On the corner of Marcy and Willoughby avenues in Bedford Stuyvesant sits a cute and colorful storefront inviting passersby to drop in for — as their tagline suggests– all of their “Wants & Needs.”

The comfy little cubby, known as Willoughby General, provides food items, cleaning utensils, clothing and more… a veritable one-stop mom-and-pop shop for local residents!

Recently, the small store celebrated its one-year anniversary as family, friends, and neighbors stopped by to celebrate with the owner, Lauren Cawdrey.

A mother of a five-year-old, Cawdrey initially worked in the television industry as a prop-stylist. When she moved to Brooklyn in 2010, she saw the need for a general store in the neighborhood.

“There’s not much in the neighborhood,” said Cawdrey. “There’s no place to get healthy food… just to have a place where you can even buy a lemon. There’s no place to get you needed groceries. So we basically wanted to make zero ways to simple food.”

Cawdrey opened the store with two other women when the original owner went out of business in 2018. Currently, Cawdrey is the sole owner of Willoughby General.

“It’s three-times the work,” she stated, “but it’s also easier because you don’t have to check in with others and ask, ‘What do you think of this item, and what scents you do want there?’ Nuh-uh. You can make your own decisions.”

Cawdrey said the business means a lot to her, and she works hard to make sure it’s much more than just your “local grocery store.”

“The tagline is ‘wants and needs’ because it’s like everything you kind of need and then the things you want,” said Cawdrey. “We have the $8 shampoo and then the $28 shampoo. We also have a lot of greeting cards, pins, skincare… a little bit of everything.”

Not only is Cawdrey as store owner, she’s also an activist and advocate for her brand, Resist Apathy, a growing movement to make people actually “give a damn” about situations happening in the world.

“In the world right now,” she said, “it’s very easy to just feel defeated and insignificant. And you’re not!”

She said people often want to throw up their hands, but they have to resist apathy: make the calls, do the work!

One of her employees, Sarah Pauley has enjoyed her experience working at the general ever since she joined the team in May 2019. “It’s just been a super relaxed job, even when we have rushes of people,” said Willoughby General employee Sarah Pauley. “We have a lot of creative freedom too, and Lauren is also an awesome, understanding boss. Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BK Reader

“Find out who your council people are. There are a lot of opportunities to make a difference,” she said. “It’s just about making the time for it and wanting to do it. There are so many little changes you can make in everyday life that make a huge difference.”

In the future, the owner plans to make her small store a space for community gatherings. neighborhood dropbox site and keeping the store’s suggestion box in the open to ask what the neighbors want to see.

“I’ve never worked harder on anything in my life, but I’m working for me,” she said.

Cawdrey admits, being a woman entrepreneur on her own hasn’t been easy. The keys to survival for her have been to remain patient and to trust her instincts.

Willoughby General’s owner, Lauren Cawdrey
Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BKReader

“It’s hard for me to say sometimes that this is where I want to be,” said Cawdry. “But when you have a vision for something, having the patience to wait for that to happen takes daily practice of gratitude; acknowledging your hard work and just being patient with it.”


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