Alana and her sister Erin hail from the Florida panhandle, near Alabama, but they've lived on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg for over 10 years. A little under a month ago, they opened Campbell Cheese & Grocery. The corner store, with its blue awnings and white tile, is a beautiful shop whose offerings reflect where the Campbell sisters come from, where they've made their home, and the places they've been in between.
"We've always wanted to open a business together, and we love food, and we felt like this is what the neighborhood needed," noted Alana. "We've talked about [opening a business] our whole lives—we played store when we were little, and here we are!" She gestured down the block and laughed, "I can actually see the store from my window!"
But the shop, which sells everything from locally made pasta, cookies, produce, and chocolate, didn't come from a long plan. "It was really the fact that this spot became open, that's really why we did it. We weren't looking for a space, but this spot was available and we decided to go for it. It's a great corner and there's nothing like this at this stop." The sisters spent some time studying specialty stores in the US and abroad for inspiration, came up with a design, hired a French carpenter, and off they went.
When it came time to choose products, Alana called upon her training in the arts (she is a documentary filmmaker. "For me, documentary [work] is about storytelling, and that's what we're doing when we're getting all these products. We're not only looking for amazing tastes, but also looking for great stories." The result? A harmonious collection of items: cheeses and a few cured meats, pickles, jams and spread, tea, chocolates, spices, pasta and produce. (And housewares—Alana has a thing for housewares.)
The cheese case is the star of the show. "We hired an amazing cheesemonger. The cheese connections came through her, and we've let her run with the case. The case it really lovely." Elena Santogade, said cheesemonger, pointed out some of her recent acquisitions, and explained how the cheese case itself is also a reflection of both local community and far away influences. The case (which carries a high percentage of New York State cheeses) is organized around pairings: domestic and English cheddars, or domestic Grayson and its Italian cousin, Tallegio, for example. "We're trying to elevate certain cheeses, have more of a focus, make connections." Each selection is carefully labeled with place of origin and helpful descriptors, like "bouncy," "meaty," "peanut butter," "buttered popcorn," "pillowy," or "hay."
Some of the specialty items at Campbell's tell stories of where they're from. Alana ticked them off: "We have pickles from Red Bay grocery where we grew up," delivered to their door by their parents, who drove them from Florida. "We carry Garden and Gun out of Charleston, SC, it's really a great magazine, more food, less gun." They also carry handmade wood cutting boards from Russellworks, based in North Carolina.
But most of the offerings are "from around the corner" (in some cases, literally.) There's cookies from Greenpoint's Ovenly, jars of yogurt from White Moustache, spreads from The 3 Nuts and Better Off Spread, and Williamsburg-based Sfoglini pasta. The bread is from both Bien Cuit, and Napoli, which is around the corner, on Metropolitan. You can buy the bread by the loaf or order one of Campbell's sandwiches.
Chocolates are particularly well represented. "We started tasting chocolates, and found all these that we loved, so we decided to run with the chocolate. We have a couple of imports, but for the most part they're really well made American chocolates. And, of course, we carry all the Brooklyn chocolates: Raaka, Fine and Raw, Cacao Prieto."
Brooklyn Grange stopped by with a delivery of greens mid-conversation. "We try to get as much as we can from Brooklyn Grange—they don't have everything, but if they have it, we buy it." The rest comes from Finger Lakes Farm upstate, with avocados and citrus from afar "to round things out."
The Campbells have also secured products for Williamsburg's older Italian community. "We get this great mozzarella from this old family in the Bronx. They deliver on Tuesdays and Fridays, and we keep it out all day warm and juicy before we have to stick it in the fridge, so come right away!"
"We're trying to build a selection that is approachable, accessible, and isn't overwhelming" explained Elena. "We want to present something that makes sense to people." Though she was speaking specifically to her cheese case, she could have been speaking for Campbell's Cheese & Grocery generally: a thoughtfully curated space, that is manageable in its scope and all about the story.