Back before ‘green’ was on everybody’s lips and in everybody’s lives, the movement had to start somewhere.
Five years ago, Samantha Delman-Caserta (left) and her husband, Mark Caserta, decided to go into business together. They opened a mom-and-pop shop on Fifth Ave. in Park Slope and started selling eco-friendly products.
“We lived in the neighborhood. I had worked in retail for a long time, he was working in eco-politics in New York City,” she recalled. “We kind of married again.”
At the time, the types of goods Delman-Caserta was looking to stock in the store weren’t widely available; she had to search, ask questions and do research. “There was a decent amount already available but no one was really talking about it.
“You would find [these products] in little sections, because people thought they were cute or they had beautiful aesthetics, but no one was telling you why they were good for you, or why it was good to have them, or why it might be that it costs a little bit more,” she explained. “We decided that the need was really there.”
So she contacted suppliers and manufacturers to acquire products that matched several requirements. “Everything in the store has to fit the 3 ‘r’s’ [reduce, reuse, recycle],” Delman-Caserta said. All the products in the store are either manufactured with all natural or organic ingredients, made using recycled materials or made in a way that reduces waste to the environment.
But 3r’s stock also has to fit into two other categories. “We’re not an eco-luxury store,” Delman-Caserta said, asserting that everything she sells has to be affordable. “We’re really about the affordable and then we’re about aesthetics I needed to be able to work these things in my life as well.”
Upon venturing into 3r Living, customers are presented with a wide variety of merchandise, including reusable water bottles, bamboo kitchen utensils, reusable shopping bags, wallets and jewelry made from recycled materials, cleaning supplies, organic cotton sheets and books.
When Delman-Caserta and her husband first began planning for the store, it was important for them to actually have a location, and not just be online.
“Opening a brick and mortar was something that we felt we had to do,” she said. There was a pretty wide range of availability online, but she wanted people to be able to “come in and touch and feel and see and test and become familiar with [the products] and feel comfortable incorporating them into their lives.”
Now, with two locations (one in New Jersey) and a web store, Delman-Caserta is more than happy to share the stage with the many businesses that have joined the green trend.
“It’s our pleasure to have other people out there doing it with us. It makes people more aware, it keeps us foraging ahead and trying to find the new and the better and the different.” But she is quick to say that quality should stay high.
“We don’t want companies to come into the market and lower the standards,” she said. “That was our biggest fear — that they would force manufacturers to lower standards.”
Living GreenAs part of 3r Living’s philosophy, Delman-Caserta and her husband set up a community recycling center (left) when they first opened the store, to collect batteries, small electronics and CDs to send out to recycling centers.
“The community recycling center is opened during our business hours seven days a week,” she said. “New York City doesn’t provide a program for [recycling these types of items] and they don’t provide education.”
The electricity in the storefront on Fifth Ave. is also completely wind-powered, and the paint on the walls is low-VOC.
Delman-Caserta, her husband and their three-year-old son, live eco-friendly at home. They use reusable shopping bags, have wind-powered electricity and furnish their house with antiques. Their son even uses a reusable water bottle.
“We try as best as we can to live as minimally as possible, because that’s the best thing you can do for the environment,” she said.
Shopping Locally, Buying Less3r Living, despite the popular opinion about the resiliency of green businesses, hasn’t been immune to the current economic climate. And even though she does want people to shop at her store, Delman-Caserta doesn’t want her customers to spend what they don’t have.
“We’re not asking you to come out and spend money that’s going to put you in jeopardy,” she said. “What we’re saying is, if you’re going to go out and buy, think about what you’re buying and think about where you’re buying it and what it does for you. Buying from a major retailer, the money doesn’t come directly back to your community.
“Buying from a brick and mortar or a mom and pop shop in your neighborhood, I believe it’s close to 50 percent of the money that you spend stays within your community, if not more,” she noted.
“A lot of small businesses are just not going to be able to make it through the long haul. We just have to count on our neighborhood and hope that they all understand that shopping locally really does make a difference,” Delman-Caserta continued. “Even if it’s ten dollars it makes a difference.”
But, she said, “We’re not all about buying. We also hope that sometimes when people come in we inspire them to go home and see the different things that they already have in their home. Whether it’s finding a better use for them, using them differently, or just using them.”
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