Located in the oceanside enclave of New York’s Rockaway Beach, The Almeda Club is hard to describe. Opened in a former bodega in September 2020 by surfboard shaper Joe Falcone and his friend Graham Hill – both Rockaway natives – the space is equal parts barbershop, clubhouse, surfboard locker rental space, espresso bar and merch store... with a BBQ pit and hot showers out back.
We first came across the project on the Instagram page of New York surf brand Pilgrim Surf + Supply, which called it a ‘boutique of curiosities’ and ‘not conventional in its location or business strategy’. Which is true – a suburban shop dedicated to ‘preserving the art of hand shaping surfboards and cutting hair’ is bound to do things a bit differently. Here, Joe and Graham explain the story behind their store.
When did you two meet?
Graham: ‘We grew up together. Joe’s a few years older than me, so it was like a kind of big brother, little brother relationship. Joe has been shaping surfboards for the better part of 15 years and he ushered me and my friends into a tier of the surf world that was inaccessible to us. We used to go to his garage to watch him shape and eventually he started giving us haircuts. We’d leave with a T-shirt and a magazine and a board and a haircut. It was like this little one-stop shop. We wanted to offer that to more people than just our friends, you know?’
How did you find the shop location?
Graham: ‘I lived on this block for six years. I used to walk my dog past this building every day – it was an old bodega and I was always so curious. It looked so dilapidated and kind of spooky. I was like: man, what’s in there? One day, I dragged Joe down here and showed him the building. The next week we were signing a lease and it was full-steam ahead.’
It’s such an unusual-looking space. What’s its history?
Graham: ‘We found the sales logbook while we were doing demolition. Its last day of business was when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. For seven years it’s been pretty much abandoned. The landlord cleaned it up a bit, but what we did was a resurrection.’
Joe: ‘More like an exorcism! There was mould behind the drywall that they’d put up – that’s what prompted an entire renovation. We had to exorcise the demons out of that place, just a full shakedown, from top to bottom. It was like one of those home makeover shows. Me and Graham are handy and crafty, but we’d never bitten off anything that big before.’
Graham: ‘We had no idea what we were doing. And we kind of still don’t, man!’
Joe: ‘I was just gonna say that...’
Graham: ‘But it’s such a labour of love and an excuse to be creative.’
What’s the actual business model? It seems like you do about 10 different things.
Graham: ‘Our spot is very far out – there are no other landmarks in walking distance from The Almeda Club. So we had to take on a model where we wore more than one hat, where you can come here and spend six or seven hours and be stimulated the whole time. You’re not just coming here and getting a cup of coffee and then walking away, you know? You’re coming here with intention.’
Does most of the money come from surfboard shaping?
Graham: ‘The business model is basically club member fees via our surf lockers – a locker costs like 90 bucks a month. The idea is that the lockers completely cover all our operating expenses. Then we have boards for sale and for rent and we sell other stuff, from a collab with [clothing brand] Druthers to locally harvested chaga [fungus] tinctures that our friend makes. We’ve also got a barbershop and an espresso machine. But our moneymaker is our own branded merch.’
How has Covid hit the surfing industry? Are more or fewer people surfing?
Joe: ‘The beaches in Rockaway are like seven or eight miles long, so you can spread out. Even if you’re at a jetty with 50 other people, you’re not right on top of each other. So, if anything, we’ve seen a boom in the number of people in the water since the pandemic started. Just by its nature, in surfing you have to distance yourself from other people anyway. You’re out there in nature and spread apart.’