When a shop became available next door to their beautiful New York coffee shop (with a French flair - named Maman), Elisa Marshall and Ben Sormonte, saw an opportunity to create a unique retail environment, bridging the gap between traditional long-term storefronts and trendy retail pop ups, and affords beloved brands to have a retail presence in New York. The Shopkeepers' Paula Flynn chats to Elisa of Marche Maman to talk creating a lifestyle experience, curating beautiful products and what it's like to have Oprah as a fan...
What motivated you to open Marche Maman?
I think with the Marche space specifically, it started for us when we had so many retail brands contacting us at Maman to open a café within their shops. From high end fashion brands to tech brands, we were getting many inquiries for those looking to incorporate food and drink into their shops. Everyone was looking for a more ‘lifestyle’ experience and ultimately, food and drink drive traffic. None felt like a good brand fit for us. We also had friends with brands from France wanting to open a pop-up near us in the U.S. and rent was extremely high. Not to mention you also have to look after interiors, merchandising, staffing, utilities, marketing, PR and most importantly getting people in the door & generating foot traffic!
The space beside our Soho location became available, which also had a beautiful garden, and we were trying to be creative, as to what we could do with it from an expansion point of view. Then the lightbulb came on, and we decided on a co-retailing Marche and creating a community of brands who share our same customer and concept.
Do you have prior retail experience?
I grew up with the retail bug and started in retail at a denim store on the day of my 16th birthday when I was finally able to legally work. Over 10 years, I went from sales associate, to managing, to buying, then to merchandising and PR & marketing for international retail brands. I had much more experience in retail then in hospitality and actually never had a serving job prior to opening Maman, so it was evident retail would somehow come back around…it was just waiting for the perfect time & place!
Who designed the shop?
Myself and my partner Ben look after all the design for the shops.
What are you best known for?
At Maman, we are most known for our nutty chocolate chip cookies (Oprah named them one of her favorite things in 2017) but on the marché side of things, I think we are most known for hard to find imported French items. From baskets & flatware imported from the south of France to our children’s vendor who brings in the most beautiful unique one of a kind kids pieces, we have a very loyal customer who always come to us for hard to find gifts.
Where and how are products sourced and made?
We source the brands by what we love, trying to keep them French when possible, and in the mentality that the customers are likely coming for lunch or breakfast so what would they buy while doing that. With experience we have noticed that high price point items that are a sought-after purchase don’t work as well. Our customers rather come for brunch with their friends, and leave with a bracelet for themselves, a beautiful kids toy for a gift and a mug for their Maman. We like to offer small beautiful and unique ‘easy’ purchases.
What makes your shop unique?
There is nothing else out there like what we do and I think what makes it unique is that it elevates the dining & shopping experience. Not to mention there is always something new as our vendors rotate every few months.
Why did you choose the location of this shop?
Naturally we chose the space as it was attached to our existing café. We knew we had the customer, the need and the foot traffic for retail, something that many stand alone retail shops do not have.
How has the shop enriched the community?
Community is everything to us and we really owe our success and growth to our surrounding community – family, friends, our staff, and customers. I think Marche Maman and our concept really defines community and we wanted to bring that world and concept to life with our new location. Our ethos here is to bring together like-minded, amazing brands and people who all share the same customer and clientele.
We created a space that allows small businesses to flourish in a like-minded high traffic environment, and at the same time, created a dynamic multi-sensory space for our customers, combining food, florals, jewellery, fragrance, kids’ items, and home decor. What girl doesn’t love those things!?
How has the shop evolved since opening?
Our shop evolves monthly, so it is always exciting for us and our customers. We have had an ice cream shop, florists, teas, linens, home goods, bath and body and so much more!
Who are your customers?
I think Marche Maman attracts people who love beautiful things – from fashion to home, to food and even pretty coffee cups, attention to detail and curating all things beautifully naturally attracts a like-minded clientele. Especially being in Soho, I feel there is a higher concentration of those who appreciate this. We want to create an environment where everything you see, touch, smell, and taste is memorable, beautiful, and of course delicious!
Our customers are primarily women, 25 to 40, living and working in the area. We share our Maman clientele so it was interesting to really get a good understanding on who that customer is and source brands to collaborate with that they would also love!
What inspires you?
I take inspiration from everywhere, from a conversation with a stranger to a sign on the street corner. I am a very creative person and always have something brewing in my mind so I am always looking for inspiration in my everyday life and in the small things.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I….
was a buyer, merchandiser, interior designer, event planner, baker & caterer…and those are all still my titles today! Growing up, I never had that ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ kind of thing. It was always a mixture of a hundred things, from a fashion designer, to a baker, to an event planner, an interior designer or the next Martha Stewart. I found myself juggling numerous ‘careers’ and passions with not enough hours in the day to do everything that I loved. I couldn’t find the perfect job, so I had to invent it, and put it all together under one roof (or six at this point).
Did you follow any areas of study or apprenticeship?
I started my studies in fashion business, taking many courses in retail business, PR and marketing. That path led me to numerous jobs in retail starting from the bottom & working my way up.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to open a shop?
Don’t follow the crowd & take risks: Be unique, be different and don’t do what everyone else is doing. I didn’t want to open a regular store, I wanted to build a world for myself where I put together everything I love under one roof and interact with amazing customers who enjoy it as much as I do. I know too many people who settle for where they are and jobs they don’t enjoy because they are afraid to go out, take risks & pursue their dreams. It will not come to you and you have to not be afraid to go get it!
Minimise negativity: It is so easy to be negative, judge others and complain about issues and life without trying to fix it yourself. Though not always an easy task, I try to avoid these people and surround myself with supporters. My time is so precious these days and I don’t need people in my life who only see the negative & bring me down. I want to only surround myself and spend my time on things that inspire me to move forward.
Go with the flow: I love to plan, have things all lined up, goals to hit and things to work towards, but more and more I am realising how in the big picture of life, how unrealistic that is. You don’t know what tomorrow will hold or what opportunities will be presented. Goals of course are always important, but you have to be open to the fact that things may not go exactly the way you have planned it – that’s ok. You can’t predict the future so don’t get too caught up and waste too much time planning for later.
Find your passion: There is nothing better for me than waking up every day getting to do what I love & doing it beside the person I love. I was struggling for a while, as I couldn’t pin point that one thing I wanted to do, or that ‘perfect’ job, so in reality I knew I had to create it. I had to get my hands dirty in so many different industries and various jobs until I was able to really shape my path, identify my strengths and weaknesses & ultimately figure out what I liked and didn’t like. I interned at countless jobs, took on various opportunities and was always hungry to test the waters. College tuitions, a long resume & years later, it all fell into place.
Say “Yes” More: Saying yes opens a world of doors and opportunities that saying no shuts down. People say no so often because of fear, because it’s the easy answer and way out, or because of things they don’t understand. But saying yes to the five minute cup of coffee with a stranger, or taking on a new challenge you never would have tried, could change your life forever, so why not?
My personal motto, and inspiration can be wrapped up in my favourite quote: “I am going to make everything around me beautiful - that will be my life.”- Elsie De Wolfe.
237 Center Street, New York NY
Find Maman at other five other locations across New York and also in Toronto.