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Not Your Average Thrift Store: The History of Buffalo Exchange Featured Story

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By Jessica Pruitt

In 1974, when Kerstin Block first had the idea for a different sort of secondhand shop, she never expected it to grow into what it is today – she just followed her love of thrift store shopping. “I came upon the idea that there must be other people who are equally addicted to this kind of shopping, but who didn’t want to sort through as much stuff.” Enter a whole new business model – a resale shop where customers could buy hand-picked treasures in one place and also sell their clothes for cash or trade on-the-spot.

Not Your Average Thrift Store - History of Buffalo Exchange - Kerstin outside first location

From Thrift Store to Resale Boutique: The First Buffalo Exchange

At the time, Kerstin had recently been fired from a job at a local furniture shop. When she mentioned that she’d like to try opening her own business, her husband Spencer was all for it. To start, they rented out a small 400 square foot spot in Tucson, AZ and filled the store with pieces from Kerstin’s own closet. They also asked friends to bring things in. Soon enough, they had a bustling business buying, selling and trading the likes of denim skirts handmade by Kerstin, Hawaiian shirts and Kork-Ease sandals, drawing in lots of students from the University of Arizona. Their most common price? $3.50.

Not Your Average Thrift Store - History of Buffalo Exchange - Kerstin holding clothing

Originally from Sweden, Kerstin chose “Buffalo” because she liked the way it evoked the American West. Spencer contributed the “Exchange” half of the name since that’s precisely what they would be doing – opening up a shop where you could exchange your clothing for cash or trade on-the-spot, an uncommon model at the time. And just like that, they ran the business together, doing everything themselves. Kerstin was the face of the store, running the register and doing all the buying. Spencer worked behind the scenes, creating clothing racks out of water pipes and handling the accounting.

Resale wasn’t very popular at the time, but they knew there would always be people who wanted to find something cute for a good deal: they just didn’t necessarily want to dig through so many pieces in a thrift store setting. “We made it look like a little boutique,” says Kerstin. They handpicked each item based on what their customers were interested in buying and displayed them in a fun, easy-to-shop space.

Not Your Average Thrift Store - History of Buffalo Exchange - Spencer and Kerstin inside store 1977

Charting New Territory

Kerstin and Spencer didn’t know much about business, but they weren’t afraid to venture into uncharted territory. Par for the course for Kerstin, who struck out on her own at the age of 18, taking a boat over from Sweden to study at the University of Arizona. What they initially lacked in business knowledge, they made up for in strong values. “We built our business on a lot of principles,” she says, “such as respecting people and treating everybody fairly and listening to people. Those are our tenets in business.”

Not Your Average Thrift Store - History of Buffalo Exchange - Staff in front of store mid 70s

As they opened more locations – a store here and a store there – those tenets only grew. They knew how important it was to be honest and the value of people – both employees and customers alike. After all, they relied on their customers to bring in clothing and they relied on their employees to build a diverse inventory. To do this, they valued individuality and embraced the things that make each person unique. They empowered people, taking into consideration what they wanted out of the job and teaching them how the business works.

Perhaps it’s these tenets (not to mention a true passion for clothing) that have kept the business going strong for 45 years and counting. Today, Buffalo Exchange is still owned and operated out of Tucson, AZ by Kerstin and her daughter, Vice President Rebecca Block. Kerstin still oversees the daily operations of the business. “What I’m most proud of is how much we’ve been able to empower people – especially women,” she says. “That and the clothes. It’s always been about the clothes.” Now, that love for fashion has spread to around 50 stores – and growing all the time. Visit BuffaloExchange.com/Locations to find one near you!

 

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Down-South Dapper: Meet Torrance Taylor

By Aarian Frye & Denise Lyons

New Orleans native Torrance Taylor has been shopping at Buffalo Exchange NOLA since 2006. Just like the iconic city around him, Torrance’s sense of style has evolved into something totally unique and undeniably Southern. Read ahead to learn more about where Torrance finds his fashion inspiration and why he loves Buffalo Exchange!

Suiting Up: Torrance’s Fashion Background 

Torrance was 14 years old when he realized he had a penchant for fashion. Growing up, some of his style icons were George Jefferson, Geoffrey Holder, Slick Rick and the original cast of Dynasty. Today, Torrance describes his style as “modern, ethnic, vintage with a dressier flare.”

What’s on His Fashion Wishlist? 

Presently, Torrance finds himself drawn to houndstooth, camouflage and African wax prints with batik-inspired designs — he’s also excited about the London Fog x Jeremy Scott collaboration, and hopes to add animal-print trench coats into his collection. Although he has a strong love of bold patterns, Torrance says that his favorite outfit is a simple and refined combination of cropped tailored pants and a timeless pewter blazer.

