The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange began in 1854 as a way for talented women to sell their needlework and handcrafted goods anonymously. During the Civil War, Spanish American War and World War I, they also made warm garments for the soldiers as a way to supplement their income with their talents during hard financial times. We recently visited their oldest location in Brooklyn Heights today.
Over the years, the Women’s Exchange expanded to include over two hundred exchanges nationwide. Today, however, there are only twenty Women’s Exchanges left nationally. Due to the high cost of rent, the Manhattan Women’s Exchange closed in 2003, leaving in New York only Scarsdale and Brooklyn Heights, which is the oldest. Seventy percent of their products are handmade by over three hundred artisans, many of whom have been selling with them for years. The artisans are no longer anonymous and no longer only women. The other thirty percent of the shop contains manufactured items to help defray the operating costs.
The shop is made up completely of volunteers who are as pleased to show you where to find a particular item as they are to tell you about the artist who created it. You will find everything from hand-thrown pottery, boiled wool hats and blown glass vases to sweaters, note cards, and jewelry. You’ll find pickles and jams, soaps and candles and an abundance of children’s items. They even have a silhouette artist who will create an image from a photo. They are the Grand Dames of craft markets, well before Etsy and the influx of flea markets, and they continue in their tradition today.
The stately building they call home was originally built as a hotel in 1928 by the architect H. I. Feldman. The building is now owned by Catholic Charities and operated as a senior residence with the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange occupying their retail space at ground level. Located just two blocks away from the Promenade overlooking Manhattan, they are frequented by as many tourists as they are locals.
The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange is a Member of the National Federation of Women’s Exchanges. They are a nonprofit, open every day except Monday, and closed annually in the Summer. If you are a crafter and wish to explore an opportunity selling with them, or if you would like to become a Brooklyn Women’s Exchange Volunteer Member, you will find the information on their website.
You can contact the author at AFineLyne