From the moment I stepped in Brooklyn Bleu, I was impressed. Actually, make that the moment I grabbed the door handle. Even from outside, I could tell that I wasn’t stepping into your ordinary vintage jewelry spot. When I entered, I felt like embraced, not only by the woman who greeted me at the door, but also by the atmosphere. There were splashes of pink, lots of gold, and the sounds of women fawning over shining jewels. The woman behind this dream of a shopping experience is Tenisha Light-Caba. The entrepreneur, who stood in the midst of all of the excitement in a jean Fenty dress, lucite heels and her own vintage Chanel earrings and gold link bracelets fashioned into anklets, started the business in 2010. However, she has been selling vintage jewelry since she was a kid living in California.
“I had rummage sales every weekend, making money selling my grandmother’s jewelry,” she told me. “Then it became my chore to clean another grandmother’s jewelry. One would let me make money at the rummage sales selling the jewelry right in front of the house. I would set up a little table, but I wasn’t selling lemonade, I was selling jewelry.”
She’s long past the days of getting her pieces from her grandmother. Nowadays, Tenisha works with private collectors who’ve been in the business for decades to pull together her one-of-a-kind collection, which she’s been able to put in her new store located in The Oculus, otherwise known as Westfield World Trade Center in Manhattan.
“I tend to like to work with the same people. This is how I’m able to get my hands on the good stuff. I take care of them, they take care of me,” she said. “They have a lot. They have more than what I could ever afford to buy. Where they get it from? Who knows.”
Her collection has expanded greatly, taking her from her early beginnings of selling in a brownstone, moving on to Chelsea Market, to eventually having her own space, one of the few minority-owned businesses in the Oculus.
“We first started our business in a historic brownstone in Brooklyn,” she said of her journey. “I’ve never had the space. I’ve usually worked at an artisan market. This is the biggest space I’ve ever had. This gives me a chance to really shine, have lighting and really make it my own.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s been a successful one. During her days working at markets like Artists & Fleas and Top Shop on 5th Avenue, Tenisha broke records for her sales.
“I worked,” she said. “I put the work in. It’s been so many things that happened in the world over the past 10 years and in that time, I’ve had my business full time. I’m independently funded. I don’t have investors. Now I have payroll and I have employees.”
What you’ll find at the store is pieces dating back from the ’30s and ’40s. Items from big name fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel, as well as daintier, unique items from all over. The good news is, everything is affordable, but there are items specific to every wallet. For instance, she has inexpensive earrings and necklaces from the ’70s, her “Dainty” and “Re.Fresh” collections. They are old stock that she received from a collector who had a wholesale business in the 1970s, and she replated everything to give it a fresh look. They are being sold between the $20-$40 range.
The wide-ranging prices are part of Tenisha’s hope to make people from all walks vintage fans — and welcome when they visit Brooklyn Bleu.
“I want people to feel welcomed, to feel like they’re at home. I want them to feel comfortable and good — just as good when they leave,” she said. “That’s the experience they get when they walk through the door, that’s how people treat them, that’s courtesy. That’s being professional and knowing what you have to offer as well. I have to train and work really hard with my staff too so they can pass on that same experience.”
She also wants people to know that Brooklyn Bleu will be flexible. If you get a piece and for some reason you need to return it (allergies, any other unexpected issue), she welcomes it back.
“If someone’s not happy with the piece, it doesn’t make me happy for them to have it,” she said. “I’d rather get it in the hands of someone who’s going to really enjoy it.”
With that being said, it’s rare for such a thing to happen with Tenisha’s collection of pieces. You’ll understand when you step in the space and find yourself mesmerized by the statement necklaces, quirky rings, avante-garde earrings, delightful vintage mirrors and ornate bags. Especially at the cost.
“It’s important to offer pieces that are accessible and vintage,” she said. “When I go to a place and it feels like everything is just too expensive, it’s like, ‘I thought I was making good money! I can’t even afford this.’ I didn’t ever want people to feel that in here — and they don’t. We have customers who take four and five pieces. Most customers take more than one item.”
Brooklyn Bleu is now open and officially located at The Oculus World Trade Center: Church Street, New York, NY 10006