R. J. Hoppe continues 40-year-old legacy of custom wood furniture making in Newark headquarters

On North 5th Street near Park Avenue, there sit a slew of multifamily homes, mobile fruit and vegetable trucks stocked with jeweled green avocados, and a warehouse, nondescript except for the yellow “R. J. Hoppe, Inc.” lettering adorning the squat building’s flat, brown awning.

But what the building lacks in outward appeal, the carefully crafted, high-end wares and deep history inside more than make up for. R. J. Hoppe is a 40-year-old woodwork and furniture making company here in Newark, and its 12,500-square-foot warehouse is where Rolf Hoppe, the company’s president and only son of its now-retired founder, can be found on a weekday afternoon, perhaps working on a coffee table that he will ship to a customer in Nantucket the following week.

Hoppe is a graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, one of the world’s foremost higher education institutions for design and architecture. But his woodworking education started at his father’s company, where his “entry-level” work entailed sweeping floors in the warehouse when they set up shop at their current location in 1975 (the company was incorporated in 1968). Sixteen years later, Hoppe assumed his current position as the company’s president.

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“I’ve been working summers and winters since I was ye big, sweeping floors, picking up nails, rolling up extension cords, the whole thing. That’s kind of how I grew to know architectural woodwork,” said Hoppe.

At a time when consumers are quick to go the Ikea route, companies like Hoppe’s, which employs the use of mixed metals and exotic wood veneers, can have a difficult time connecting with the average furniture shopper.

“There are few architectural woodworking contractors out there that do what we do. A lot of them have already gone under,” Hoppe said. “I don’t know what the future holds for the business. There are spots here and there in terms of work, but from what I can tell, this area has been hit hard,” he continued.

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Rolf Hoppe poses with his father.

As Hoppe thumbed through images of past work, it became clear why the herd of bespoke furniture outfits like his has thinned out. Hoppe’s portfolio boasts high-end commercial and residential projects that can set a customer back a couple thousand dollars.

From systems furniture for companies like Goldman Sachs, to residential projects for international celebrities, R. J. Hoppe’s work definitely suits customers of a particular taste and budget. Customized display cases, built-in bookshelves, and outdoor metal installations are among the types of projects the company takes on for its customers, which have included schools, banks, and retail stores, in addition to residential work.

“What really sets us apart is a particular attention to detail,” Hoppe said. “I think that the only reason we aren’t getting the work we should be getting is because we’re being underbid by contractors and people who will do a cheaper job — but not as good a job as us.”

Hoppe credits his dedication to craftsmanship to his roots. His father relocated to New Jersey from Germany after the Second World War, and quickly began work as a cabinetmaker in Newark.

“My father was about 15 when the war ended, and at that time you only had two choices – go to school or learn a trade,” said Hoppe. “He knew he had a gift for working with wood, so he explored it. And when there were still no jobs in Germany, he moved here.” Forty years after the founding of R .J. Hoppe, the warehouse still houses work created by Hoppe’s father.

Hoppe said that although the company’s core values around hand crafting, sharp attention to detail, and workmanship remain the same, he is infusing his own modern-day acumen into the family business, with hopes of staying ahead of the continuously changing industry. While his core customer territory radiates 50 miles from his Newark furniture shop, Hoppe said he hopes in particular to partner with local architects and designers in Newark to help source more local jobs, and to add texture to more of the city’s interiors with some of his company’s homegrown, custom-made style and craftsmanship.


R. J. Hoppe is located at 340 N. 5th Street in Newark, and can be reached online at rjhoppeinc.com, and by telephone at (973) 485-5665.

Isabel Livingston: The ‘savvy’ behind Closet Savvy Consignment in Newark’s Teacher’s Village

Newark native Isabel Livingston is bringing high-end, designer fashion to Newark in the form of her store, Closet Savvy Consignment.

The shop, which is located in Newark’s Teachers Village, offers a carefully selected inventory of designer items, including brands like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Livingston and her daughter, college student Asata Evans, founded the store in 2012 as an online retail business.

“When my daughter was a junior in high school, it became time to consider college. Tuition and costs became very real numbers, and we realized how unprepared we were. So we decided to go into business,” said Livingston.

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A scene from Closet Savvy Consignment’s Instagram feed

With the goal to bring an extra $10,000 dollars into her home, Livingston purged her designer-laden closet and began Closet Savvy on a self-hosted website. She embarked on the occasional pop-up shop setup when the opportunity presented itself.

Over $10,000 and 10,000 Instagram followers later, Livingston saw the potential in converting the business into a brick-and-mortar store, and eventually launched the cozy and chic boutique in the new development on the south end of Halsey Street.

