Mamie Minch and Chloe Swantner knew they were taking a leap of faith going into business after working together for roughly five years at Retrofret Guitars in New York.
When they opened Brooklyn Lutherie, their guitar and violin repair and restoration shop, many of their loyal customers followed them, and they started to form a true community. Just over one year into the shop’s life, Brooklyn Lutherie is thriving, and Minch and Swantner couldn’t be happier or more fulfilled. “To see a lot of people following us here, and to see a lot of Brooklyn local people seeking us out and finding us, that’s been amazing,” says Swantner, who repairs, restores, and even sometimes makes violin-family instruments in addition to repairing and restoring guitars along with Minch.
Minch and Swantner are still the sole owners and employees of Brooklyn Lutherie, and their thoughtful, equal working relationship is one of the strong cores of their success. “Part of what makes us strong individually is that we’re good collaborators,” Minch notes, adding that the nature of repair and restoration work can be naturally isolating; sharing ideas has been key to the Brooklyn Lutherie philosophy.
We discussed the unnecessary gendering of building and repair work in general and the pressure of cultural stigma and collegial disapproval that prevents many women from entering the field. “That’s a real thing,” Minch sighs. “It can be intimidating.” But she’s quick to point out that the approbation and judgment doesn’t come from clients; Brooklyn Lutherie’s clientele is so loyal partially because they have been seeking a judgment-free space.
“Women seek us out,” says Minch. “They come to us. Repair shops and guitar shops aren’t necessarily set up to make people feel included.” Brooklyn Lutherie, breaking the mold, was designed to be as accessible and open as possible; they also have a lot of trans clientele and clientele of varying skill levels with stringed instruments across the price range, people who are all more likely to face judgment in more traditional spaces. Minch and Swantner are also determined to keep repair costs as affordable as possible, something their clientele greatly appreciates. “We really haven’t had to advertise at all,” Swantner observes. “So, it just proves that there was a need for a different spot that just kind of broke the mold of the guitar shops that you always walk into and are all condescending.”
Minch’s solution to the judgment and condescension she’s faced from colleagues is to simply work as hard as she can and be good at what she does. “The longer you’ve been doing it and the more well-known you are in your community, the less likely people give enough of a crap to make it difficult for you,” she laughs. She also believes “keeping lines of communication open” in the small luthier community serves her well; as she refers jobs to other luthiers, she finds others refer jobs to her, and that sharing of work leads to positive, healthy, and respectful relationships, much like the relationships Minch and Swantner have with their clients.
Brooklyn Lutherie’s success truly shows that there’s a deep need for shops that break down the more archaic traditional barriers of the world of musical gear—nearly all of us as musicians have experienced those barriers and can speak to them and how frustrating and painful they are to navigate, but we rarely envision spaces without them. It’s heartening to see these two talented women thrive precisely because they’ve designed a space where all are welcome.