Thanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses. American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27. They're offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for "Likes" of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook. Join the celebration by clicking the "Like" button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.
As most of you probably know, I lived in Brooklyn for many years before moving down to the Washington DC suburbs. Despite three-and-a-half years here in Montgomery County, my all-time favorite small business remains Pillow Café-Lounge in my beloved old neighborhood of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
I remember when Pillow opened in 2004. It was in a small space on Myrtle Avenue between Clermont and Adelphi -- half a block away from my apartment on the border of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. I was pregnant with the Schmoopette and wandered in one morning on my way to work. I met a stunning, bald woman behind the counter who introduced herself as Biola, one of the two owners.
She was one helluva barista and incredibly charming, so after some small talk and a few sips of my decaf mocha, I was an immediate fan. The next day I met her partner Robin, who prepared one of the best bagel sandwiches I'd ever had -- a cream cheese, tomato, cucumbers, red onion (which I asked her to hold) and pesto concoction they called a "Garden Bagel." It was delicious, and I began to literally crave it throughout my pregnancy.
From that day forward, I was a regular customer. I stopped there literally every day, either before or after work, and also on the weekends. When my siblings came into town, I sent them there. When I had plans to meet a friend for coffee and lunch, I'd go there. When I was asked to be a reference in a former neighbor's background clearance for the Department of Justice, I took the federal agents there. When I had my baby daughter and wanted to escape the apartment, I'd pop her in a sling and head there.
My mother, may she rest in peace, was fond of their protein-smoothies. Our son, the Schmoop, was a huge fan of their Fizzy Lizzy drinks (he and Robin were the only ones who seemed to favor the apple). My husband loved their regular cup of joe, and I was a mocha girl -- hot in the fall and winter, iced in the spring and summer. Robin once joked she could tell the seasons were changing by whether I ordered the mocha iced or hot.
After I was laid off by AOL on December 13, 2006, I walked straight to Pillow and fought back the tears as I asked for my signature comfort drink. They not only made me the mocha, but they *gave it to me,* saying I'd get one every day as a "twelve days of Christmas" present. I'll never, ever forget that kindness, as it brightened up some very dark days for me. To this day, if one of their regulars has a major hardship, they do the same, and I hope remember where it all started.
In February 2007, Robin and Biola moved Pillow to a much bigger space less than half a mile away on Myrtle Avenue, between Ryerson and Grand. They eventually got their liquor license and transitioned from a coffee & sandwich place to a full-service cafe-lounge. The extra blocks were a big deal to me at first, but since I no longer had a daily commute, I still went every day. I found myself walking there to and from dropping off my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter at preschool, schlepping my Macbook to work on my new freelance assignments there. The new Pillow became my office of sorts -- from morning coffee to afternoon lunch right up to school pickups. On the way back from school, the kids and I would pop back in for one last treat before heading back to our apartment.
When we decided to leave Brooklyn that Spring, we knew we could only have our goodbye party at Pillow. So that April, we bid farewell to our close friends and family in the one and only place I have ever felt like Norm in Cheers. Robin and Biola treated me not like a customer but like a friend, and I've yet to feel that sense of investment in any other establishment.
Sure, the manager at Gymboree and the baristas at a couple of Starbucks know me and what I do for a living, but it's not the same. It never is at a franchise store. But Pillow was special, and for that reason, I celebrate the small business culture of New York, where the local small coffee shop becomes your personal oasis, the place you know the owners care about you and you in turn care about them and their business. Thank you, Biola and Robin, for -- to this day -- being the proprietors of my favorite small business.