Venn’s first general store stocks what we all need: community


Or Bokobza

– VOL. I

Like my co-founder, Chen, I didn’t realize how unique my home was until I left it. The small commune I grew up on in rural Israel emphasized community and supporting one another in a way I didn’t understand was rare until I left.

In my early 20s, I moved to the big city and, though surrounded by people with many of the same passions and goals, struggled to connect with my new neighborhood in ways that used to come naturally. It turns out, the same is true for millions of people around the world.

Connections between neighbors and neighborhoods come in many forms–we’ve written about them, a lot–but 2020’s global pandemic has put renewed, urgent focus on one in particular: supporting and contributing to our local economies.

“It’s clear we’ve all become isolated from the thousands of people who live around us. But something else has been lost, too.”

As practically entire cities have turned to home delivery, ease-of-use and on-demand anything from huge global companies, the connections between neighbors and nearby businesses have also suffered. These bonds are every bit as vital to a thriving, tight-knit community as friendly neighbors.

Venn Neighbors enjoy a monthly “Dig In” dinner at Venn Space General Irving in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Try the following exercise: Think about everything you bought in the last week and see if it was from a local vendor. If you want to go a step further, try to see if you’ve bought anything that was made or grown in your city, or even your country. See the problem?

Let me be clear: You’re not alone in wanting to buy local while struggling to make it happen. It’s a top priority for almost half of America, but there’s an equally high level of confusion about what “local” means, and how to make it happen. Depending on where you live, it might not even be a real option. How can we feel connected to our community if we rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to support and contribute to it? 

We can’t. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to have those direct relationships with the local economy around you. If you want to buy from and support your neighborhood, there’s probably an app, a middleman, or a far-away global company in the way. It shouldn’t be so hard to support your neighbor and share in their success. It’s human nature to want to help each other out. We just need it to be a little bit easier…

So at Venn, we’re doing just that.

We recently opened General Irving, a general store smack in the middle of Bushwick. The idea is simple, so simple, in fact, that it’s kept communities together for generations. It’s a place where you can grab a cup of coffee, do your grocery shopping, and meet up with friends by design or circumstance. Everything is made by local vendors and creators, and it always will be. No barriers (just masks!), no middlemen, and no hoops to jump through. Just a place for communities to convene. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

A cozy corner of Venn Space General Irving, a coffee shop meets bodega that sells local goods

We threw a small soft launch party for General Irving back in December, and it was like watching all the dots get connected in real-time. Watching our community laugh, connect, and enjoy the night with everything supplied locally gave me enough good vibes to almost forget the social distancing and masks at play. Even as we find ways to connect and celebrate, we’re still living through a unique time in human history.

A lot of people might wince or offer their apologies to anyone launching a general store during a pandemic. I disagree: I think there has never been a better time to have easy, direct ways to see and support your neighbors in a safe, helpful way.

As of October, up to 36,000 small businesses were facing COVID-related closure. Many of them have found ways to still offer their goods and services during lockdowns and social distancing, but their offers are only as good as our ability to support them. It can be hard to justify making the trip across your neighborhood when the biggest companies in the world can have anything brought right to your doorstep.

At Venn, we’re pushing back, and General Irving is the first step. Because you won’t just get the big things you need in a city–a great cup of coffee, fresh groceries, human contact–but the small things, as well. A place where everything you buy comes from (and supports) a member of your community.

A place you can’t find anywhere else. A place where you can live like a local, and feel like one too. After a year like this, we all deserve that sense of community. So let’s make it happen, together.

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