Flowers and skateboards? These are things that you may not immediately group together. But the owners of Park Deli, at 722 Classon Ave. in Crown Heights, decided that instead of opening up a shop that sold just one, they would sell both. And they don’t draw the line at flowers and skateboards either. The shop also carries an array of “dry goods,” including their own line of clothing.
At a time when department stores have been in sharp decline and the term “retail apocalypse” even has its own Wikipedia entry, Park deli owners Valentine Leung and Michael Sclafani seem to be reinventing the idea of the emporium on a small scale. “Our store is a very mom-and-pop, organic kind of business. I think that really in the beginning, Brooklyn really gave us more time than if we had been in Manhattan,” said Leung.
The married couple first opened up Park Deli in 2009 in a nearby Crown Heights storefront that had previously been a German delicatessen. A large cold case came with the property, so they kept it, and the name as well. Originally, the plan was for the store to act as a studio space for Leung’s clothing company, called Valentine, and as a vehicle for Michael’s store-window display business. As the idea evolved, they decided to combine all of their interests to create a variety shop of sorts.
Leung had been a stylist before launching her clothing line, which was “all manufactured in New York City. It was all cut-and-sew,” explained Sclafani. At that time, he had been producing window displays for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Nautica, and Yohji Yamamoto. “The idea for the store was sort of based on the fact that we found out that we having a child and we felt we would need some more space,” said Sclafani. “So we were like, ‘Maybe we should rent a storefront as our new studio space’ and that kept evolving into, ‘Oh well, let’s sell skateboards too.’ I used to skateboard. And let’s sell some vintage.”
As for the flowers? While he was in college, Sclafani spent some time working as a florist, so they had a head start in adding that to the store’s offerings. This part of the business keeps them very busy, especially during this time of the year. “Basically every weekend for the next couple of months is a wedding or an event happening,” said Sclafani.
For the first five years, Leung and Sclafani ran the shop mostly by themselves, but as the business grew and they moved to the current location, they realized they needed help. “The last four years, we started growing a team. And the team has grown a lot,” said Leung. As the next step, Leung and Sclafani want to grow their online sales. The company’s apparel is also sold wholesale to retailers in Japan, Australia and South Korea.
The family-business instinct runs in Sclafani’s blood. Both of his grandfathers owned businesses in Brooklyn at different times. One operated a miniature golf course on Flatbush and Avenue S; the other owned a fish store in Crown Heights. Brooklyn has changed a lot since then, and even a lot since the couple opened their store, Leung notes, but in a way that suits their business. “I don’t think that we could do what we do now, nine years ago when we started. It’s becoming a little bit more elevated,” she said.
As a result of the borough’s growing affluence, many small businesses have struggled with rising costs. “But since we are mom and pop and do a lot of the design here, and the creative team is here, Brooklyn is still our home,” said Leung. Her business partner welcomes the stimulation of their ever-changing surroundings. “I think that we’re inspired by what happens in Brooklyn,” he said. “The diversity is so incredible. You have people from all over the world coming in here.”