Crest Hardware has been a staple of Williamsburg for nearly sixty years. To achieve such a landmark in a neighborhood that has seen radical changes in the last three decades could be viewed as a miracle, but that wouldn’t give credit to the human elements that make this store special and are linked to its longevity.
“We got to be up there with the Martin Greenfield’s1 of the world as far as oldest businesses in the North Brooklyn area! We are members of the old guard, and we have a real spot-on ability to still adapt and stay dialed into what a newer demographic is looking for — but we have to give them a taste of the old school,” said Joseph Franquinha, second generation owner of Crest, which was started by his father, Manny, and uncle, Joseph.
If you were one of Crest’s first customers you would have visited it at its original Metropolitan Ave. location where a record store is now, just across the street from the present location. It was a classic hardware store that added household necessities to give it a well-cherished general store sensibility. This grew their clientele and hence the need for more space and their move across the street. Joseph Franquinha has worked his whole life in the store; as a kid his first jobs there were sweeping the floors and cutting boxes. He learned more than just business from his father.
“My dad was always ready and willing to support schools, churches, community groups of all sorts, and that left a huge impression on me. I saw the value from a civic-minded standpoint, but there is also a value in that being how you spend your advertising dollars. It’s not just about putting your name in print; it’s about putting your money where your mouth is and leading by example.”
Joseph’s sense of community is a family tradition. His father, Manny Franquinha served on the St. Nicks Alliance Board of Directors and was a key advertiser in the Greenline newspaper when it was getting off the ground. Joseph’s mother, Cathy, is also a community activist. Recently, she raised thousands of dollars toward building a new community center in the old settlement house at 120 Jackson Street.
An example of Joseph’s efforts in community building is his support of Swinging Sixties Senior Center’s annual bocce tournament, which funds a senior bus. This tournament fundraiser launched three years ago and is timed around late May or early June.
“When I think about Crest’s connectivity to Swinging Sixties and a lot of different community entities, it all started with my dad and seeing that prime example in front of me: what a store’s responsibility should and could be. Say, ‘could be’ because there’s always an opportunity to do more and to set the bar higher for other businesses around you.” Joseph spearheaded networking with other local businesses to compete in the tournament. “You have this nice mixture of longstanding members of the community mixing with newer members of the community neighbor-wise but mostly businesswise that are willing to do what it takes. You’ve got the Variety Coffees and Meat Hooks and businesses like that who have taken that responsibility just as seriously as Crest has. That’s invigorating; it’s really awesome to see. To grow from four or so teams to eight teams to twelve teams in that third year it says a lot. To raise the money we did makes you hungrier and more excited to do even better next year,” he said.
Team Crest has won the tournament twice. The Meat Hook won the trophy the 2nd year of the tournament. When contemplating next year’s tournament Franquinha shows his generosity of spirit in the following good-natured ribbing, “It’s unfortunate that [The Meat Hook] didn’t even make the playoffs this year, but if they practice and really try their hardest they might win a game or two and be relevant. The shelf at the front by our register is only so big and can hold only so many trophies.”
Delving further into the subject of fellowship he has experienced with the area’s businesses he expressed it’s a shame that the reality of North Brooklyn’s civic-mindedness is somewhat of an insider secret, “[Those who don’t really know the area] want to write off Williamsburg. They use terrible words like hipster haven, and it kind of gives off the idea that it’s this self-centered narcissistic area, but that’s really not the case. Small business really matters here, and we want to do our best to move forward together.”
Crest’s inventory is geared to empower consumer heroes who strive to shop as local as possible. In addition to providing necessity items Franquinha has added merchandise that appeals to disposable income, which attracts customers from further away. The store has a strong following of loyal customers that continue to come back even when they move to another borough. The store’s knowledgeable and friendly staff is also a factor that ups the client appeal, and they also love the store. Even when they move on to other employment they come back to shop there. One former employee even asked to have her wedding in the Garden Center. Joseph felt honored, and he even took on the role of officiant; he is a licensed wedding officiant.
The Garden Center is Joseph’s brainchild, created to fill the void when there was a lack of garden retail in the area. He also wanted to do it on his terms, making sure the products were organic and environmentally friendly. This department first opened inside the store when these ideals were not the norm. He had to convince longtime customers that they didn’t need brand-name commercial fertilizer to make their tomatoes grow large. “But they started to trust us [on this subject] like they trusted us in all our other departments,” said Franquinha. The department grew and expanded to the outdoor space. Joseph had only a shoestring budget to construct the center with; so he did it himself with some guidance and great advice from local second generation professional contractor, Michael Siano. The Garden Center now generates a third of store’s business.
When he built the Garden Center, Franquinha kept in mind that it should also be a place for shared experiences, not just commerce. It’s the site of Crest Hardware’s Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest. Liza Franquinha, Joseph’s wife, is the brand and events director for the store and its events. She is also their bocce team’s ringer. The ninth installment of this free, family-fun event for all ages will take place on October 19. In addition to the jack-o-lantern competition there will be music, dancing, food, refreshments, prizes, as well as a kids’ activities. Squash entrants in the pumpkin contest must arrive carved to Crest by 7 p.m., judging begins at 7:15 p.m., and the winners will be announced at approximately 8 p.m.
Also upcoming on Crest’s event calendar will be their renewed partnership with the Hoxton Hotel this fall and Holiday Season. Crest will sell pumpkins in the hotel’s pumpkin patch and Christmas trees at the Hoxton’s Christmas Tree Market. This is the second year Crest will be at the Christmas Tree Market, and like last year they will donate a percentage of the tree sales to a selected charity.
1Martin Greenfield Clothiers (239 Varet St.) was established in 1977.
Crest Hardware and Garden Center is located at 558 Metropolitan Ave. Ph. (718) 388-9521 Business Hours: Mon. through Sat. 8 a.m. –7 p.m and Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Crest Hardware’s 9th Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest is on Saturday, Oct. 19th from 5 p.m.–9 p.m. The event is free. The Hoxton Hotel is located at 97 Wythe Ave.