Entrepreneur and it girl Audrey Gelman is at it again. Having stepped down as the CEO of WeWork For Her™–aka the feminism-branded co-working space, The Wing–she’s gone pastoral.
Gelman’s latest project is the Six Bells, a homewares store in Brooklyn which offers provincial-themed decorations and wares like pig-shaped serving boards ($50), cotton-lined picnic baskets ($75), and corduroy cushions ($120). But if you look a little closer, you might notice something unusual: there’s an entire fictional backstory to this cottagecore emporium.
In Gelman’s imagination, the Six Bells serves as the country store and inn to a small village called Barrow’s Green. The bios of some of the folks who live there, along with an illustrated map of the village, are available on The Six Bell’s’ website. The town has “a manor house, a high street with shops, a meadow where sheeps graze, beehive cottages with thatched roofs, a village green which hosts cricket and yearly fetes.” (Despite the written mention of a “high street,” the only shop on the illustrated map is the Six Bells, which is sort of confusing.) New York Magazine’s The Strategist dubbed Barrow’s Green an “intensive creative-writing exercise,” naturally before going on to recommend some of the wares.
But I had some questions: the store’s offerings seem… quite expensive for a small town without much major industry. Rather than rely on my assumptions about the English Countryside, I decided to dig into the data.
The Six Bells site specifies that Barrow’s Green is a civil parish of 640 people, though that this can vary based on “who is dying and how many babies are being born.” According to data from the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics from 2017, 3 civil parishes have populations of 640: Chale, Cossington, and Spaldwick. Measuring income at that small of a scale is quite difficult, so the ONS instead measures the average household incomes of “Middle layer Super Output Areas” containing at least 5,000 people. So the MSOAs containing Chale, Cossington, and Spaldwick civil parishes have average household incomes of $39,520, $41,080, and $48,100. (The exchange rate I used to convert pound sterlings into dollars was £1.3 per $1.) To get one number to work with instead of three, the average of these average household incomes is $42,900.
Now that we have a good comparison point, we can start having some fun with numbers, assuming that the Six Bells really is the only county store in Barrow’s Green, as the map suggests. Let’s say that a family of four needed to set the table only using stuff from the Six Bells. Using the least expensive tablecloth ($59), napkins ($18), dinner plates ($47), glasses ($58), and flatware sets ($115) I could find on the site, the total is $783—or almost 2 percent of one’s yearly (pre-tax!) income. Sure, hopefully the plates and napkins will last a while. But that’s a large dining expense, and it doesn’t even include things like cookware or having any more than the bare minimum of dishes or napkins or glasses. God help you if you ruin your tablecloth. (Also, I guess we have to set aside that there is no food available for the villagers at Six Bells—which again, may or may not be the only store in town—though beeswax is technically edible.)
Sure, prices are a little subjective. But we have evidence as to how much the average household tends to spend on the type of items the Six Bells sells, in the form of more data from the ONS. The income of the people in Barrow’s Green, as I’ve determined it, is closest to the fifth gross income expenditure decile group of UK residents who took the Living Costs and Food Survey, at an average gross income of $825/week. This group tends to spend about 6 percent of their weekly income on household goods and services. That puts the Barrow’s Green residents at $49.50 per week spent on household goods and services. (Or about the price of this dinner plate.)
That on its own might not spell death for the Six Bells’ business model. And as a data journalist dealing with only the most important topics, I need to remind you that we’ve gotten to some of these income numbers by averaging together averages, so they are verging on meaningless in terms of describing a population of actual humans. Perhaps the folks of Barrows Green are outliers in one way or another: they could be particularly rich. Or maybe they place a very high value on owning hand-made goods, and therefore funnel a sizable chunk of their income towards them.
The real implausibility issue store probably comes here: The Six Bells site specifies that “trips to the store are part of each villager’s daily ritual.” (Emphasis mine.) Assuming that’s true, if a villager buys the least expensive item the store offers—soap, $8—every day, that’s $56 a week. Soap is, actually, one of the few consumable items available at Six Bells, along with gift tags, postcards, and candles. How much soap could one household use? I’m not sure that the fictional business world depicted here holds together. But lucky for Gelman, the average income per home of the actual Brooklyn neighborhood where the Six Bells is located is, at $188,823 a year, a lot higher.