidays, Crest runs a bustling business for Douglas firs and other evergreens. “We’re slinging Christmas trees like crazy. ‘Tis the season for that. It’s great. Doing the Christmas tress is not only fun, but it keeps the garden center relevant during the off-season,” Franquinha says, sounding like the true businessman he has become.
The trees and the garden center are the fastest-growing section of company. Bigger and better, always. Of course, new opportunities do present some amusing clashes between cultures. “If you were to tell my dad 20 years ago ,’Manny, you’re going to be selling 40-pound bags of lobster shit and people are going to keep asking for it’ he would have thought you were absolutely out of your mind. I would have thought the same thing 10 years ago,” Franquinha says.
Some things, like the presence of lobster poop, changes over time. But what makes Crest Crest remains the same.
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