One of Bay Ridge’s oldest gift shops has shut its doors.
After almost three and a half decades on Third Avenue, Zen – known when it opened in 1984 as “Yizui” – made its final sales on Dec. 31.
Owners Edward and Susan Wong – who have entered into what they are calling a “semi-retirement,” and are sure they will end up keeping busy somehow – attributed their shop’s demise to a rise in rents throughout the city and the growing trend of online shopping.
“We were basically a wicker basket store, with some gifts and even some furniture,” Edward said (his wife adding that she and her sister had originally bought the shop from a man who sold shirts). “We evolved to meet the demand.”
That demand, he said, eventually dwindled.
“The demand was great in the ‘80s and ‘90s, good in the ‘00s and now we’re just barely making rent,” Edward said, Susan chiming in that in this day and age, most people choose to order online instead.
“It’s just easier,” she admitted.
Still, the pair looks back fondly on their 34 years in business at 7609 Third Ave. – as did its patrons. Zen’s last month in business saw heavy traffic almost every day.
That is thanks, in part (of course), to the shop’s selection, though it also can be said that the Wongs themselves had become a part of the fabric of the community.
The couple has lived in the neighborhood they worked in for almost all of the shop’s life: 27 years to be exact. During this time, they also raised three children, giving a new meaning to the phrase “mom and pop shop.”
“My siblings and I grew up in that store. I remember coming back from P.S. 102 and spending the afternoon in the back room where my parents also kept a crib for my siblings to rest in. It’s hard to imagine that these days, but they really made the store a part of the family,” said Edward and Susan’s oldest daughter, Venessa.
Zen, she said, more than provided for the three children.
“That little store gave me and my brother and sister everything, from the home we grew up in to the colleges which we attended,” she told this paper. “They worked so hard. We really have to thank the loyal customers and the community of Bay Ridge that made all of this possible and we are eternally grateful for that.”
The pair’s youngest daughter, Cassandra, agreed, while also speaking to the impact the store had not just on their own family, but on countless others.
“I’ve spent the last four weekends helping my parents at the store and it’s very apparent how beloved it is by the community,” she said, driving home the pride she and her siblings feel for their parents. “I went to countless open houses this past year when I was searching for my own apartment in Bay Ridge, and it was remarkable how many of the homes were decorated with products that were unmistakably purchased at Zen.”
Zen’s niche was certainly unmistakable.
The store – even in its last days – was stocked with everything from Christmas ornaments and candles to one-of-a-kind trinkets, stones, picture frames and even small pieces of furniture.
Two items were rarely the same, other than wholesale products by brands like Yankee Candle, which, Susan said, prior to the age of online shopping, were among the shop’s biggest sellers.
Zen is certainly not alone in its fate. The shop is just one of a handful that have either closed, or will close, in the New Year.
Right next door, another beloved Bay Ridge store, Paws Truly, at 7607 Third Ave., originally slated to close, is poised for its Feb. 1 move to shared space just a couple of doors down in Appletree Natural Market, 7613 Third Ave.
Just blocks away, the Painted Pot (8009 Third Ave.) is prepping for the closing of its Bay Ridge location so that owners can focus on its two other shops in Park Slope and Cobble Hill.
A bit further down the strip, Grotto Italian Table’s owners posted to Facebook on Dec. 26 to say that “with heavy hearts” they’d have to say goodbye to the eatery, at home at 8901 Third Avenue.
When asked how they felt about having dug their heels into the ever-changing avenue, the Wongs’ answer was unanimous.
“We love Third Avenue,” the pair said, “and we love our customers. We’ll miss them.”
As for Zen’s end, Edward said, “It’s evolution in a way. We’re just happy to have been here for so long.”