The Species by the Thousand store is located just outside the hip part of Williamsburg, only a block from the rumbling Williamsburg Bridge, on South 4th Street and Driggs. The neighborhood is just beginning to see the tendrils of gentrification, with a juice bar around the corner, a yoga studio next door, and a large condo building hastily being erected a couple blocks away.
But Species by the Thousands isn’t hip, in the buzzy, in-your-face way many new Williamsburg establishments are. Instead, it quietly beckons you in from the street, with soft, gauzy plants and art hanging in the windows. Inside, it’s cozy, inviting you to wander around, touch, feel, and be present.
The owner, Erica Bradbury, is there by herself the rainy weekday morning I stop by. She turns down the folksy music and walks around the store with me as I ask her, “What’s this? And that? Who is this by? Ohhh, that’s pretty! Is that for sale, or is it just art? Where is this made?” Pretty much every object in the store is made in the United States–if not somewhere in the Tri-State area–by small-time, quirky artists.
Inside the raw, spare store, you’ll find a delightfully organized clutter of items, like pale dreamcatchers in natural fibers–plus one large dreamcatcher with a neon light circle glowing inside–wall weavings, vintage art, drawers of stones and crystals, burning candles, scarves, Third Eye talismans, air plants, and more. Perhaps you might like a beautiful pipe handmade by a Colorado guy, from found stones and antlers on his ranch. Or pick up some sage, pine, rosemary or mugwort for burning. If you’re into Reiki, choose pottery by Small Spells Studio, made by a Reiki healer.
It’s as if a Wiccan practitioner was into Apartment Therapy.
Species by the Thousands is not just a store, but a jewelry line by Erica Bradbury that features vaguely mystical and natural shapes that are sometimes paired with crystal. It’s made from recycled metals Erica procures from a small family-run company in the city. There are earrings based on alchemy symbols, wreaths of bones, and cast crystal shapes. Her earlier work is made from casting found objects, but she’s moved on to drawing her jewelry. “In a way, I’m not even thinking about jewelry when I make it,” Erica says. “I think of it as sculptures or drawings. I guess that’s why I tend to make a lot of rings or cuffs. I struggle with making necklaces,” she says. She’s also launched a small apothecary line with room sprays and candles (perfect for meditation!), plus digitally printed, trippy silk scarves.
“I like having the store to have a testing ground to make new things or one-offs, to have more fun again,” she says. “It’s nice to have an environment to show the jewelry in. There are so many jewelry lines, a lot of the brass jewelry can look really similar. It’s important to have props and other things you’re interested in, to compliment it.”
The store started two years ago in March as Picnics by the Thousands, a collaboration with Cold Picnic, another Brooklyn brand. They left a year ago, and Erica relaunched the store by herself. “It’s easier and harder to have it by myself,” she says. “It’s nice not running things by another person. But it’s hard to have a store and your own line where you’re hand making things.’
Erica does most of her jewelry work after the store closes. “It’s so distracting in here. You would think it would be easy. That I would have the studio in the back and come out when the bell rings. But people trickle in all day, and it’s hard to concentrate. I get the most done at night, when I can focus.”
Like many makers these days, she’s trying to walk the line between growing her brand, and keeping her objects thoughtfully and lovingly made. She’s been walking that line for years. “When I first started years ago, I was hand painting these canvas shoes. I was trying to bridge that gap because my background was in painting. Somebody ordered, like–not that many actually–20 pairs. I was hand-painting them, and I was like, ‘This sucks.’ It’s exciting the first time, but to do that over and over again, it’s not really sustainable.”
At one point when she shared the store with Cold Picnic, both her and Cold Picnic got huge orders from Free People. Plus, her then-time assistant, Catherine Rising, who makes the dreamcatchers, got an order too. “For a month, it was a sweatshop back there of people I hired to help me make these necklaces, and upstairs were people making dreamcatchers. The whole building was making things for Free People,” she jokes.
This brings up a good point, that everyone wants handcrafted, but there’s not enough handcrafted, it seems, to go around. Especially when big stores like Urban Outfitters get into the game.
“It doesn’t work on a large scale,” Erica admits. “Ultimately the quality will go down. It’s hard to make these things over and over again.” She’s streamlined the process a bit, no longer handpainting shoes, but designing with an eye to replication. “I’ve switched gears so that most of the jewelry is cast. I’ll do the wax carving, and then bring it to the casting company, and they’ll make the mold. I can change up the patina or do a different finish,” she says. (This is similar to how another Brooklyn jewelry company, Psyche, does it.)
Erica, who grew up on in Rhode Island, isn’t Wiccan or spiritual herself, despite the almost singular focus of the store on the mystical. “I’ve always been attracted to the aesthetic of it. The unexplained is something I’m really into. And I’ve always been obsessed with gift shops. I would rather be in the gift shop than in the museum. Even when I was in high school, I would go to the witchcraft stores in my town. Growing up in New England, there are so many little weird shops and Wiccan stores. ”
After graduating from art school, Erica moved to New York. She worked for a women who made bags and who introduced her to the jewelry district. From there, around 2005, Erica started making jewelry. “I feel like back then not everyone was a jewelry designer, so it was a little more special. You could get away with selling charms on a chain, and you had a business,” she says. Her first piece was a little black cat with a crystal hanging from it.
A lot of her jewelry has crystals. “I definitely believe that if you meditate on these things … well, I never slow down to think, I’m going to feel this rock right now. I don’t have the time. But if you have it, it might be a nice reminder to be calm, or to sense that you’re feeling off.”
So don’t feel like you need to be “into” mysticism to go into the store and have a good time. But if you are looking for a little help choosing the right stone for your energy, Erica has hired women to work in the store who read Tarot cards and are super knowledgeable about crystals. They’ll hook you up.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the Species world, follow along on Instagram, where they announce store events like natural tie dye workshops with Savannah King and Tarot card readings. Just sign up early–the last natural dye workshop sold out, and they had to turn people away.
“There’s so many people interested in the stones and mysticism,” Erica says. “It’s nice to for them to have a place to come to.”
Species by the Thousands is located at 171 South 4th Street at Driggs Ave in Williamsburg, near the Marcy stop on the J/M trains, and the Bedford stop on the L train; or online at Speciesbythethousands.com.