Alexa Floresta creates quirky merchandise and the vibe to match at new shop in New Paltz

Alexa Floresta of Crust and Magic located on the corner of North Front and North Chestnut Streets in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The interior of Crust & Magic at 19 North Front Street in New Paltz is as exuberant as its proprietor, Alexa Floresta, who talks fast and laughs easily; her enthusiasm for what she’s doing with her shop is contagious. “I want the space to feel like it’s a celebration,” she says. “It’s about the energy and the vibe that the brand exudes, this raw sort of slimy, crusty realness matched with the magic part: the glitter, the glam, the decadence. This is a place to be yourself, to have fun and embrace who you are.”

One wall of the shop is covered in lime green faux fur, accented with a pair of neon-lit red lips. Visitors have their choice of sitting on a lime green chair shaped like a giant hand or a graphic black-and-white, faux-leather, low-to-the-floor sleeper sofa in the center of the room, presently unfolded like a giant ottoman. And everywhere one looks, there is merchandise that’s been hand-painted or embellished in some way to reflect the edgy Crust & Magic sensibility.

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Thrifted denim jackets hang on the brick accent wall, each painted with evocative words or the store’s name and often one of Floresta’s “characters,” the unapologetically warts-and-all people — often nude — seen on most of the merchandise in the shop. The imagery is inspired by “a celebration of self-ownership,” she says. The characters are not meant to represent specific people, but rather a type of person, a “rooted-in-themselves” individual who is comfortable with themselves, “no matter how slimy or crusty they are.”

There are characters painted on skateboard decks and characters painted on “pillow pals,” soft, shaped forms hand-painted with graphic images on their canvas side. But most of the characters appear on clothing, either secondhand garments given new life with hand-painting or new merchandise that includes g-strings and t-shirts. For these, Floresta prints out her quirky watercolor illustrations on transfer paper and then heat-sets the images onto fabric, tie-dying the t-shirts first. Recently she began teaching herself to sew, and she’s excited about the possibilities that will add to her output.

All of this first came about when Floresta was thinking of ways she could put her artwork on functional items. She began painting images on furniture, and that evolved into painting on things like skateboard decks and then on clothing. “I wanted to make stuff people could use,” she says. “I love clothes, and a lot of this stuff I bought for myself. I need to downsize, so I gave these things a new life, made them special and put them out there again.”

The 2015 SUNY New Paltz grad grew up in Farmingdale on Long Island. She arrived in town to attend the college, earned a BFA in photography, and liked the area so much she stayed. Floresta, 26, opened Crust & Magic this past May, trying the concept out first in a pop-up shop she maintained at Water Street Market for six weeks last winter in a trial run to see how a brick-and-mortar would work.

Having her own shop has “definitely been in the back of my mind for a while,” she says. “I’m really happy to be here. And I try to keep it affordable and accessible. But what I’m really, really passionate about is creating an environment, creating a space. So to have something like this to invest my energy in to do that, is really special.”

Floresta splits the space (and the rent) with a friend and fellow SUNY New Paltz grad, vocalist Chris Owens, whose shop in the back is separated from hers in the front by a curtained doorway. His business is “Cee Ohhh,” selling thrifted garments.

She still practices her photography, producing zines of themed work, and says she enjoys having different creative outlets like that “to switch in and out of.” In chatting with Floresta recently, we asked her a few questions about what’s involved in a day’s work as a shop owner who also creates her own merchandise.

Was there a learning curve in figuring out how to do this?

Definitely. I’m pretty much figuring it out as I go. I also do a lot of farmer’s markets – I’ve been doing the one on Church St. since that started – and pop-up events, where you reach people that maybe otherwise wouldn’t come directly to the shop. I just did one on campus recently, which is an important demographic to tap into for this funky stuff.

What is the most challenging thing about what you’re doing?

I’m running a business, so I have the normal financial stuff, and then I’m making everything, so I have to make sure inventory is kept up with. And there’s a handmade element to every single piece, so there’s an involved process to it, and it’s a lot. But it feels amazing to be doing this. 

What part, then, would you say is most enjoyable?

I get to work for myself, and I’m in charge of what I want to be making. And just curating a vibe, creating an energy, and meeting all these fun, cool people. The positive reception I’m getting back has been amazing. When I started making merchandise like this, I was thinking about ways to get my art out into the world in a way that was living and breathing, living a life; it wasn’t on a gallery wall. And I really wanted to make work that was accessible to the people that I felt like I was making it about and for. And I don’t really know a lot of people who have the financial means, or the space, or own homes, that can invest in an oil painting. I have work like that, more traditional fine art pieces, but with merch and clothing and stuff, it can reach a different type audience, which I think is really special.

What would you be doing if not this?

I worked for years as a server and bartender at Bacchus, which gave me the sort of flexible lifestyle to pursue doing this. I’d probably be continuing to do that while trying to market stuff on the side and do gallery shows. I don’t know what’s going to come next, but I’m trying this and hopefully it works. If not, on to the next thing!

What would you like to see happen with Crust & Magic down the road?

Doing this same thing but large-scale; huge! I’d have a bigger space and I’d have literal sculptures of my creatures. I would just want it to be the crust and magic universe one day; a funhouse where you could come in and it’d be a real party, with events. Just, you know, the next level.

Does running this business give you a good work/life balance?

Definitely, yeah. I’m doing what I’d be doing anyway, so I definitely can’t complain. And I’ve wanted this for a long time, so, here I am! Which is awesome. I love it. And being here [in New Paltz], so close to the city, so close to my family… I can take a beautiful stroll on the River2Ridge and then go to my shop and meet all these cool people. It’s definitely a place to feel grateful for all this.

What attributes does a person need to run a business like yours?

Definitely passion. That’s the number one thing. You have to be super passionate about being here and doing this and excited… I don’t think this sort of energy would read well if you weren’t genuinely invested in it. And I really believe in this; I want everyone to feel what I’m feeling, so, as long as I love it, I’ll do it, I think. ++

Crust & Magic at 19 North Front Street is closed Wednesdays, open Thursday through Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. For updates, check Instagram or Facebook, or visit alexafloresta.com or the Crust & Magic online shop at https://crustandmagic.storenvy.com/.

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