Sunlight trickles through the trees as staff members set out chairs, lay the aisle runner and clear a space for the band, all in preparation for a special celebration. This isn’t your ordinary event venue, however. Tucked behind Crest True Value Hardware in Brooklyn, New York, the garden center serves a dual purpose—retail space and event venue. Owner Joe Franquinha and his wife Liza, who serves as the store’s events and branding director, built the space in 2009 and have been hosting store-sponsored and private events there ever since.
The Franquinhas wanted to create a space that was more than just retail, a place where the community could share experiences.
“With everything we do, we try to make it an experience,” Joe says. “We’ve always been common ground for the community, so we didn’t want this to be any different. We wanted a space to connect with our community. Plus, there’s something cool, speak-easy and quirky about hosting an event in a hardware store and garden center.”
The Franquinhas have made updates to the garden center over the years, including making the path concrete instead of mulch and adding custom concrete pavers. Before any event, the staff at Crest removes any retail products from the area and sets up chairs, tents and whatever other elements the event needs. That transformation is one of the biggest challenges of the event space, Joe says.
“We are always working on how to make it a more efficient transition, but there will always be some permanent hurdles,” he says. “For example, we have to sell our oversized pottery out there and have to move it for every event and then move it all back after the event to be ready for retail.”
Joe has seen some upsides to that challenge, however, using the transformation back to retail after an event as an opportunity to do product resets and refresh the garden center.
“Each time we have an event, it allows us to rethink our retail setup and gives us a chance to move things around so we don’t become stale,” he says.
Using a garden center as an event space also allows for easy decorating, and the staff sometimes keeps hanging plants and flowers in the space for the event hosts to use as decorations.
Another benefit of the rental space is the additional income the rentals bring in. Joe says the store is busy year-round but the events subsidize the slower months. He appreciates having an extra injection of capital to reinvest into the garden center and the store.
The store hosts its own sponsored events in the space and rents it out for a wide variety of events, including birthday parties, graduation celebrations, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and corporate events. Crest has hosted album release parties and was even the site of clothing company Madewell’s product launch for their men’s line.
“Because it started as a work line, Madewell launched its men’s line event at our store instead of doing a typical fashion week launch. They wanted to bring it back to where it all started,” Joe says. “They even had a pop-up shop where they took over a portion of our back service counter and turned it into a jeans section instead of the plumbing section.”
Recently, the Franquinhas were able to host one of the store’s most meaningful and heartfelt events, Joe’s sister’s wedding. Her wedding plans had to pivot because of the pandemic and the Franquinhas offered to host an outdoor wedding at the store so she could still get married on her original date and have as safe of a wedding as possible.
“It meant a lot to share that with my little sister, to be able help her out and use the space for that purpose,” Joe says. “To be able to share a special event with customers is great, but it meant so much to be able to share that with my family. That will forever live with me. I’m so grateful for that.”