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‘Rein’ ends for Debbie

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A sign against the wall at Debbie’s Reins, the equestrian shop on Douglass Street in (of all places) Gowanus, said, “We won’t steer you wrong.”

But when owner Debbie Singleton, a Flatbush resident, opened the shop two years ago, selling a mix of saddles, chaps, and cowboy hats, someone must have done just that: There were definitely no cow punchers on the block between Third and Fourth avenues — just an auto mechanic, tile factory, and wholesale fish market.

Singleton was the lone ranger. And now, the store is closed, not a victim of that classic landlord-tenant struggle, but of the limited need for equine equipment in a neighborhood becoming more known for fancy condos and hotels.

Yet somehow, Singleton made it work — for a time.

“My customer base started really kicking in about six months ago, but I’ve just run out of money,” said Singleton, a retired Verizon manager who realized her dream of owning her own tack shop when she opened her first location at Cedar Lanes Stables, near JFK Airport, nine years ago.

The goal when she opened her Gowanus-area satellite was to be near Park Slope, said Singleton, who was dressed on closing day last Thursday in her usual straw cowboy hat and “mom jeans,” her hair tied in a single long braid. She said she fell in love with the location after she learned from the broker that the space had been a horse stable in the 1930s.

“Brooklyn was a horse town,” said Singleton nostalgically, who became a cowgirl at the age 9, and owns three horses of her own.

Though business was perpetually slow, customers did find her. Many were temporary Brooklyn residents from distant locales, like the customer from Italy who ordered two saddles to be sent back home, and the man who made a purchase for an air force base in Alaska.

Other customers just wandered in.

An auto mechanic next door, for example, had a penchant for Singleton’s ornate belts. And Evelyn Polancko, a secretary at Marble Tile Terrazzo down the street, bought all kinds of hats, chaps, and a saddle for her horse-loving younger brother.

“When it opened, I was wondering what they were doing here in Brooklyn,” said Polancko. “There aren’t any horses here.”

But you can’t maintain a business on a grease monkey’s love of fancy belts or a tile company secretary’s brother’s hobby. As a result, this urban cowgirl got the blues.

But the dour mood is only temporary: As Singleton packed up the Gowanus location, she looked forward to heading back to her original shop, where she keeps her horses, including Greyboy, her Arab quarterhorse.

“That’s the good thing about that store,” Singleton said. “I can go in the back and play with my baby until a customer comes.”

A Brooklyn cowgirl always gets right back in the saddle.

Posted 9:23 am, August 4, 2008
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