For nine years, Astoria residents have come to frequent The Little Soap Shop, a tiny but bustling natural bath and skin care shop just off Ditmars on 36th Street. The brainchild of Vivian Dritsas, the handmade soap began as a solution when the Astoria local was experiencing some skin issues that were aggravated by traditional, commercially processed cleansers. After a great deal of research and producing batches for home use that provided great results for her own skin, the idea for a handmade soap business became a reality.
Quickly, Dritsas discovered that many people had similar concerns, particularly when dealing with the delicate skin of their children.
“Health and wellness are at the forefront now. People are more knowledgeable and care about what they are putting in and on their bodies. Especially children’s skin, which is very susceptible to absorbing toxins,” she said.
After about three years of production, an increased demand required Dritsas to look for assistance in producing her recipes from an artisan from The Soap Maker’s Guild. This allowed her to expand the product line of soaps, bath bombs, lip and body scrubs, butters, and candles to her store, which she says is the only soap shop in Astoria.
Eventually, as she was expanding her own family, Dritsas brought on her partner Elena Poumpouras, a friend whom she had worked with previously in another business and who also had a young daughter. They have now been in business together for two years, and anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking to them in the shop knows that they are a balanced pair, often pausing to seamlessly finish each other’s sentences.
As it was common for both women to bring their small children into the shop, many local customers would do the same, and soon there was talk of carrying a small line of children’s clothes and toys.
“It was a natural progression,” Dritsas said. “We have a lot of families among our customers, and we always want to be in tune with their needs and interests.”
The Little Soap Shop has always had a very loyal clientele through its social media presence and word of mouth, but the expansion of products soon required an expansion of space. Dritsas and Poumpouras recently found and settled into a bright, airy and much larger storefront on 23rd Avenue and rebranded as Lavender Label, which had its grand opening on Oct. 8.
With the change in location came a distinct change in foot traffic.
“There is no comparison,” Dritsas said. “There is so much foot traffic. People come in to hang out and have conversations. Longstanding clients are so supportive and thrilled with the move and we have grown a new client base. Older, younger, men, women, families…soap is for everyone.“
The space is cheerful, welcoming and has kept them very busy. In addition to the incredible organic bath and skin products, Lavender Label also carries hair products, knit washcloths, children’s apparel, toys, jewelry, school supplies and even socks. (I will admit I was tempted by the sushi socks!) You can find the two women — and occasionally Dritsas’ mother — cutting, wrapping, packaging and labeling products and attending to customers as if they were guests in their own homes.
“It is non-stop,” Dritsas said, “but we are so happy.”
When talking with the women, you are always aware that western Queens is in their blood and will always be a part of this business.
“Astoria is amazing. There is nothing like it,” Dritsas said. “We are products of this neighborhood, and a majority of our clients are from this neighborhood. The new restaurants, businesses and rebuilding of parks has done so much for the families here and those moving into the area.”
The Lavender Label owners are even looking to become a bigger part of the community by adding events in their store.
“After the bustle of the holiday season, we are interested in developing a children’s book reading series as well as small product-making parties,” Dritsas said. “We are very interested in growing the involvement with the community and are excited for what the future holds.”