Kinfolk is no longer.
On Tuesday the company, which included a retail store, a fashion brand, a cafe, and a nightclub in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, announced on its Instagram page that it would be shutting down for good.
Kinfolk was founded in 2008 by Ryan Carney and Maceo Eagle as a small bar and a custom bicycle shop in Tokyo—the Tokyo space closed two years ago. In 2011 they opened Kinfolk 90 in Williamsburg at the intersection of Wythe Avenue and North 11th Street. It was a cafe during the day and a club at night. Eventually they opened up a retail store next to the cafe, and then Kinfolk 94, which became one of the few nightclubs in Williamsburg that played hip-hop and R&B.
In 2014, the New York Times called it a cultural hub. Over the years it’s served as a venue for events like Jonah Hill Day, release parties for brands like Brain Dead, and themed nights celebrating music from popular acts like Sade and Dr. Dre. But as Williamsburg changed, so did Kinfolk’s crowd. Businesses were building up around it, rent increased, the L train shut down, and traffic started to slow down.
In November, a neon sign in the retail store caught on fire, shutting the store down, then COVID-19 hit and New York City went on lockdown. The operation that helped keep the other Kinfolk businesses afloat was no longer bringing in money.
Jey Perie, Kinfolk’s Creative Director, was still considered an owner when they closed, but he hasn’t been directly tied to the business for the last year or so. But he was brought on to open the store and launch its in-house line, which grew in popularity over the years. They've collaborated with brands including Gap, Adidas, and Levi's.
Here, he talks about what led to the closing, how a changing Williamsburg helped and hurt the business, and what he believes is the future of New York City nightlife post COVID-19.
What led you all to shutting down Kinfolk?
January and February are always the slowest months for Kinfolk and nightlife in general. We do better during spring, summer, and fall. And so we were going through the winter and looking forward to the spring and then COVID hit, and like everybody else, you think it's going to be a month or two months and you're going to get through it. And then you realize that this was going to shut down things for months. You go to Kinfolk to dance to be close to people, and that's not going to happen anytime soon until at least next year.
The store has been closed as well?
So we had a fire at a store in November of last year. There was a neon sign, ironically, that caught on fire. So the store was closed in November due to the fire and it never reopened. We went through insurance and the plan was to get back on track but obviously everything unfolded in a different way.
The nightclub was a way to fund the apparel line and store, right?
Yeah. Nightlife was always the money making element to it, and it was a vector of culture as well. But everything else we did was mostly funded by the parties on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and people having fun and buying gin and tonic. That was always the engine of the whole thing.
Was there ever a conversation about keeping the line but shutting down the store and club?
I think there was a lot of passion and excitement around the clothing and all the creative clothing work that we did, but it could not have existed without the nightlife. So doing the clothing after the nightlife was done, I don't think it was a feasible plan. I think it makes sense that everything kind of stopped at the same time. Making clothes and the price of making clothes when you don't have a strong backing firm or promotion firm is very difficult. So we were able to sometimes make a little bit of money, sometimes break even, sometimes the nightclub and the bar helps with the clothing line bills, but it was never a discussion to really do the clothing without the bar.
How did things change when Wythe Hotel opened up? Was rent steadily going up each year?
Williamsburg changed so much. When I arrived in New York in 2011, it was the beginning of it. Wythe and Kinfolk were kind of built at the same time and opened up at the same time, but Brooklyn Bowl was the first on the corner. So you've got Brooklyn Bowl, and then the Wythe and Kinfolk opening at the same time. It really brought an interesting crowd and it was still a very free corner, far away from Bedford Station. So you felt a little bit more careless and wild, but also it was still a place for the New York creative community to come and have fun.
And then I think it's more around 2014, 2015, and 2016, it became like a massive development area with bigger hotels and restaurants. And you become less and less of a place for New Yorkers and more of a tourist attraction. I'll say from 2012 to 2019, it was a huge nightlife. You had Verboten. Verboten turned into Schimanski. And you had Output and Brooklyn Bowl. Everything on the same corner. It was insane. You had a line of cabs waiting for people, you get the food trucks, you get people waiting on line in six different places. It was a scene. And when Output closed, the L train shut down for two years, it slowed things down a little bit. The business was still okay, but it was not the heydays of the madness on the corner of North 11th and Wythe.
We started with a very good deal and then at the end it was crazy. It was still doable, but there was no room for any mistakes and the rent going up and the L train shutting down and then COVID, it became unsustainable.
What was the thinking when you all converted from 90 to the larger nightclub space?
