In the fall, my explorations of my new neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn quickly landed me at Willoughby General, a general store a few blocks from my apartment. I seemed to be pulled there by gravity, compelled to buy a cheddar biscuit sandwich with fig jam, letting my eyes run over the carefully displayed boxes of artisanal pastas and homemade masks. I envisioned a past version of myself, busy on my way to work (or really just going anywhere beyond a four-block radius), stopping in for a quick coffee and a hello.
“Most of our business is supported by the same 50 people or so. We know their dog’s name, we know when they broke up with their boyfriend,” says Lauren Cawdrey, a prop stylist who bought the shop in 2018. She attributes the steady traffic to the fact that coming in offers a sense of normalcy in times that feel anything but. Willoughby General never closed when the city shut down because of Covid-19, and though life hasn’t returned to a pre-pandemic normal, Cawdrey says, she’s not as scared for her business as she was in those early days.