Brooke Beaney is the eyes, mind and heart behind Judith store of Maine — the highly regarded multi-brand store that is cherished by its loyal clientele like a dear friend, inevitably due to the fact that they are absolutely treated like one.
This powerfully frank and intimate interview reveals the generosity of a one woman determined to make something positive and intentional, both of herself, her role as a mother, and as a business owner. Her words reflect her actions: direct and honest, both attributes she gracefully intertwines into her business.
We visit Brooke at her family’s holiday house on Cliff Island: remote, unplugged and wild, and spend the afternoon with her and son Billy and her beautiful bump...
— You recently made the move to Maine from bustling NYC, what drew you to the coast? Or rather, why did you feel the need to leave NYC?
My husband and I decided to leave New York for quality of life purposes.
I had been a clothing designer there for roughly 9 years and when my Creative Director & Mentor left the label I was designing for, I knew it was my time to move on also. It was also the perfect time to pursue my long time dream of having my own store. Both my mom and grandmother had stores: a flower shop and a knit shop, respectively.
We wanted more space, and to be able to work and live in the same place. We did not want to commute. We wanted to spend less time plotting how to get from point A to point B everyday. So we started looking for a creative up-and-coming city that would be receptive to the store I wanted to open, but also a place where Andrew could continue the type of work he had begun in New York.
Neither of us are from Maine, but both of us spent summers in different parts of the state with our families. It became clear to us fairly quickly that Portland was where we wanted to be. Wide-open spaces, the ocean, the woods, the creative entrepreneurial community, plus the ease of traveling back to New York — a city that we love, are so inspired by and visit quite often. Proximity to Cliff Island was the cherry on top.
— Can you tell us about the history of your holiday home?
My husband’s grandparents (Reamer and Louise) first went to Cliff Island in 1933. It was during the depression, they had no money. They were invited to spend their honeymoon in the family cottage of Reamer’s college roommate. They fell in love with the Island and started going there every summer to rent a cottage near the one where they honeymooned. In 1945 they bought two shore-lined acres of land on the Eastern side of the Island and a single-car garage from someone on the opposite side of the Island, which they somehow transported across the island to convert into their very own first Cliff Island cottage. The White House, as we refer to it now, is very tiny and utilitarian…the photogenic multi-pane bay window in the living room/kitchen area was installed by Reamer and Louise in place of the original garage door. It sits practically on the shale beach just above the water. They added a small sleeping alcove of 10’ x 20’ for themselves, and their three daughters slept in a platform tent with a screen door and cots just down the beach. After completing The White House, Reamer went on to build a pump house, install a water system, build two boats, and devise and build a boat mooring and hauling system. It must have been an incredible feeling to build it all from scratch on a remote island without much in the way of readily available materials.
In 1980, my husband Andrew’s parents built a house for themselves on part of the original property. It’s more “normal” in size and while still quite rustic (not winterized/no insulation/holey screen door that’s barely ever shut) it does have an indoor bathroom. My mother-in-law’s two sisters followed suit and built additional tiny homes houses tucked into the trees along the rocks – all sharing the original pump house and outdoor shower with The White House. Narrow overgrown paths connect them all. Andrew grew up in Washington D.C., but spent every summer on Cliff Island growing up and feels much more that it is his home than any other place he’s ever lived. It’s lovely seeing the magic of what it must have been like for him growing up, now through Billy’s eyes. It’s the most special place in the world to his family and the only place in the world that both our dog and our son can be completely free and wild.
— Have there been any surprising reconnections or learnings you have made in becoming a mother?
Patience, which, admittedly, I am still working on. The ability to say to myself “that’s good enough” in situations I never would have before I became a mom – a shift that comes from reassessing my priorities, of which Billy and my relationship with my husband are number 1.
Also, it seems like your kid can end up reflecting your worst traits back at you…so I’ve learned a lot about ways I want to be and do better.
— Is there anything you are currently trying to incorporate into your everyday: rituals, practices?
I’ve been making a point to get in some early morning stretching and yoga moves, followed by a huge glass of water before I have my coffee each day. I’ve also been Google-ing ‘butt workouts for pregnant women’ a lot lately and trying to get them done before Billy wakes up…to varying degrees of success. Once Billy does wake up, I just want to do our morning rituals of breakfast/getting ready for school/playing or reading together before he and Andrew head out for the morning. At night, I try to read, even a few pages, of something kind of light (and not on my phone) with he aim of clearing my head of work and calming my political concerns before turning off the light.
— What is something you have recently let go of?
A bunch of old magazines and reference garments I had been keeping for years as a designer. Currently working on letting go of more emotional baggage like disappointment and grudges, both of which I’ve tended to hoard throughout my life but don’t have room for anymore.
— How do you and your family like to spend your time here?
The rock and shale beach that runs along the waterside of the property is a favorite place to hang out. There are always large beach stone sculptures and driftwood forts being built. We take the Grumman to Jewel Island to explore the old fort relics (at Billy’s request), and picnic on empty surrealist moonscape-looking beaches. Lots of reading, walks around the island, lobsters cooked over a grate set in to the rocks and then eaten on the rocks on which they were cooked. Climbing, pulling mussels, and fixing things up. There’s a radio but not much cell service, no devices, so it’s the most present we all are, ever. It’s a beautiful thing.
— And when you have a moment to enjoy for yourself, what might we find you doing?