Yeah the space became available and the founder raised extra investment and we wanted to create a bigger space, bring more people in the fold, and opening the store also was part of that chapter. We took the biggest space, opened the store. I was just arriving from Tokyo to New York and the boys asked me to open the shop and try the brand for them. And it was just a great time of creativity and building, and really building a community from the small community we had from Kinfolk 90 and the bar. And back then, there was not much in that corner. It was Wythe Hotel and us. We really created a strong community and a fulfilling proposition on this side of Williamsburg.
Did Williamsburg becoming a tourist destination have a positive impact on business?
Yeah. It grew positive and the crowd changed from like 2011, 2012 to 2018. The crowd changed but it was always great people coming and had a great vibe, and business was good. Absolutely.
What was the original goal for Kinfolk, and what did you think about the crowd changing?
Kinfolk started in Tokyo. The real goal was doing creative stuff, selling coffee in the daytime and selling cocktails at night to pay for the bills and to pay for cool projects. So that was always the goal in Tokyo and when we moved to New York, it was the goal here, too. But then nightlife took off and we became more and more like a nightlife company. And you cannot ignore the success that you have, so you have to focus more on it. And then you still focus on creative stuff, but the nightclub became so big that it became a full time job for a lot of us in the company. And it became really the engine behind everything. So that was kind of not the original plan, but we're alright with it.
In the beginning, when it was just Kinfolk 90, it was a great creative crowd. Vice was still in front on the opposite corner, and it was mostly focused on disco and electronic music. It was a great vibe and people were coming from all of New York to have fun with us. And once we opened 94, it became another beast. This was the way to compete with the original Kinfolk 90. So it became a bit more R&B, hip-hop and that took off because it was a place where you could listen to hip-hop and sit with a cool creative crowd. And Jeremiah Mandel was in charge of booking and brand direction back then. And he brought in DJ Soul and a lot of cool people to build the nightlife at 94.
What do you think is the future of New York City nightlife post the pandemic? Are you done with it completely?
Ryan Carney, Kinfolk’s Founder and CEO, has another place on Broadway in Bushwick. And I just opened a small club in Manhattan in Chelsea. So I believe we'll be fine. And my new spot is a small venue of like 30 people to 40. I think a small venue will be okay. But if things don't get better very soon, it's going to be a bloodbath. It's going to be tough and we're going to lose a lot of bigger venues.
Funny enough, I got my liquor license the day they shut down New York on March 16th. We’re not open yet but I'm waiting it out. I'm here right now. It's fully ready, but we're waiting for [Bill] de Blasio to say yes for indoor dining to open maybe next month. Maybe September, but I'll be here. I love this town and I love nightlife. And I love hosting. So I still believe in it. And I think a lot of people will close down and rents will go down because New York is going to be going through a recession and maybe it will present opportunities for a new generation to bring their take on the nightlife or try their luck on club, bars, and things like that, and make New York interesting again. It’s going to take some time. We're going to have to really hit rock bottom as a city to come back. But maybe it's a reset that was needed and I'm looking forward to seeing what new people are going to do in the future.
Any regrets about how you all handled the business over the past 12 years?
No, no regrets. I'm sure some business issues could have been better handled, but I think we all had the best intention and we tried our best with all our ability because we're not MBA type of dudes. We all came with our ideas and our instincts. And I think it was an amazing ride. On my side of things, no regrets at all. It's all learning and I wouldn't be here today with my new club in Manhattan if it was not for Kinfolk. And it's a place that gave a lot of opportunity to a lot of people. We have colleagues and partners who are now working for Nike and Apple. Lots of kids got their starts at Kinfolk and are now doing exciting things. It's beautiful to see that we've been able to touch that many people in that many years.
I heard you say that when you were younger in France, New York was the center of culture. Given everything that's happened, do you still feel like that?
Yeah, I feel that now more than ever. I think it’s reset time in New York and it’s going to be a tough few months, but New York is still the center of the world culturally for me. I love this city. Hopefully there will be more people like me who try new things and make New York an exciting place to be. I think a million people are going to leave New York in the next few months and New York is not for everyone. It’s going to get more dirty. I mean, trust me, my new venue is on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 28th Street. A kid got stabbed yesterday in the afternoon in front of FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). I see drug addiction and the homeless population growing every day in Midtown. It's going to be difficult. And we all have to do our part to make it an interesting value to be here. I think a much needed new era is going to start. And I'm optimistic. I'm here, I'm not going anywhere. So let's see.