CARROLL GARDENS – A pioneering clothing boutique will be closing on Court Street at the end of the year, much to the disappointment of neighbors and longtime loyal customers.
Raina Passo opened Try Rae’s First at 430 Court Street (between 2nd & 3rd Place) in 1986 when the neighborhood was predominantly Italian and filled with family businesses such as delis and bakeries. A former manager on Wall Street who moonlighted as a freelance photographer, Passo “just wanted [her] own business.” She initially set up a weekend flea market at 1st Place where she featured a variety of vendors selling sunglasses and accessories. The flea market was such a success, that after three months, Passo decided to quit her day job and start her own clothing business.
Now known by most locals as Rae, Passo named the shop Try Rae’s First after her mother, Rachel, with a reference to the former flea market’s 1st Place address—”where it all started.” Born in East New York, Passo lived in Carroll Gardens for approximately 15 years before moving to Long Island where she’s been for the past decade.
Passo has seen Carroll Gardens evolve over the years—from the small Italian-owned businesses to the little shops and restaurants that “brought people here.” Today, as she sees more “box stores,” banks, and eyeglass shops opening in the area, she notes that the mom-and-pop stores are being driven out.
Just as the neighborhood has evolved over the years, so has Passo’s business. She recalls when she first opened she sold mainly high-end menswear, including suits, and some women’s clothing. As demand shifted, she eventually began selling more women’s clothing, at more affordable price points, as well as items for kids, making Rae a true “family store.” Rae “caters to everyone,” Passo says, offering merchandise for customers aged “ten years to 95,” which seems appropriate as she’s seen customers’ families grow over generations.
Rae is “not just a clothing store,” Passo insists. It’s a place in the community where neighbors drop in to say “hi” and talk about “what’s going on in their lives.” She says when she first opened the store, she didn’t anticipate how much it would change her life and how many friendships she’d form.
Try Rae’s First is closing at the end of December because her landlord did not give Passo, or the owner of the neighboring Olive’s Very Vintage (434 Court Street), an option to renew their leases. Passo learned about the news in June 2018. Her lease for the space expired in September. While Olive’s vacated in November, the landlord agreed to let Rae stay open through December 31.
“We’re going to miss the store,” said Julie, a Carroll Gardens resident who was shopping at Rae on a recent afternoon with her seven-year-old daughter Maya. “It’s on our way home from school so we’re in here a lot,” she continued. “She’s always very friendly.”
Merchandise has been flying off the racks since news of the store’s closing got out. There was a steady flow of traffic at Rae during Bklyner’s visit, with many customers wishing Passo well and expressing their sadness in seeing her go.
As they shopped for holiday gifts, Julie wore a stylish winter coat recently purchased from Rae, and both mother and daughter donned cozy hats and gloves from the store. “If the store closes, where are we going to buy our winter gear?” Maya asked her mother.
Passo fondly recounts the story of a young girl who was not familiar with the menorah currently on display in Rae’s window. After the shop-owner explained to the girl that the menorah is lit for eight nights in celebration of Hanukkah, the young neighbor stopped by Rae every evening during the holiday to participate in the ceremony with Passo. This is just one of many special moments Passo has shared with the community.
“I’m going to miss Brooklyn,” she says, “I’m going to miss everyone.”
“Thanks for enriching my life and for including me in all your family events and special occasions,” Passo adds. “It’s been a great run.”
Passo plans to travel in the new year and has already booked trips to Israel and Iceland. She says she’s got a couple of ideas for what she will do next before noting, “‘Retire’ is not in my vocabulary.”
Try Rae’s First will receive a new shipment of merchandise on Thursday, December 13. Everything at the store is on sale through December 31.