The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Anjali Lewis of Air Mail

The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Anjali Lewis of Air Mail

May 23, 2024

Take a weekend to stroll around the West Village and if you find yourself on Hudson street, you’ll be in for a delightful surprise. Tucked away on 546 Hudson street is a world of nostalgic curiosities better known as Air Mail. This shop is the physical embodiment of Air Mail , the media company founded in 2019 by former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, whose flagship Saturday newsletter has become appointment reading for anyone with an active passport. 

Opened in April 2024, Air Mail is fondly referred to as a “newsstand” by its team, but that’s a humble way to describe a beautifully curated shop bustling with people, neighborhood dogs, and a full-fledged coffee bar. 

We had the chance to interview the mastermind behind the store Anjali Lewis (GM of Air Mail and Head of Partnerships) to discuss what it’s been like opening a “newsstand" in the heart of the Village. 

Air Mail started as a digital publication. Why was it important to open a physical store? 

It was so important for us to create a physical manifestation of Air Mail. Having something that you can touch and feel is always so important. 

Like so many others, I love reading Air Mail on my screen but having the ability to continue to explore the world of Air Mail in the physical realm is so fun. Physical spaces bring people together and this gives us an opportunity to do it.

What was the process of finding the space to open Air Mail?  

We looked for a space for nearly two years. Everything we saw was not quite right. It was like the Goldilocks of hunting around. We found 546 Hudson Street by accident. We were looking at another location with our realtor and the landlord-developer, who mentioned there was another space available we may be interested in. We went to visit that space, and it was a quite abandoned, neglected building on Hudson Street, but they were going to restore it to its original landmark status. 

The building was perfect for us. It was on an amazing street with tons of foot traffic and had a garden in the back - the garden will be opening soon! We worked with the developers, contractors, and architect Basil Walter to bring it to life. 

How did you think about what products to sell in the store? 

We knew right away what people would really gravitate towards. We’ve been running an online store called Air Supply for several years, so we understand what our customers like. We also have our own products that sell super well online. 

When it comes to products, we thought about our online best sellers, Air Mail branded products, and what brands are difficult to find. We have a wonderful mix of the familiar, if you're an Air Mail fan, as well as exclusives to Hudson Street. There’s a story to everything that we carry.

How did you want people to feel when they walked into Air Mail? 

We want people to feel super welcomed when they walk in. Our staff is amazing and will greet you immediately. They’re there to help if you need it or leave you alone if you prefer.

We also want people to feel surprise and delight when they walk through the door. We call the shop a newsstand, but it’s so much more than that. I think that's a little bit of a wink - we're calling it a newsstand, but when you walk in, you instantly discover the Air Mail world.

The coffee bar is charming. The little touches in the store are fun. Go walking towards the back room and there's product everywhere. If you have five minutes, or if you have an hour, come hang out!

How do you think about creating foot traffic? 

Since we’re a media entity, we’re in the business of building audiences and readers. Our staff also reaches out to our regular customers to keep them informed about things happening at the store. 

What we've also noticed is people walk in and are charmed and excited, then they return and bring friends. It’s really a place for the community - whether that’s customers who live down the block, or Air Mail readers visiting from abroad. Word-of-mouth has been incredible. 

We also give dog biscuits to the neighborhood dogs that come in with their owners, and the dogs love it! I mean if you want to talk about how we create foot traffic, the dogs know us. We have repeat dog customers who come through. 

Are there any products in the store that you really like? 

I will selfishly say that I really love our Air Mail branded products. Another thing we carry that I love are these leather bound classic books like Catcher in the Rye, The Little Prince, The Giving Tree, Dr. Seuss, etc. It’s become my favorite gift to give regardless of how old you are. 

I also love the fact that we create themes for our books in the back. Our current theme is
“Women’s Classics Past and Present.” We’re not a bookstore, but Air Mail is an editorial entity, so we want to hone in on what we believe in. We change out the themes every few months so stay tuned for summer! 

Which book are you currently reading from that section? 

It’s really fascinating because many of the books in that section are books people likely read in school or earlier in life. I started to reread some of the books, and it's so interesting to see what I thought about that book when I read it when I was 15, versus what I thought when I was 25, and now. I’m currently rereading Little Women.

Have brands been approaching you to get on the shelves of Air Mail? 

We’re so overwhelmed, in such a good way, by brands reaching out! We can’t take every brand because we have a finite amount of shelf space, and we’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Part of our merchandising philosophy is that we're changing the shelves often with new products, but we're also paying attention to those brands and products that people love and keep coming back for. 

When we consider carrying a new brand we think about: What makes sense for the neighborhood? How overexposed is the brand? Can you find it everywhere? Is it going to be additive for us to carry it if you can find it elsewhere? 

What’s your order at Air Mail’s coffee bar?

Easy! I am a cappuccino with whole milk.