There’s no sign hanging above this shop. You won’t find it on Google Maps, and it doesn’t have a website. That’s because Loud Baby, a shop I stumbled upon one weekend afternoon at 696 Flatbush Avenue, is brand new. It encompasses everything today’s Brooklyn stands for, and everything this Brooklyn has to share with the old Brooklyn.
Located one block from the Parkside Avenue Q train station and around the corner from Drummer’s Grove in the Southeast corner of Prospect Park, the only thing that clued me in to the shop was an intricately designed sticker on the glass front door with the words “Loud Baby: Café, Clothing, Clubhouse” on it.
When I stepped inside, I was greeted warmly by two women who looked like they could be sisters. Later on, I found out that they were not only sisters but also both involved in the founding of Loud Baby.
At first glance, this shop looked like just about any café. But then I noticed plants behind the counter, as well as colorful sweaters hanging on the brick wall — this must have been the “clothing” part of “Café, Clothing, Clubhouse.” To my right, I noticed the beautiful planks made of deep reddish-brown wood, serving as stairs to the shop’s second level. I couldn’t tell exactly where they led, but I wanted to find out.
Right away, one of the two women offered to show me around. She introduced herself as Maritza and led me up the stairs, into a beautiful, small, white-painted room, to which she referred as “the clubhouse.” The space had a low ceiling which gave it a cozy feel. White-painted wooden floor panels peeked out in between several thick carpets, and one wall was lined with mirrors. Replacing one wall were large windows, through which I could see the café beneath us.
Maritza and I sat down cross-legged on one of the the soft carpets and she began to tell me the story of her shop.
“We decided to call it Loud Baby because my husband used to travel a lot for his job, and whenever I’d ask him how his flight went, he’d always respond with something along the lines of ‘It was great, but I didn’t get much sleep because there was a loud baby…’” She laughed. “I guess in a way we’re all loud babies. We all want to be heard. We all want to express ourselves. Especially in a creative place like Brooklyn, so many of us have something to share. My husband and I wanted to create a space for that.”
As I listened I found out that the clubhouse was only part of Loud Baby’s mission — this little magical nook on a busy Brooklyn street was also home to a retail shop where part of all proceeds went to the Elephant Crisis Fund, a foundation focused on ending the ivory crisis and saving Africa’s elephants.
The more I listened to Maritza, the more intrigued I was. She mentioned that she was a mom of four, and that on top of creating an area with a sort of meditative quality to it, perfect for free expression, writing, and storytelling, she wanted the space to, above all, be kid-friendly. For the first time, I noticed the child-proof safety fence guarding off the stairs from the rest of the room. Maritza explained that part of her idea for the merchandise sold at Loud Baby — which included the colorful, comfy-looking sweaters I had noticed earlier — was to make clothing which she wouldn’t mind her own children wearing. Maritza was a fashion designer — in fact, she used to design women’s wear for Michael Kors — and figured, if she wanted to see change, why not create it?
Maritza smiled as she told me “You should’ve seen this place a few hours ago, we had about seven writers working on their laptops up in the clubhouse — sometimes meditation groups use it as well. It has a calm energy to it, people come here to relax.”
This effect wasn’t achieved by chance. Veronica, Maritza’s sister (I had seen her downstairs at the café when I first came in), was an interior designer who had, in Maritza’s words, “fought for this vision” — she had completely transformed the place. The stairs, the white-painted floor, the entire second level which served as the clubhouse — none of it had been there before.
Maritza notes, time and time again, that none of this would have been possible without her husband and her sister, and even her children. “This is a family business, in every way,” she says.
When I ask her how she did it, she tells me “The only way to do it is to stop waiting, and do it. Just follow your passion. As a woman, it’s so easy to say to yourself, ‘This would be possible if I wasn’t married, if I didn’t have children, if I wasn’t living in New York, if I didn’t have this and that responsibility…’ There are always going to be distractions, loud babies —” she smiles — “reasons you shouldn’t do it. But you have to stop waiting and just do it, go after your passions.”
As I start heading out, Maritza and Veronica offer me a free coffee. Maritza asks me what I’d like, and when I tell her, hands me a decaf with the perfect coffee-to-milk ratio. I add a little honey from the shelf near the counter, and the masterpiece-in-a-cup is complete. It warms my hands as I step out into the rainy mid-May afternoon, thinking about the child-friendly, coffee-scented, elephant-saving oasis of calm that I had just walked into for the first time but definitely not for the last.