I love walking or running around Macworth Island, near our home, just breathing deeply and zoning out, no headphones. In the evenings, after Billy goes to bed, I binge on The Crown, or read until I fall asleep.
I guess if I am being totally honest though, I’d have to say that moments in our house alone, I end up doing something I’ve neglected like laundry, repotting plants, returning phone calls to friends and family, trying to plan something extra special/spontaneous with my kid…I’d like to say something more self-care or Zen-earth-mama oriented, but I’m not great at that stuff… In an attempt to be the moms I’ve admired on Instagram, you might find me making a bulleted list of creative projects that I could do with my kid, including things like natural dying, making jam, building backyard tent, but then running out of time to execute and just beating myself up for not doing it. Ha.
— How do you engage with and enjoy the local scene in Maine?
My family and I are still learning about the state. Since we moved here it’s been pretty fast paced, finding out I was pregnant with Billy, working a freelance design job remotely while trying to plan and open the store, finding a first employee and growing the business. Now, I am finding out that I am pregnant with our second child after committing to moving in to a much bigger store location…so, any chance we get we try to explore a part of the state that is new to us, we take it! We try to hike a trail that is new to us, take a swim in a place we haven’t before… We love driving up the coast to look for vintage or antique things for our home. Billy loves collecting “samples”, as he calls them (budding naturalist), and running through the woods, so if we can’t be on Cliff Island, we are doing those things at various spots on the mainland.
In Portland, we try to walk as much as possible so that we can play it by ear and be open to changing course, checking things out as they come up. We hustle to enjoy and support other new businesses, getting out to amazing restaurants, seeing new shows at the Portland Museum of Art, and checking out other stores as much as possible. I love talking with other business owners about their experiences. I feel like there’s a community of entrepreneurs here who have been receptive to communicating with and supporting each other that’s been imperative to our success.
— I imagine Maine offers you a slower paced lifestyle than bustling NYC, but in terms of business, what does Maine offer for Judith? Have you noticed any changes in your business since the move of location?
I always say: I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to start and grow my business in Maine. While I had a theory, I didn’t realize just how perfect it would be for me until we got going. I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do but with a certain amount of space and time that I don’t think I would ever have had in NY. In turn, we can offer a shopping experience to our customers at that same pace, with that same amount of space to explore and try new things. All of this, plus I get to smell and hear the sound of the ocean when I pull into my driveway at the end of the day.
When we first opened at 3 Middle Street, it was a much mistier location – accessible but just off the main drag, with smaller windows that I mostly obscured with a large Elizabeth Atterbury sculpture. Simply due to word of mouth, and the extreme generosity of fellow local businesses and our designers by way of their social media, our people found us. It became a destination, where our customers could spend a lot of time and get a lot of attention, and really make themselves at home. Since we moved to 131 Middle Street, we have a lot more visibility. Plus, we have three times the floor space. It has been, and continues to be, a total learning curve for my team and I in terms of working with customers in such a different space. We are constantly checking in on whether or not we have successfully translated the intimacy of shopping in our original space. We are still working it out but loving the fresh challenge.
— It’s likely that when one (with a highly successful business) removes themselves from the city, in order to regain a more conscious lifestyle, that technology steps in and helps to keep connections and relationships alive. I’m interested to know how you manage your time on technology? And also, if there are there any apps you have found that actually assist in the management of a more remote lifestyle.
Yes, I spend a tremendous amount of time on my computer and phone. Sadly, I don’t manage it very well. When I am with my family, especially my son, I try to be totally unplugged, but find I still need to make notes, in one of my million notebooks, when a thought strikes. Admittedly, I am not technologically savvy by any means, and would prefer to run the whole thing with scroll and quill and travel to see my collaborators in-person. If anyone has any suggestions of things that might help me streamline all of this, I’d be stoked to hear about them! These are the sorts of things I pick the brains of from the network of female storeowners I’ve been lucky to cultivate locally and across the country. I strive to be better on all of this and more efficient. Currently, I feel like I make it work in large partly by the fact that I don’t need a ton of sleep…
— From initial concepts to today, what constants does Judith aim to celebrate?
Our focus has always been on creating a sense of community and inclusivity around a shared aesthetic. We celebrate that aesthetic and the ethical & sustainable practices of our designers, alongside the desire of our customers to make thoughtful choices to reward those practices.
In terms of design, we tend to celebrate ease of wear and utilitarian details that demonstrate a designer’s understanding of form and function – subtle standout details that are integrated into the design, not applied just to make it unique: Design that might be referential but not overtly nostalgic. Textiles; Sophisticated, nuanced colors; Tactility; Integrity of materials and make – are all attributes that drive each season. Designers who know exactly where their materials and final products are made, who maintain the same high standards of truly knowing how things are made from start to finish, and pricing that reflects an ethical distribution chain.
I think first and foremost Judith aims to celebrate the designers’ vision, intention and authenticity – representing the designer properly has been our focus since conception. I can only do that via maintaining open and honest relationships with the designers and their teams.
I think my friends would call my commitment to authenticity an obsession, maybe on the brink of being annoying, but I can only represent things I feel connected to, things I feel capable of understanding completely and representing authentically, and my ability to do so comes from the authenticity of the designers we represent, making their vision easy to celebrate. The store is really a testimony to the integrity of the designers we are lucky enough to represent