Livingston said social media created a built-in audience that has benefited the shop since opening day. “Having the time to have built up that social media following made all the difference,” Livingston said. “Without 10,000 people being able to see my stuff everyday and just opening my door to the world, this could have been a completely different situation for me.”

To be sure, in addition to now being a physical store, Closet Savvy is still a thriving social movement. Livingston’s followers talk about everything from the store’s latest designer products to natural hair trends to pop culture. The social platform has also powered Livingston’s buying reach, with Closet Savvy offering customers the opportunity to purchase products directly from the store’s page for an added shipping fee.

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While the social media activity adds dimension to her brand for followers well outside of the city, Livingston says the store itself provides a carefully considered experience for the nearby shoppers who venture in. Walking into the store, it’s clear to see what Livingston is referring to. With a Chanel-embossed drink tray, monogrammed Louis Vuitton trunks stacked against the wall, and Beyoncé blaring from the speakers, Closet Savvy is a dream experience for shoppers in her demographic.

“When you shop with a woman, you’re really on an intimate level. You get to see how she really feels about herself,” Livingston mused. (Closet Savvy also offers a selection of men’s apparel.)

“Women come in here as total strangers, and by the time they leave, we’ve bonded. They leave here promising to come back, and you can’t get that online. People come here, and it really is an authentic experience.”


Closet Savvy is located at 35 Maiden Lane, just off Halsey Street in downtown Newark. The shop is open from Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shop online here, and visit their thriving Instagram community @ClosetSavvyConsignment.

Images courtesy Closet Saavy Consignment.

 

Larry Lyons offers curated vintage style with his reboot of Brick City Varsity

Larry Lyons owns 1,200 pieces of vintage clothes, from demure cashmere cardigans circa 1963 to mid-80s leopard print with “Dynasty” sized shoulder pads.

“Everything from Jackie O. to Jackée Harry,’’ he volunteers.

Whatever your taste in retro, Lyon’s Brick City Varsity brand can accommodate it. Once a by-appointment-only shop located in his downtown living space, Brick City Varsity can now be found once a week at 58 Park Supper Club. Since last month, Lyons has been hosting “Varsity Thursdays,’’ an after-work, cocktail-hour “sip and shop,” where residents and commuters can mingle and try on the wares. It runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“It’s about making the shopping experience enjoyable by indulging our clients’ appetites for unique style and lively gatherings,” says Lyons. “The line is comprised of well-made garments that have outlasted momentary fads and stood the test of time.”

Lyons, a Princeton doctoral candidate studying 20th-century American literature, wants vintage style to be available to everyone, from local artists and organizers to college grads starting their first job.

“We place such a high premium on individuality, but when it’s time to express our personalities, we’re all going to the same place,” he says. “Whether clients are looking to beef up their professional wardrobes or to create one-of-a-kind looks for appearances and performances, Brick City Varsity offers an alternative to mainstream retail.”

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Lyons only buys stock from the Salvation Army and other thrift shops that aid victims of poverty and disaster.

“When we think about fashion, it always seems like this guilty indulgence in conspicuous consumption. I wanted to rebel against the notion that the moment you turn to fashion, you abandon your connection with the working class,’’ he says. “It’s possible to use fashion as a vehicle to benefit those who need it most rather than those who need it least. And if any community needs that, it’s Newark.’’

Brick City Varsity grew from Lyon’s work as a photographer and stylist. During fashion shoots, clients and models fell in love with his pieces and would often ask to keep them. “I realized I might as well start charging for it,’’ he says.

In addition to selling clothes, Brick City Varsity offers model development, wardrobe consultations, graphic design and event design.

The brand is named in honor of Newark’s resilience (“Brick City’’) while the “Varsity” is a nod to those who fought for diversity and equity in the student takeover at Rutgers-Newark in 1969.

Says Lyons: “My motto is, ‘beautifying the city of Newark, one outfit at a time.’’’


Find Brick City Varsity on their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Newark in Verse: A city of poets, past and present. Take a tour of Newark’s poetry scene

Kalita Cox, a 30-year-old poet who goes by the stage name Se’lah, is holding court at the Coffee Cave, an artsy café on Halsey Street that has become a hub of sorts for Newark’s vibrant poetry scene. She’s tonight’s featured artist, and after blessing the stage with a mash-up prayer adapted for poets (“Give us this day my feature pay/and forgive us our misuse use of the English language/as we forgive those who give us a 6.4 in a slam. . . ‘’), she leans into the mike and launches into her first poem, a lyrical journey  that pays homage to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King and other women in African- American history.

