Sarah Williams opened Rituals + Ceremony last November, and has since created a space for residents of Crown Heights (and beyond) to get in touch with their spirituality. After working in fashion and within the health industry, Sarah felt the next step in her journey was to open a space for that discovery. I sat down with Sarah this past weekend at the shop to talk about how it came to be and the importance of being in a black business owner in Crown Heights.
What was the inspiration behind opening Rituals + Ceremony?
I was on my own pursuit, my own spiritual journey, trying to find my purpose and what is it that I’m meant to do. That journey gave me the idea to create a space, something that I was looking for—basically, create what you’re looking for, if you build it they will come. Rituals + Ceremony is a space where it’s about self-love, self-care for yourself and also for your home—utilizing some spiritual aspects in nature, tapping into that spiritual energy and power to create a better space, and also about becoming a better person, tapping in and getting in touch with your soul.
Especially in the black community, I’m noticing a big spiritual awakening which I’m really happy about. People are connecting to their souls more, connecting to their ancestors. A lot of the spaces that I went to were white, so to have our own space where you feel comfortable to come in is important. People come in just to talk. It’s a store but it has a good vibe, and if people feel that comfortable to do so, I’m happy for it.
How did you make it happen?
For my birthday I got an LLC, and then I started looking for spaces. Once I was able to find a space, I basically took my life savings and put it all into the space. I was on Pintrest getting ideas for what I envisioned the space to be, but included my own aesthetic as well and how I wanted it to be received. Being that I worked in the wholesale realm but more so for fashion, I knew about purchasing and looking for goods. It was just me trying to curate and find products that I think people would love and people would enjoy.
What are some of the challenges that you faced while preparing to open the store?
Money is always a challenge, and trying to figure out alternative ways to stay true to your vision but within your budget and within your means. Also finding resources and help. Thankfully I have an amazing partner who is really good with his hands—he built these shelves and stuff like that which was super helpful. Even now running the business, one of the challenges is trying to make sure the community knows you’re here, and with other black owned business, just to have that support. Being able to pay the rent, because this is Brooklyn and you know how that goes, I feel like every year rent goes higher and higher, so to be able to live and hold space. I hope that me and other business owners will be able to hold our space, in this community, on this block. We live here, and the same way we talk about representation in media or TV, how it’s good to see yourself and it's important for our people to see ourselves in certain roles and positions, I think it’s also important for people living in the neighborhood to see that this is a business owned by a black woman, or this is a business owned by a black man. They’re here to service the community. Just to be that and for people to see that, that’s important as well.
How did you find this location?
I’m friends with the owner of the shop next door (Miles Culture), and he opened in July last year and let me know there was a space available. I came through and I checked it out and I was like this is good, this could work.
Coming up on one year, how have things grown?
I love the fact that we have repeat customers, and the relationships with people—relationships with people in the neighborhood, relationships with other business owners on the block and in the neighborhood, just us being able to come together and be supportive of one another. Being able to be a resource to people—people will come in and talk to me about their issues or what’s going on with them. We're a place where they come in and they feel a different kind of energy. Owning a business is hard, you have so much to deal with, you have to pay this bill, that bill, deal with financials but when you hear people say, “Thank you, I’m so happy that you’re here,” that’s what really makes a difference. Now that we’re closing up on our first year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Rituals + Ceremony is an entity of its own and my purpose is to facilitate that.
How do you source items for the shop?
Two ways: sometimes people approach me, and they’ll send emails or stop by. I’m also on Instagram and the internet just looking and searching. I’ve been reaching out to people and will send emails like, “Can I get a line sheet?”
As time has progressed I’ve added things depending on people's needs and wants. For example, now we have cards—birthday cards and greeting cards, because people from the neighborhood were looking for that. People love the candles. Definitely the crystals, the sage, and the palo santo are our best sellers. Also we have body products here, which have become increasingly popular. Initially when I started the store I didn’t have body products, but there was a need and that has been well received. For me it’s about listening to the community and what the customers have to say or just hearing them speak, especially since people who shop here live in a couple block radius. They’ll make comments like “We need a place to..” or “You know, it would be nice if you had this,” and I listen for the most part. If I can do it and it fits within the aesthetic and if it fits in line with what Rituals + Ceremony is, I definitely do my best to try to bring it in.
