Kerstin Block, president and co-owner of Buffalo Exchange, started the company with her husband, Spencer, in 1974. The couple started with a 450-square-foot space; today, they run the company with their daughter Rebecca, operating 40 Buffalo Exchange stores in 14 states. However, home is still Tucson, and Block decided to put her "business where her mouth is" and open a store in downtown Tucson, riding the wave of downtown renewal. For more information on Block and the company, visit www.buffaloexchange.com.
Why a downtown Tucson location?
We used to have a store downtown that was a retro knickknack store, in 1991, and it was called El Retro. That was when a lot of stuff was going on downtown, and then everything kind of died, and it fell into the doldrums down there, so we closed the store. But I've always liked downtown, and I kind of think that now there is a promise of a rejuvenation going on. That encourages me. I believe businesses and people have to move there in order to make it a vibrant place again.
There are still naysayers who insist nothing is going on downtown.
There's a lot of stuff going on downtown, and that's what encouraged me to open a store. It has a promise now that it didn't have for a long time.
Where's the new Buffalo Exchange going to be located?
At 250 E. Congress (St.).
I think it's probably the best location I could find downtown. It's a business location with history. It used to be the Café Magritte. I like that historical aspect of it, and it's an old building that, I think, went up in 1910. To me, the greatest form of recycling is to renovate these old buildings instead of tearing them down. I like that aspect of it, and I like the fact that is on Congress (Street). I like that end of downtown. It is more interesting and more happening. The Etherton Gallery, the Rialto, Janos' new restaurant ... we are in a compatible area.
When will the store be open?
The building owners are remodeling the store. They were in the process of remodeling when we decided to move in, but it won't be ready until February. It's going to be a regular Buffalo Exchange store, for men and women, all recycled clothing. It's a little smaller, so we might have a different selection based on the clients—people who would shop downtown.
Is this a calculated business move, or is it purely emotional?
I don't necessarily think this is a smart choice, but more of an emotional decision for me. I am always touting that it takes individual local business to make a vibrant downtown. I am putting my business where my mouth is. ... I'm the kind of person who loves those kinds of metropolitan areas. I live out in the desert, but I grew up in an urban environment. I'm hoping downtown Tucson can be one of those slightly bohemian, arty places that we all personally like.
Is this a way for you to get involved in downtown?
I have been involved in the past, and was on a committee that was an outgrowth of (Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc.). ... I don't know if it accomplished a whole lot, but for me, it showed what was actually going on downtown, and I met some of the people who are investing in downtown, like Fletcher McCusker of Providence (Service Corporation) and Janos (Wilder). Those are pretty astute business people. That's encouraging.
Locally, it seems some people really have a strong love for Buffalo Exchange.
I'll tell you, there are people who think I'm the biggest witch, (because I) didn't buy their clothes when I worked in the store for 15 years, and then there are those who are emotionally attached. We are a fun store, and our employees are important to us. We are ever-changing. We work with our customers, and some become our friends, but many of them become loyal Buffalo shoppers, and maybe it's because they are treated like individuals.
As the stores have grown, have you changed the original concept?
We've always stuck to our original concepts. We just basically buy, sell and trade, and many people have adopted our business model over the years. I don't see that part of our business changing.
Looking back, would you change anything?
No. I have loved this. This has obviously been my life and my husband's life. We are lucky that we found something in life that we love to do every day. It is really a very happy occurrence. Most people don't really have that opportunity.