I come from a broken history/A long line of a stolen legacy/Where my people’s greatness/Was hidden by hatred/And chained and shackled by bitter cold faces/But still I rise on. . .

Nor is Se’lah the only one to share her work. Members of the audience step up and perform as the host, Dave “Ghost” Rogers, whose show “Living Room Wednesdays” is held every week at The Coffee Cave, keeps things moving. There are love poems; a social justice poem by Ormar Lucas, a barber at Center Stage Cuts who writes of Newark as “a place where sunny days swiftly turn to blood baths’’; and a gripping poem by Sean Battle, an adjunct professor of English at Essex County Community College, who turned the trauma of being mugged on Halsey Street by a pack of “boys walking from Burger King who robbed me as if I were a choice off the menu’’ into verse:

  . . . one tug would’ve given them/three 20s out of my back pocket/But an iPhone and wallet with state ID/And debit cards were enough to flee/No younger than 13 this pack/had enough experience in decadence/To stain my bliss with darkness shaded between their skin and mine . . .

The audience nods in recognition when truths strike close to the bone, then hoots and hollers when one regular deviates from her usual fare and shares an erotic poem, deconstructing, detail by detail, the “pulsation and vibration dancing in my mouth.’’ This is, in a nutshell, “the scene,’’ and the format of choice is an open mic.

Open mics take place in coffee houses and church basements, parks and barber shops all over Brick City. And now, as poets from all over the country descend on Newark this week for the Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest poetry event in North America, local poets here hope the festival will shine a spotlight on what regulars already know: the poetry scene in Newark is thriving.

“Any night a week you can find a show,’’ said Rogers, 33, a manager of a fabric store in Passaic who has also hosted a cypher – or impromptu rap session – at the corner of Broad and Market Streets every Friday night for the last five summers.

The scene, he added, has grown noticeably in the last two years. ”It wasn’t like this before. You don’t just see three or four people.  You’ll see a crowd.’’

Added Se’lah: “There was a time when it was very cliquish. Now I feel like everything’s coming together. I attribute the unification of poets of our generation to just growing up.’’

 

Poetry in Newark

You can’t mention Newark and poetry in a sentence without invoking the name of the late Newark poet Amiri Baraka, who saw poetry as a way to give voice to the voiceless. Baraka was at the center of Newark poetry starting with the Black Arts movement in the 1960s and 70s and continuing through to his death earlier this year. In fact, his legacy is being honored at this year’s poetry festival, and was also honored at this year’s Open Doors City-Wide Arts Festival. (Baraka’s legacy is also embodied by his son, mayor Ras Baraka,  who is himself a longtime poet.)

“He’s all of our grandfathers,’’ said Se’lah, who organized last May’s first-ever Montclair Poetry Festival and has her own production company, Mylk ‘n Honee Publishing. ”All of us owe our pens to him. The fact that we can all say we’re from a city where a legend lived  [makes me] very proud to say I’m a Newark poet.’’

Poetry, Rogers said, is a way for people to “rebel’’ in a positive way in response to the hurt that comes from a society that seeks to keep people – especially black people – in a box.  “I think it’s the hurt,’’ he said, explaining the profusion of local poets. “It’s definitely expression.’’

That view was echoed by Tehsuan Glover, 34, a Newark native known by his stage name “Starski.’’ Glover, a poet himself, organized a poetry show at the Newark Symphony Hall earlier this month that featured readings by local poets drew 125 people.

“Newark has a great deal of beauty and Newark has a great deal of ugly, which at the very least is fodder for artists and poetry,’’ said Glover, who earns his living running a marketing and branding company known as Gentleman Culture.

 

Growth 
Glover, a graduate of Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange, said he got serious about poetry after seeing the 1997 film Love Jones, a love story set in the world of Chicago’s African American creative class.  His interest lead him to Bogies’s, a nightclub in East Orange, and an important center for slam poetry throughout the 90s that helped nurture an older generation of local poets like Rob Hylton, Helena D. Lewis and Lamar Hill.

“Newark demands that you’re good,’’ said Glover, who counts the poet Lucille Clifton as an important influence. “Sympathy is not one of Newark’s character traits, particularly in terms of entertainment.’’

Rogers said he believes the current growth of the local poetry scene is being fueled by the feeling that Newark’s Downtown is changing as a result of developments like Teacher’s Village, the redevelopment of the Hahnes building to house a Whole Foods and new loft apartments, and the construction of the new Prudential office tower.

“A bunch of artists are saying, “’How can I position myself and my people to take advantage of this?’’’ he said.

 

Newark’s scene
Battle, 25, said it was precisely Newark’s reputation as a center for spoken word poetry that prompted him to come to Rutgers-Newark in 2011 as the place to do his graduate work in poetry. “Newark is to the Jersey scene as New York City or Harlem is to New York. If you want to make it as an artist, you have to make your name in Newark,’’ he said.

