Lyn Chin has always loved working in the fashion industry. Originally from Oklahoma, she came to New York City in 2010 to put her apparel merchandising degree to use. She worked in retail and fashion consulting, where she was able to help people set up their retail stores and begin their journeys as entrepreneurs. After eight years of working in that job, she quit and soon after, the pandemic hit. Chin wanted to do something new and the lack of holiday markets and pop-ups that all but disappeared due to Covid-19 sparked an idea.
“I realized that a lot of the small batch makers, local makers and a lot of the people you’d see going to public markets and fairs weren’t able to do so,” she says. “Local makers make about 80% of their income during the holidays. These are not mainstream brands with big wholesale operations. They are neighbors making things out of their homes and trying to sell them at these fairs.”
In December 2020, Chin opened Side B in Astoria, Queens, where local makers can bring their products, sell them and spread awareness of their brand. For every item sold, Chin charges a small percentage, depending on the size of the business. Even though Chin would be opening a store mid-peak pandemic, she knew it would greatly benefit the community.
“It just seemed like an idea, and I could pursue it. I think with my training over the past few years, I didn’t feel a fear [of opening during the pandemic]. I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, I might regret it,’” she says.
When she first opened, about 75% of the brands sold in the store were Queens-based and 90% were women-owned and by people of color. Now, Side B has expanded to include more brands from throughout the five boroughs, not just Queens.
The store offers a variety of products, from jewelry to candles and art.
“Our biggest category is accessories. [The most popular brand] is Made by JRDJ . She has hypoallergenic earrings and lives here in Astoria. We sell home goods, such as candles and prints. We mostly sell art by local artists — we’ve had art from AJ the Awful. On Christmas, she sells a calendar with drawings of local businesses,” says Chin.
Customers have a lot to choose from, especially food and treats, from hot dogs to hot chocolate, made by small business owners cooking and baking out of the entrepreneur space down the street from Side B. Clothing and skin care products are also well received.
“There is something in here for everyone,” says Micheal Greer, who lives in the neighborhood and was visiting Side B for the first time. “I love that it’s curated too. There is so much in here, I feel like at other stores there isn’t a lot to choose from.”
Side B is a launch pad for many businesses that have now flourished.
“We were the first store to carry Baisun Candle Co. The [brand] is based out of Delaware, but I saw the business starting, and I had to coach [the owner] a little on how to sell to a retail store. We were the first ones and he took a chance with us. Now his business has quadrupled and he has a very big following with us,” Chin says.
The same goes for other businesses like Kon Incense, a brand by two women who used to be aroma and massage therapists. They couldn’t promote their brand because of the lack of market opportunities during the pandemic, but now after working with Side B, the brand can be found in many other stores.
“We are really striving for the startup business. The small guy that has a dream and is just going with it, the person that is passionate about making candles to get away from whatever stressful job they had. We are not Amazon, we are not working with mainstream brands. We are a launchpad,” Chin says.
Gabriella Miyares used to run a small print making company, so she knows how important it is when trying to promote your small business.
“I always love seeing shops like this, because I know it’s hard to break through. It’s hard to find a place that will feature your works, especially when they are online. They can get lost really easily, a brick and mortar makes it much easier,” she says. “[Side B] has a great selection of gifts. I like that there are a lot of locally made things. It’s important to focus on local people.”
Even though markets and pop-ups are back, small businesses continue to be promoted by Side B and the store is expanding its products. Chin is excited to delve into her passion for the fashion industry by working with apparel.
“We are going to begin upcycling apparel, so turning T-shirts or button-downs into pillows using scraps or to make bookmarks and scrunchies. It’s something I’m really excited about,” she says. “We’re also going to start carrying more food and snack products. It seems like something our customers tend to gravitate towards more.”
Chin puts a lot of thought into every product sold at Side B. She believes it’s her responsibility to provide customers with the best products, whether it is making sure that the home goods have a good impact on the environment or that the beauty items are not harmful.
“A customer is a part of your community,” she says. “Being a small business owner is all about being a good neighbor.”
Hours of operation: Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m, Sunday: 12 – 6 p.m.
Business address: 36-12 34th Ave., Queens, NY 11106
Phone number: (917) 740-4681
Social media: Instagram
Order online: https://www.shopsideb.com/s/shop
Most popular item: Earrings by Made by JRDJ