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The store!

The new Amai store.

The lease is signed and the plans are being filed for Amai’s first retail location! Our store will be located on 3rd avenue between 16th and 17th street – just east of Union Square in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. When I found the space and realized it could be ours, it was one of the happiest days of my life. The reason I started Amai was to have the opportunity to share ideas and bring people together, and this store will finally allow us do that. I look forward to meeting our customers in person and expanding our product offering.

I expected the search for a retail space in Manhattan to be a very difficult, if not torturous, task. Real estate in Manhattan is notoriously expensive and hard to find, and my past experience with shady NYC apartment brokers has made me skeptical of the industry. My previous apartment searches did lead me to one good residential broker named Peter who works at Manhattan Apartments. I kept in touch with him over the years, and asked him for a reference for a commercial broker. That led me to Janet, the best commercial agent a real estate newbie could dream of. She was wonderful to work with, and best of all, she was free (to me, at least). I was shocked to find out that owners typically cover the commercial real estate broker fee. I got the best service, from a friendly person, all at no charge. My search was off to a great start.

Janet and I looked at several places in the Gramercy area, which I consider to run from 2nd Avenue to Irving Place, between 14th and 23rd street. I focused on this area because I felt it was underserved by artisan bakeries and tea shops, and that the residents of the area would appreciate our unique offering. I also like that it is a residential neighborhood, where the store could become a “third place” for the community.

I looked at 4 spaces in my price range. The first one I saw had incredibly low ceilings, the second one had a big pole in the middle of the store and a standardized strip-mall exterior, and the third was in terrible condition but was huge and had a nice location across from a park. I considered renovating the large space, but on my limited budget I wouldn’t be able to make it as nice as I wanted. I finally chose the space on 3rd avenue because it was the right size for the store, had good traffic, and was easily accessible from the 4,5,6,N,R,Q subways at Union Square and the L subway at 3rd avenue. It is also very charming, and has a warm, inviting feel. The building was built in 1910 and is part of the Gramercy landmark district. The landmark designation means the store front cannot be changed, which is fine with me. I like it, and it’s one less thing for us to build.

The lease negotiations went very smoothly, another sign that the space was meant to be. One other potential tenant (who hoped to open a Japanese restaurant, I believe) was competing against us, but the owner prefered to have a bakery and somehow chose us to have the space. Lawyers reviewed the lease, and we signed at the beginning of April. We are now in the process of finalizing designs for the space and filing our plans. We hope to open by Fall 2007.

I apologize for my lack of posts in the last few months, but I have been busy building the business and trying to organize the retail space. Now that we finally have the space, I plan to document the build-out process on Lovescool, so expect many updates to come. If you live in the area, let me know if there’s something special you’d like to see. I am very excited to have a place for everyone to come visit soon!


shuna fish lydon says on April 16th, 2007 at 12:55 am:

Congratulations Kelli!

As far as I’m concerned, this post was well worth the wait. I can not even imagine your own excitement… wow.

And what a perfect area.

I’ll be there in June, teaching a class or two and going to the Mermaid Day Parade. I do so hope to meet you this time!

Kenneth Berger says on April 16th, 2007 at 2:38 am:

Congrats you guys! I can’t even imagine how exciting this must be. I’m sure I’ll get out there some time this Fall, I look forward to spending time lounging in that front window. Eating macarons, maybe? Or gingercake? :-)

Candace says on April 16th, 2007 at 6:39 am:

That’s so great, Kelli – many congrats! I wish you nothing but the best with your new storefront!!

Kelli Bernard says on April 16th, 2007 at 6:42 am:

Thanks everyone! Shuna and Ken – I hope to see you on your next trip out.

Shuna- which classes are you teaching in NY? I’d like to attend!

Karen says on April 16th, 2007 at 8:09 am:

I noticed you finally put a sign in the front window. :-) But what does it say?

Sharon says on April 16th, 2007 at 9:15 am:

Congratulations! From the pic it looks to have great potential…I’m sure it will be a charming place once completed!

keiko says on April 16th, 2007 at 12:03 pm:

This is SO exciting, Kelli – it looks/sounds great and can’t wait to visit there in a few weeks, congratulations!

Lissa says on April 16th, 2007 at 1:22 pm:

I’ve been imagining this ever since the day we saw the big shiny kitchen at the One Girl cookies shop! I can’t wait to be able to buy pounds and pounds of cookies (or whatever) and visit Amai all the time! One question on my mind is…what kind of music will you have?? ;)
Congratulations again!!

