Debbie Eisenstein at the Red Bank Artisan Collective earlier this month. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Five years ago, Debbie Eisentein opened the Red Bank Artisan Collective at 43 Broad Street, following her parents into the world of retailing downtown.

Though her family is an owner of the building, Eisenstein said she pays market rent, which is covered by subrents and consignment fees from the artists and craftspeople selling their works in the space.

redbankgreen visited Eisenstein recently for chat that revives the long dormant Human Bites feature.

Q: Have you had a lot of turnover in the five years?

A: I have had some new artists, but I have a handful that are here since the beginning. There’s Laura from Andromeda’s Attic, who does pop art and recently brought in the Elvis Presley inventory. It was her father’s huge collection, and sadly he passed away last year. There’s also Sue, from Aries Artistic jewelry; Patrick Satterfield of Red Bank, who does wine serving trays out of wine crates; Asja Ajung from Keyport.

Q: Where did the idea for the collective come from?

A: Just from attending lots of craft fairs and talking to people. I found a handful of vendors who were interested in doing something other than the craft shows which they have to do, with a lot of packing up and unloading and all that. So I thought that having a brick and mortar space dedicated to their products would serve as another channel for them to sell their products.

Q: Are you creative yourself?

A: No, I don’t have the talent, but I enjoy looking, and talking to people, and I love the social aspect of being here. 

Q: Is it profitable for you?

A: Not always. It’s been a challenge, especially in 2020, the way it was. So I’m still pushing through,  hoping to get through the year and continue on, or we’ll look for some other options.

Q: What works here in terms of what do people buy?

A: Mostly jewelry, candles, baby clothes. 

Q: All this stuff is either handmade or curated?

A: Mostly handmade. There’s one vendor who does curate her own products, and others who offer upcycled furniture or upcycled glassware.

Q: And are they all local?

A: Mostly local. I’d say eighty percent from New Jersey, and a handful from Pennsylvania. Massachusetts, Connecticut.

Q: So what do you think five years in?

A: I don’t know if I’ll make another five. We’ll see if we can in this economy and the inflation. I find that Gen X and the 20-to-40-somethings are not as big consumers as my generation. So I try to find things that are more functional than just another product, such as bowls, ceramics, soap, candles. Those are sort of functional. You use them.

Q: What’s your background?

A: I was a sociology major in college, and later worked in IT for various corporations for 25 years, and did some administrative work for my father-in-law, a psychiatrist.

And then I decided that I didn’t wanna go back to corporate, I wanted to change the pace. Wanted to be my own boss, so I opened this.

I also do work for my father, Pat Straus, at the Tenco, which owns 15 properties in Red Bank. I do all their property management and the bookkeeping as well. My father will be 95 in March, and he’s still involved in the business. 

Q: Your family has deep roots downtown, right?

A: Yes, my father’s father and uncle owned the general store Straus & Company, where Jack’s Music used to be and is now Char.

And my mother, Adrienne, had her women’s clothing store, Junior Bazaar, for over 30 years, where Baan Khun is now. She’s 89.

Q: What does it mean to you to have roots that go back that far?

A: It’s great. I’m involved in RiverCenter and the Red Bank Business Alliance. It’s an amazing transformation that the town’s gone through. We’ve seen highs and lows like any business, but I think Red Bank’s on its way back. You see all these storefronts filling up.

Q: Finally, I have a really silly question for you: which is more important, good food or comfortable shoes?

A: Oh, wow. Both are important to me, but I guess I’ll suffer through shoes. I would have to have good food.

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