Battle said he counts Patricia Smith as an important influence, but he returns to Baraka’s poem, “Black Art,’’ a manifesto about black poetry often.

“It comes down to this: if you’re black and you’re writing poetry, you are black poetry because one way or another, your work will have a gaze that is in relation to the concerns of the black communities,’’ Battle said.

 

The Coffee Cave

By 10 p.m., “Living Room Wednesdays’’ is over. The lights are turned off and the customers are shooed out as employees wash the floors and lock up for the night.

Outside, Halsey Street is empty. The construction workers building the new Prudential Tower are long gone, the students and business people who come here to eat and shop a mere memory. Gregory Brown, a 26-year-old East Orange resident who had read the love poems he had written to his girlfriend Shanika Stevens, lingered on a bench to chat. “Poetry gives people a reason to exist and thrive and want to do more than what’s expected,’’ he said. “It lets you get things off your chest.’’

Brown said he has been writing poetry since he was eight years old. He has worked various jobs from teaching assistant to stage manager to security guard and is currently working as a volunteer as he prepares to go back to school.

Stevens, 42, whose performance this evening was an unmistakable reply to Brown’s, is sitting next to him. She, too, she said, is in an in-between stage, waiting to go back to school in a pharmacy technician program. She joked about the age difference between the two of them, but then turned serious. She hadn’t written anything since high school, she said, but Brown’s passion for poetry rubbed off on her. “He gave me a voice,’’ she said, adding yet another voice to the chorus of Brick City voices emerging from the Newark streets.

Reader style: Newark artisan, style maven & entrepreneur Kaylan Jones is ‘Forever Audacious’

Forever Audacious x Persoanl Advisory . RBG

“Speak with passion…move with aggression…always assume positive intent.” – artisan/entrepreneur Kaylan Jones

About Kaylan

From: Newark/East Orange
Business: Forever Audacious™ (www.foreveraudacious.etsy.com)
Earrings: Forever Audacious
Bracelet: Forever Audacious
Top: Personal Advisory
Location: 116th & Malcolm X Shabazz Blvd. Harlem, NY at the 44th Annual African American Day Parade, promoting her brand and representing Brick City

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Want to submit your own style photo? Email us at style@brickcitylive.com!

 

Exactly why are we launching a Style section?

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Just in time for Fashion Week right across the Hudson, we’re happy to announce the launch of the Style section of Brick City Live! Check out the inaugural post by our Featured Style Correspondent, creative director and style genius (seriously) Citi Medina. A word about why we’re doing it, and what you should expect:

Newark is a place brimming with style. From the shops and boutiques along Halsey Street that offer curated selections (old-school Newarkers will remember when Naughty by Nature had a shop there), to fashion-forward kids and adults alike who put together looks with unique flair, Newark is a place whose distinct attitude includes a distinct style point of view. We think it’s an important enough point of view to highlight not only for Newark, but for the rest of the world. After all, it’s the organic ingenuity of both street style and professional styling from places like Newark that often make their way into the mainstream.

And Citi Medina is a man brimming with style – so much so that he injects it into every facet of his life. He knows the value of an impression: those of us who have visited the headquarters of Medina=Citi in Newark know just how much attention he pays to the environment where he does business. He can be fly from every style direction, yet always looks very much like himself. His style first caught my eye when he turned a plain school desk into a beautiful piece of home décor.

Not only is he a style genius, the Brooklyn native has shown his love for and commitment to the city of Newark time and time again. He has put down deep roots here, using the city as a home base for his highly successful design haus, and helping many a Newark-based business and entrepreneur put their best foot forward.

What can you expect from Citi Medina?

  • Dress to showcase you: Style isn’t just rocking the latest trends – it’s about making clothing work for you to showcase your personal style. Medina helps you identify your style point of view, the best clothing for your body type, and your most complimentary color palettes. And shows you how to use that knowledge to make great style choices.
  • Style guides: Need a start for looks you can customize for your personal style? He’ll be offering style guides for men and women.
  • Newark talent: Highlighting style havens, resources, and talent straight out of Brick City. He’ll also be covering street style. Think you should be featured? Email style@brickcitylive.com.
  • …and more! Because creative talent can’t be constrained by bullet points.

So check out Citi Medina’s first post today, as well as style posts every Wednesday and Saturday. For alerts about his latest posts, like Medina on Facebook and Twitter, like Brick City Live on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for Style alerts from us here.

Heck, you can even follow me! I tweet about being a journalist and entrepreneur here.