Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the May 2015 ORANGE Issue III.
Customers describe it as comfortable and eclectic — the garage that everyone goes to, or your best friend’s apartment, but sunnier.
Story and Photos by Miranda Chiechi
Nestled in East Austin, the little white house sits with a quaint porch and windows framed by curtains. It looks like an average home except it has the name, Friends & Neighbors, inscribed above the porch, indicating that it’s been remodeled into a shop.
Inside the weathered white doors, bursts of turquoise, pink and mustard greet customers. Each room — some filled with vinyls, others with vintage clothes or bathroom luxuries — has a different story to tell. There’s a coffee bar with seasonal homemade syrups and a small grocery area offering wine, hot sauce and spices. The whole space comes together in the backyard, which is complete with tables, benches and a tie dyed purple teepee where the community gathers for events and workshops. "There's so many different things to explore here, and I think that's what's so much fun," owner Jill Bradshaw says.
Upon graduating from UT with a marketing degree, Bradshaw lived in New York City, where she started the boutique I Heart with a close friend. After more than five of living in the Big Apple, she moved back to Austin with the dream of combining a boutique and a cafe. She had to make adjustments for the new store, like moving away from featuring new designers to focusing on vintage items. "Austin is a whole new market for me in a way because it's so different from when I was younger,” Bradshaw explains. “New York is like a completely different beast."
But Bradshaw had learned a lot in New York, and she used those lessons and experience in the industry to take her idea of a simple boutique and expand it to include a coffee bar and groceries. She partnered with Greg Mathews and Jade Place-Mathews, who run local restaurant Hillside Farmacy, to bring the boutique and cafe together for a haven space called Friends & Neighbors.
The charming white bungalow on East Cesar Chavez Street was an ideal location for the store. Inspired by vintage styles, Bradshaw knew she wanted the bungalow to resemble a 1950s and ‘60s theme and designate each room for a specific purpose, like using the bedroom as a changing room. "I like to think of each room being a small fantasy of sorts," she says.
Bradshaw says she discovers unique boutique finds for the shop online or through recommendations from friends. She selects boutique items that are fresh and marketable. "I don't want to bring in something that’s the same everywhere else," she says. For the cafe, she brings in a variety of products and brands, including Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Casa Brazil, a local coffee brewster. Friends & Neighbors barista Emily Jackson says the approachability of the coffee, as well as the beer and wine selection, makes the spot unique. "Everything is really accessible to any customer that comes in here, from the Tejano grandfather down the street to the hipster that owns a business around the corner,” Jackson says.
The shop also offers local products like chai tea by Evergreen Chai, a local brewer that hand delivers to Friends & Neighbors, bloody mary mix from Lauren's Garden and caramels by Jackson herself that will soon be sold in the store.
Along with food and shopping, Friends & Neighbors — which has been featured in Free People blog and The New York Times Style Magazine — hosts a multitude of workshops and events to get the community more involved. From weaving workshops, acoustic nights in the backyard, painting classes, launch parties for magazines and Mario Kart tournaments, Friends & Neighbors is a gathering place for the community to come together.
Bradshaw says it's meant to be a calm environment where you can just hang out in the background and escape. Adelin Karius, one of the store’s regulars, says the atmosphere is one of her favorite things. "My apartment is really small, so it's almost like when I leave my room, I go to the living room,” Karius says. “That's what it's like here.”
Jackson loves the community aspect of Friends & Neighbors, saying it is one of the main reasons she enjoys working there. "I know a good majority of the customers that come in, and the ones I don't know are just like friends I haven't met yet," she adds.
Friends & Neighbors is not just another shop. It’s a community gathering place. Bradshaw says, "We want people to stay awhile, enjoy themselves here and think of it as kind of like a home away from home.”