We had the good fortune of connecting with Shell Martinez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shell, what do you attribute your success to?
Community has been a pivotal force behind the success of my business. I’ve never been alone although for the first few years I was the only official employee. From the start of my business my friends have shown up for me. Over the years they shared their skill sets, volunteered their time for special events and projects, gave me access to their networks, and cheered me on through all the ups and downs. I am forever grateful because I know so much of the support has opened doors for my success.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We are a boutique film studio, prop house, and event space in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. However, it took many many years to land at this destination. My background is in real estate, interior styling, and set design. My business started off very small as a side hustle. I had found this absurdly large loft in Brooklyn about 12-13 years ago when I was an agent—the type of 5000 square foot loft that didn’t exist anymore in New York City. It was in rough shape and the owner of the building didn’t want to do any work or upgrades to make it move-in friendly. Potential tenants would tour it and pass on the space, overwhelmed by the size and scope of the work that needed to be done. So it sat on the market for nearly 8 months. I knew it was a gem and that I’d never find another space like it again in New York City. So I took a leap of faith and rented it myself.
It was a mixed use loft building filled with other creatives and artists. The freedom to follow my imagination was both exhilarating and terrifying. The rent was way higher than I’d ever imagined paying, especially on my own. Friends and family thought I was nuts taking on so much risk and warned it would backfire. I followed my gut anyway, moved in and started fixing it up. I looked for furniture large enough to fill the huge space but quickly realized I couldn’t afford any of it. This forced me to think outside the box. I found inexpensive pine twin captain beds from a vendor on Craigslist and turned them into extra large sectional sofas, sewing my own decorative cushion covers from fabrics I had collected over the years. I also built two giant dining tables from plywood and super wide plumbing pipes. Then I started posting ads on Craigslist, inviting people to community brunches and dinner parties and took donations for the food shared. I fixed up my 3 guest rooms with fresh paint, DIY beds, reupholstered chairs and headboards I found during flea markets hunts, hand sewn curtains, and throw pillows. Then posted the newly designed guest rooms for rent to travelers from Europe on a brand new, unheard of site called Airbnb. As my popularity grew I became known for my 40-person community Sunday brunches that introduced the international travelers I was hosting in my apartment to local friends and neighbors.
At the same time I started advertising my space for small film shoots, many of which didn’t have a budget for set designers and had hired my loft because it was fully styled. Over time my business grew. I juggled hosting guests between film shoots and hosting weekly brunch and dinner parties, all while constantly upgrading the style and function of the space. After a few years I took on additional lofts in the building, creating fully styled mini studios that could be rented for filming documentary interviews, tv shows, and movies. Although it all sounds adventurous and idyllic, in hindsight there were so many challenges along the way. Film shoots were rough on the loft so constant repair and maintenance was needed. Because my business was growing and I continued to take up more space in the building I was asked to take over maintenance of communal spaces like the hallways, entrances, and the elevator in addition to the spaces we occupied. I spent my weekends building new furniture, repainting walls, fixing toilets and broken tiles. However, that community I raved about earlier was there with me the whole time. Cheering me on, helping me repaint walls or set up for Sunday brunch.
I learned how to negotiate a contract that reflected my worth, time, and energy. How to manage a team of employees. How to use a circular saw in my living room to make furniture. I earned my 10,000 hours the long, hard way through trial and error. That experience is what allowed me to hone in on the direction I wanted to take my business. Our new location in Red Hook is a culmination of all that time and all those lessons learned, channeled into the next chapter of my business.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, my best friend did visit me from California a few years ago. This was our week:
– I took her to first Fridays at the Brooklyn museum for amazing art, live music, and tons of eye candy!
– We hit the Brooklyn Flea on a hunt for unique treasures for her to take home. Then downed brisket sandwiches and ice cream cones as we passed through Smorgasburg on a Saturday afternoon.
– Took a day trip to Dia Beacon, then visited friends who lived nearby. Sat on their deck in the backyard sipping their homemade Kombucha (it was pretty good).
– Danced until the wee hours at Bembe
– Walked the High Line early on a Tuesday morning before all the tourist crowded the pathways.
– Caught a midweek show at Alvin Alley’s summer run at Lincoln Center.
– Packed a picnic and met up with friends for Chaka Khan in Prospect Park… it was electric!
– Spent her last day cooking together for a goodbye dinner with friends and a couple of neighbors.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many people have helped me to get to this point. However, one friend has really been my partner in crime from the very start. Over the last decade he’s shown up for me in ways I would never have expected. Working his full-time day job, then coming over after work or on the weekends to help me with everything from setting up for events to helping with my mini renovations of the lofts, to keeping my Jurassic-sized plant collection alive, to taxiing me all over town on supply runs, to being my biggest cheerleader when I want to give it all up. The list goes on and on. Dean Hogarth has been the best sidekick for the past 12+ years.
@mardikins Mardi Miskit