Alaina says on April 16th, 2007 at 3:37 pm:

Congratulations! Sounds like the perfect location. Can’t wait to stop by this fall. :)

Kelli Bernard says on April 16th, 2007 at 3:54 pm:

If I get to see all of you guys at the store it will be the best place ever. Thank you!

Karen – that’s an old picture. The sign in the window says “For Rent”! Ha. We will have a sign up soon. I’m still trying to think of what to say beyond “Cookies coming soon.”

Elisabeth- That is a darn good question. Personally, I would play house music and cheesy brit pop, but I don’t think that will go over so well with all of the customers. Seriously, I think it will be an eclectic mix from all over the world. And of course, we’ll play Hall & Oates (it might just be at 7:00am, pre-store opening ;) … I kid.)

Stephanie says on April 16th, 2007 at 7:41 pm:

Next time I’m in NYC I’ll have to pop by – Union Sq is not far from where my In-laws live :D

Jessica "Su Good Eats" says on April 16th, 2007 at 10:02 pm:

Congratulations! What a great location. I actually think the area has plenty of bakeries (City Bakery, Tisserie, Something Sweet, Veniero’s, Chikalicious, Taralluci e Vino)but I can’t wait to visit.

Kelli Bernard says on April 16th, 2007 at 11:47 pm:

Thanks! I guess it depends on how you divide up the area. I consider Tisserie and City Bakery “west side” bakeries (although Tisserie is more accesible from the east than City Bakery). The others are south of 14th street, in the East Village. I think of the Union Square area in quadrants – divided by 4th avenue and 14th street. With our location, I hope to serve the north east quadrant (Gramercy).

Oishii Eats says on April 17th, 2007 at 1:01 am:

Ohmygosh Ohmygosh Ohmygosh!!! Congratulations Kelli! The place is going to be so incredibly cute! I am so excited for you and the future of Amai!

Best wishes,

McAuliflower says on April 17th, 2007 at 8:16 pm:

Wow! I can’t wait to see the lovely ways you spin your store Kelli!

If it’s even half as sumptuous as your packaging, it’ll be drop dead gorgeous place to get goodies.

naked desserts says on April 17th, 2007 at 11:36 pm:

Congratulations Kelli! This is so great. Wishing you all the success in the world.

mallow says on April 18th, 2007 at 1:19 pm:

Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Please keep us posted on the process of getting up and running!

Julie says on April 18th, 2007 at 3:48 pm:

Congratulations! This is great news! I can’t wait to stop by and hang out! Now I won’t have to just rely on Tavalon for your amazing tea cookies and other yummy treats!

cheryl says on April 18th, 2007 at 7:36 pm:

Yeah!! This is fab news Kelli. I think you will love the retail side of things. Feel free to ask me any ??? I’m happy to help in any way.

Kelli Bernard says on April 18th, 2007 at 9:06 pm:

Thank you for all of the great, encouraging comments! I’m so glad I’ll finally have a place for you all to come and visit.

MasPinaSarap says on April 18th, 2007 at 10:23 pm:

Wow, this is awesome!

I’ve been coming to this site for a long time now and you’ve gone from baker to businesswoman.

Good job!!!

Lara says on April 19th, 2007 at 3:47 pm:

So exciting! I’m so HAPPY for you! It’s going to be great! Just think…no more LIC…the light is getting brighter! :)

Laurie says on April 19th, 2007 at 9:00 pm:

WOW!!! This is sooo exciting to me! I actually have tears coming down my face at this moment! Full speed ahead & all the best wishes for a huge success! :-)

Week in Rewind « One Sweet World says on April 20th, 2007 at 10:45 pm:

[...] Speaking of home, Amai Tea & Bake House has officially gotten a new home.  You can read more about it and see a picture of it at Lovescool.  After the crazy day we had at the kitchen in Long Island City (Queens) today…I’m counting down the days! [...]

Sharon says on June 13th, 2007 at 7:30 pm:

So cool. I went to the “new” street view on maps.google.com and I think I found your shop…is it near 132 Third Ave?

Kelli Bernard says on June 14th, 2007 at 4:11 pm:

Ooh, I’ve been meaning to check that out to see if I can find the store. I barely have time to do anything these days. The store is actually at 171 3rd avenue, not too far from 132.

Kimmie says on June 18th, 2007 at 9:20 pm:

Congrats Kelli! I can’t wait until you open – I would love to be there!

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Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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