Why He Loves Shopping at Buffalo 

When we asked Torrance about what makes shopping at Buffalo Exchange so special, he tells us that “Buffalo carries things that no other store in New Orleans has. It’s one of the main ways I discover emerging brands.” He also says that it’s “a great way to revamp your closet” and always has a surprise in store: “During the 40th Anniversary Trailer Tour, I found a vintage Neiman Marcus printed jacket that I still wear.”

Torrance’s Number One Style Tip

For anyone working to refine their style, Torrance has this bit of advice: “Celebrate your youth, no matter your age. Establish your personality, and then your personal style. Create your own costumes and outfits that reflect who you are or want to be.” 

Has Torrance’s advanced style has inspired you to elevate your look? Get started on your style journey at your local Buffalo Exchange! With 51 locations across the country, there are boundless ways to express yourself through personal style. Before you go, don’t forget to bring in your closet cleanout — Buffalo Exchange buys clothing for all seasons year round, and those great pieces sitting in your closet could turn into cash or trade.

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Shopping Sustainably with Bethany Easterling

Bethany Easterling: Style profile

By Marcella Willden; Photography by Audrey Easterling

Based out of Dallas, Bethany Easterling is a long-time Buffalo Exchange shopper. Go figure since she’s passionate about both fashion and sustainability! Bethany’s forward-looking lifestyle and impeccable sense of fashion are just a few reasons we are totally obsessed with her. Read ahead to find out more about her take on personal style and why she loves shopping secondhand.

Bethany with blue sweater and hatFull Story

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Congrats to Allison Miller and Bryan Falcón – Recipients of the 2019 Buffalo Exchange Arts Award!

Buffalo Exchange, Arts Award, Allison Miller, Bryan Falcon

Each year, Buffalo Exchange teams up with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona to award an artist in Southern Arizona with the Arts Award. Candidates are selected by two separate panels of experts who are familiar with the Southern Arizona Arts scene and judged based on both the candidates’ artistic endeavors and the impact they’ve made in the community. Since 1994, Buffalo Exchange has awarded almost $240,000 to 26 Southern Arizona artists.

Rebecca Block and Kerstin Block with Allison Miller and Bryan Falcón

For the 25th round of recipients in 2019, Buffalo Exchange Founder & President Kerstin Block and her daughter, Vice President Rebecca Block, celebrated by offering two awards of $10,000 – one in performing arts and one in visual arts.“We created the Arts Award because we believe art is essential to the well-being of the community,” says Kerstin. “This year, we’re glad for the chance to honor Allison and Bryan, who both have an incredible impact on the local area.”

Allison Miller with Buffalo Exchange Founder Kerstin Block and CFSA Director of Community Investments Kelly Huber

Meet Allison, a Tucson-Born Muralist
Allison Miller, a muralist and native of Tucson, has spent much of her career giving back to the community through public art projects. She currently coordinates and facilitates murals that are artistically accessible for community members, allowing young artists and other volunteers to contribute. “A lot of it for me is involving people in creating an identity for their specific space,” says Miller, “whether it’s a park or their jogging path. When people are invested in beautification, they keep it that way.” Having worked on dozens of murals, Miller’s art is a familiar sight and an ode to the unique identity of Tucson.

Scoundrel & Scamp Postcard: Images by Tim Fuller, Design by Cat Dog Mouse Media

Scoundrel & Scamp Production of Blood Wedding: Photo by Tim Fuller.

Bryan Falcón with Buffalo Exchange Founder Kerstin Block and CFSA Director of Community Investments Kelly Huber

Meet Bryan Falcón, Founder of Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre
Bryan Falcón, winner of the performing arts award, is the Artistic and Managing Director of the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, a nonprofit he founded with his wife after becoming enamored with the art scene and diverse culture of Tucson. Bryan believes that theater uplifts society by transporting people to places that they would not otherwise go. “We have a chance to step into somebody else’s skin for a little while and try to understand and, hopefully, walk away with some sort of connection to the heart,” says Bryan.

Allison Miller Mural

It’s reasons like these that Buffalo Exchange has continued this award for the past 25 years. “Art is not something that humans do when they have nothing else to do,” said Spencer Block, Buffalo Exchange co-founder. “Art is an essential part of the human condition. It happens everywhere and in all circumstances.” To learn more about the history of the Arts Award and to see a list of all other artists who’ve been honored over the years, visit the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona’s website!

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Meet Buffalo Exchange Customer Stephanie Vega!

Customer Profile: Stephanie Vega

By Savy Kroop, Photography by Vanessa Vega (@vanessavegaphotos)

We recently had the chance to chat with Stephanie Vega, a social media influencer who loves sharing everything from her thrift shopping adventures and exciting theme park visits to her everyday routines. Stephanie’s addictive positivity and flawless style are just a few reasons why we can’t stop watching her videos and obsessing over her perfectly curated Instagram feed! Read ahead for a Q+A about Stephanie’s personal style, her love for Buffalo and a little bit of fashion advice.

Stephanie with pink sweater and jeans

How would you describe your personal style?

Cheerful, quirky and fun with a dash of retro.

