Alter, the popular clothing boutique on 140 Franklin Street, is celebrating 15 years in business! We caught up with owners Tommy Cole and Roy Caires to learn more about what it takes to run a Brooklyn business for the better part of two decades.
What initially drew you to opening in Greenpoint, and how have you seen the neighborhood change since then?
In the summer of 2006 we were living in WIlliamsburg when we started selling a line of reworked vintage t-shirts we had made at a store called Dalaga (150 Franklin Street). There were only a few businesses on the street back then but we immediately fell in love with the vibe and charm of the neighborhood. We had worked in clothing retail for many years and always talked about having a shop of our own.
In November 2006 another friend was hunting for an apartment in the area and his realtor showed him a small railroad apartment on street level at 109 Franklin Street — it was legally zoned a live/workspace. It wasn’t what he was looking for but he told us about it, and we jumped on it.
We gave up our apartment, moved into the back of the store, and opened the front two rooms as the first Alter store in February 2007. We lived in the back for the first six months and then we started expanding the shop and growing the business. Over the years we have seen multiple waves of new small businesses opening and closing as rent prices slowly increased year after year. We’ve been very lucky to have been able to remain in our current store at 140 Franklin Street since the summer of 2008.
What are some of your proudest achievements within these past 15 years?
When running a small business we feel like every single day we open the door is a huge achievement and something that we’re proud of. We have had so many great employees, neighbors, and customers throughout the years [that] it’s hard to put into words how special the relationships are with every one of them.
We have neighborhood teenagers shopping in the store now who we remember coming in as small kids in strollers, and now they’re our second-generation customers.
We’ve had some celebrity shoppers over the years which is always exciting (Bruno Mars, Kim Gordon, Kesha, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci). But what means the most is customers coming into the store to tell us how much they love the items they bought from us for their special life events like weddings, job interviews, performances, etc. It makes this feel much bigger than just selling clothes – we’ve built an entire community through the business.
What do you hope the next 15 years bring to Alter?
Our plan for the immediate future is to stay exactly where we are for as long as we can! We ended up closing our Graham Ave and Los Angeles locations during Covid so we are thrilled to just keep the flagship Franklin Street store open seven days a week. We are always working on finding new merchandise to offer, new designers to discover and meeting new neighbors every single day.