Smith & Chang General Goods: A Different Breed of Department Store

Owners and life partners Sawyer Smith and Alex Chang founded the eclectic general store in the Hamilton Square neighborhood of Jersey City to sell no-frills essentials with a hip vibe.

Alex Chang, left, and Sawyer Smith take a break inside their eponymous general store in Jersey City.
Photo by Andy Foster

Think of it as an early-American general store with a playful, sustainable twist. Sure, Smith & Chang carries basics like beeswax candles, wine glasses and cotton kitchen towels, but in every nook and cranny you’ll find retro-style sunglasses, plates resembling fish heads and even vintage toy soldiers.

Owners and life partners Sawyer Smith and Alex Chang founded the shop in the Hamilton Square neighborhood in 2010 to sell no-frills essentials with a hip vibe.

“As Jersey City becomes more gentrified, customers are very receptive to our own line of all-natural body care and laundry detergent,” says Chang. “Sometimes patrons request hard-to-find items, and we try to source them and bring them into the store.”

The quirky shop’s inventory runs the gamut. “One of our customers who grew up in New Jersey said that, as a boy, he shoveled snow for his neighbor, who always paid him with metal toy soldiers,” Chang says. The customer’s soldiers are for sale in the store with a price tag of $12.50 each. Smith & Chang also sells paintings, pottery and jewelry crafted by Jersey City artists.

“Customers tell us they like the way the store smells because its fragrance is a combination of rustic, reclaimed wooden antiques and herbal and floral soap,” says Chang. “Tourists say they search up and down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but most of what they find is made outside of the United States. One woman from England discovered us and walked out with 35 natural soaps, all made in America.”

Smith and Chang’s commitment to sustainability continues beyond the store. They reside in an industrial-style loft apartment with their son, and enjoy walking two blocks to work, through the neighborhood they’ve helped spruce up since 2000. Smith, president of Sawyer Smith Residential Brokerage, continues to renovate businesses in downtown Jersey City as part of his personal mission to help the town realize its potential as a vibrant community. “This is more than a business venture,” Smith says. “It’s about building and restoring a neighborhood.”

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