April Greene

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Katerina Bogatireva grew up in Latvia when it was still a republic of the Soviet Union. She remembers that sometimes the shelves in her neighborhood’s stores were empty. She also remembers taking her own jars to these markets to have them filled with sour cream.

She remembers a time and place when plastic bags were rare and prized. Growing up, she couldn’t help but learn the value of not wasting food, and the importance of making the most of every resource we have.

Fast forward to 2018, when our oceans contain more plastic than plankton, and to Bushwick, where Katerina’s long-held values are coming to life in the form of Precycle: a new, zero-waste way to shop for groceries in the neighborhood. The store is the first of its kind in the northeast US, and it’s on a mission to help you save our species (and all others) by reducing your food and packaging waste to virtually nil.

Precycle reusable tote bag (photo courtesy Precycle)

Shopping at Precycle

Starting next month (exact grand opening date to be announced), BYO containers to 321 Starr Street (entrance on Cypress) and load up on bulk staples like flours, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and spices; liquid essentials like cooking oils, vinegars, honey, and maple syrup; fresh, mostly seasonal, and organic produce (arranged in the center of the store on a repurposed welding table!); chemical-free beauty and cleaning products like soap and shampoo on tap; fresh bread from neighborhood bakery L’imprimerie; and lots more.

Weigh, pay, and be on your way!

Don’t have the right size jar? Forget your bag? Precycle will also sell jars, cotton and recycled paper bags for dry goods, and mesh bags for produce. (All containers will be weighed before shopping so customers only get charged for what’s inside.) If you need something big to schlep your shop home in, you can buy a tote bag screened with Precycle graphics and branding, designed by Bushwick-based wife-and-husband design team Suva.

Precycle will also dedicate shelf space to a free give-and-take library for books on “eco” and food topics, as well as an in-store herb garden that will reward interested shoppers with a complimentary sprig to go with their purchase. (Sick of buying—then trashing—a fistful of fresh thyme or rosemary when you only need a sprinkling? You’ve come to the right place.) Katerina says she will emphasize listening to customer requests to determine her inventory.

“Ultimately, I have to cater to what customers want to stay in business,” she said.

Where the magic will happen: Precycle under construction last month (photo by April Greene)

Starting a woman-owned business in Brooklyn

The idea of Precycle began to take shape in Katerina’s consciousness one day in the spring of 2015. Her son came home from school and asked, “Mommy, do you know how long the plastic will remain in the landfill?” (The answer, in general, is several hundred years—during which time it can leach into soil and drinking water.)

“I knew then I had to do something,” she said.

The lion’s share of startup capital for Precycle is Katerina’s personal investment (before this, she owned a successful “wearable art” shop in Boerum Hill), but it still took a village to make her vision a reality.

Katerina got a small business loan from the nonprofit Renaissance Economic Development Corporation and is currently crowdfunding to pay for store buildout, equipment, and initial inventory (see below to show your support and get in on the perks). She got helpful business advice from the nonprofits SCORE, CAMBA, the Small Business Development Center at Baruch College, and NYC Business Solutions, and received pro-bono legal advice from a law firm.

Cayuga Capital owns the building Precycle is located in. The store’s neighbors include a climbing gym, art gallery, ramen restaurant, and foot doctor. Katerina said, “When I initially met the Cayuga rep, he was super excited. After many rejections from landlords in other neighborhoods for this ‘different’ kind of startup, they took a chance on me.”

“This idea has been over three years in planning, and I couldn’t be more eager and excited to meet the community. Throughout this journey, I have already met so many inspiring human beings and that is what keeps me going.”

Katerina with some plastic-free produce (photo courtesy Precycle)

Real talk about affordability & accessibility

A recent blitz of zero-waste stores (many online) has sparked debate about how inclusive they are. Will Bushwick residents of all backgrounds and income levels be able to shop at Precycle?

Katerina said, “I don’t have the economy of scale that a place like Whole Foods does. But from personal experience, shifting to this type of purchasing—buying only what I need for a particular time frame, instead of just loading up at Costco—has generally led me to save on both food cost and food waste. The savings comes mostly from really planning your meals, and thinking about what you actually need. This way of shopping is not for everyone, but for those who do make the change, I think it will be worth it. 

“In addition, according to the Food Marketing Institute, eight cents on every dollar a consumer spends goes toward packaging. Since Precycle’s main mission is to eliminate single use packaging, I am hoping to pass on these savings to the customer.”

Regarding Precycle’s place in the neighborhood, Katerina said, “I see Precycle as part of the community, and I hope to get involved in community outreach.”

She is actively considering donating a percentage of her (eventual) profits to a local organization, and plans to pursue B Corp certification, which necessitates following certain social responsibility guidelines.

“For Precycle, becoming a B Corp would add a level of accountability to do even better for society and the environment,” she said. Because her company is currently classified as a startup (less than 12 months in business) it doesn’t yet qualify for the certification, but it can promote the label “Pending B Corp Status” in the meantime. “One of the biggest advantages of undertaking the B Corp process is that it provides extra guidelines, checklists, and advice on how to make the best decisions having all stakeholders in mind,” she said.

A resource for a healthier Bushwick

“I’ll be at the store myself a lot, and I want to make it very inclusive,” Katerina said. “Whoever comes in the door, whether they buy or not, I’ll be there to talk. Making even small changes to our shopping habits can seem scary, but they really can be beneficial. I want to be there for people to give it a try.”

Follow Precycle on Instagram to see some gorgeous veggie profile pics and stay in the loop about their grand opening.

+ Donate to Precycle’s Indiegogo campaign—running now through December 6—to support waste reduction in Bushwick and score some delicious perks.