What went into the decision to open the store here in Crown Heights?
I was looking in Brooklyn in particular, but here specifically it’s a little bit of fate too because my friend next door opened a space. Crown Heights, I feel compared to other neighborhoods in Brooklyn—it’s only a matter of time, the sweeping of gentrification is flowing through every single community—but it still has its core I would say, it still has the Caribbean shops. There are other black store owners on this strip, and it helps knowing other black business owners like Nilea at Marché and Cafe Rue Dix, and Debbie at Martine’s Dream, even across the street at Paws and the City. I want to be surrounded by other black business owners so we can talk and we can exchange information, give each other advice. To have that energy and just to know that you’re not alone, that’s a really good feeling to have.
At the end of the day when you start a business you’re never really 100% sure. You have an idea, you can write a business plan, but there’s no definite that this is going to go as planned, or you think this will be well received but you’re not sure. So the fact that it has been is like a blessing.
What does a day in your life look like?
Depends what day! Wake up, get ready, come to the store. Mostly I’m in the store assisting customers, but I’m also on my laptop responding to emails, sending emails, trying to place orders for stuff that needs to be restocked, things like that. In addition to this I’m a costume designer, so depending if I have a project I’ll be multitasking. I’m in the store for the majority of the week. I do have someone who comes in and helps me two days a week, but most of the time it’s just me, which is cool because I get a chance to meet people and engage, but I do need a day to rest and sleep.
How do you unwind/practice self-care?
To me the best time is bath time. I love taking baths, taking showers, just that time where I cut off the lights, I light my palo santo or my candle and that’s my time. Most people don’t disturb you in the bathroom, the door is closed and locked and you’re good. I have time to think, say my prayers, basically everything.
What’s some advice that you were given or wish someone had given you?
That your parent’s dreams don’t have to be your dreams. I feel like I’ve been through multiple careers to get to this point. I come from an immigrant family, my parents are both from Liberia. They stress school, “You have to do really well," and all that. They were like you’re really good at science, you should be a doctor and I just assumed that’s who I was going to be. All through high school I did these health internships and programs and then in college as well. Before working as an account executive I was a children’s environmental health researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital, and then I left that and I went into fashion. I don’t regret it—every experience that I went through brought me to this point today, but especially being the eldest, I feel like doing things to make my parents happy.
Ultimately at the end of the day, if you pursue and do what you want to do and you’re happy, your parents will see that and you’ll make them happy. And even discovering that and seeing that of course they may act upset at first, once they see you can making a living they're ok. Once you follow your purpose and tap into that, and figure out what you’re here for that’s all that really matters. We didn’t come to this earth to go to school, work, pay bills and die, that’s not the plan, that’s not the point. The point is to reconnect to your soul, your spirit.
What’s up next for Rituals + Ceremony?
Definitely want to have more events, would love to collaborate more with other artists. I don’t see myself opening another location here or there, that’s not what it’s about for me personally. It’s more what can I do to make this space better, what can I do so it’s being more of a service.
What’s your sign and how do you feel about it?
I’m a Capricorn and I love being a Capricorn. Minus the cold and the January baby situation, I love being a Capricorn, it’s an amazing sign. If you don’t have a Capricorn in your life you need to get one. We’re level-headed, we’re goal oriented. I’ve never heard bad things about Capricorns. You know you hear things about other signs—we’re just great people. Everyone has their flaws but overall I feel Capricorns are good folks.
What was the last book that you read?
I didn’t finish it, I put it on pause, but it was this pocket guide about Buddhism and being mindful. It talked about being present and in the moment, which is something I’m working on.
What are three place to visit in Crown Heights?
Cafe Rue Dix: Go ahead and get some good food, I love their tuna burger!
Miles Culture: Right next door, they sell vintage and graphic t’s
Martine’s Dream: Debbie travels and has beautiful pieces and jewelry, and she has really great dresses and wraps that make you feel pretty