What is your favorite trend for right now?

Fanny packs! They’re such a game-changer and so convenient to have.Full Story

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Celebrating 25 Years of the Buffalo Exchange Arts Award!

Buffalo Exchange, HQ. Arts Award, Arts Award Honorees

Happy awards season, everyone! While we certainly love watching our favorite celebs strut the red carpet, there’s another important accolade that comes to mind: the 2019 Buffalo Exchange Arts Award! According to Buffalo Exchange co-founder Spencer Block, art is not “the cherry on top” of life — rather, it is “essential to the well-being of society”. For the past two and a half decades, Buffalo Exchange has supported the creative spirit of Southern Arizona by honoring local artists, and performers with the Arts Award. Read ahead to learn more about the history of the Award and some of our past honorees. 

How the Arts Awards Came to Be

In 1994, Kerstin and Spencer Block founded The Buffalo Exchange Arts Award in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA). Since that time, the Fund has awarded $10,000 a year to one deserving local artist. This has allowed artists to continue their work in the local community.  We are absolutely thrilled to celebrate 25 years of the Arts Award by honoring not just one, but two Southern Arizonans who’ve made a significant impact in the lives of fellow Arizonans through their work. This year’s dual award will go to Allison Miller for Visual Arts and Bryan Falcón for Performing Arts. They’ll both receive $10,000 to continue their excellent work in the community during a ceremony on January 30th, 2020 at the Community Foundation Campus.

Buffalo Exchange Arts Awards Honorees

Buffalo Exchange, Arts Award, Dante Celeiro

Dante Celeiro, Community Leader and 2018 Arts Award Recipient

Dante Celeiro is a leader in the LGBTQIA+ community of Tucson. After moving from NYC to the desert over 25 years ago, Dante has worked with the Southern Arizona Aids Foundation and now manages Boys R Us, Arizona’s first gender performance group. Dante also created Fluxx, a non-profit organization that advocates for an open dialogue around queer culture and works to increase visibility of queer arts and culture through exhibitions, performance art and workshops.

Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Interpretive Dance, Performing Arts Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Nathanael Meyers, Performing Arts

Nathanael Gregory Myers, Multi-Discipline Performing Artist and 2017 Arts Award Recipient 

As a multidisciplinary artist, Nathanael has showcased his art throughout a wide array of Tucson venues – most notably through his work with the Museum of Contemporary Art and through performances at Artifact Dance Project and The Rogue Theatre (you can also find some of his paintings hung in galleries across town!). A painter, dancer and musician, Nathanael works to combine romanticism, biology and elements of nature as he explores the mediums of visual and performing arts.

Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Painter, Rachael Rios

Rachael Rios, Visual Artist and 2016 Arts Award Recipient

The 2016 Buffalo Exchange Emerging Artist in Visual Arts Award went to artist Racheal Rios. Rachael is a native Tucsonan who describes her drawings as a reflection of her relationship with the desert and the things that inhabit it — common elements of her artwork include cactus flowers and various Arizona wildlife such as coyotes, javelinas and jaguars.

Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Rick Wamer, Performing ArtistBuffalo Exchange, HQ. Arts Award, Rick Wamer, Performing Artist

Rick Wamer, Visual & Performing Artist and 2015 Arts Award Recipient 

Rick Wamer has been described by Tucson Weekly as “part dancer, part actor, part comedian”. Mentored by the famed French actor and mime Marcel Marceau, Rick is a globally recognized performing artist who inspires and touches the lives of thousands each year. Rick is the co-founder of Embody Learning in Tucson.

Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Musician, Chris Black

Chris Black, Performing Artist and 2014 Arts Award Recipient

Chris Black is a composer and performer from Tucson. Currently playing primarily as a solo double bassist, he is the founder of the alt-classical chamber music concert series ChamberLab.

Buffalo Exchange, HQ, Arts Award, Artist, Heather Green Heather Green, Visual Artist and 2010 Arts Award Recipient

The 2010 Arts Award was bestowed upon visual artist Heather Green. In Green’s own words, her work examines the “historical and ecological narratives of the Northern Gulf of California and Sonoran Desert.” A Tucson native, Heather currently works in Tempe as Assistant Professor of Book Arts at Arizona State University.

Since its creation in 1994, Buffalo Exchange has awarded over $214,000 to artists in Southern Arizona. As we look forward to the next decade, we’re reminded of a quote from Spencer Block: “Artists are the visionaries. They go where no one has gone and show us the way.” In 2020 and the years beyond, we can count on Buffalo Exchange and the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona to continue to celebrate artists in our community so they may continue their work, and in turn, continue to show us the way into the future.

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Lessons in Style from Buffalo Exchange Shopper Mark Aubrey

Mark Aubrey, orange wall, sunglasses and hat - Blog Post header

By Aarian Frye; Photography by Furey Stirrat  

A Tucson transplant by way of the great plains, Mark Aubrey is a longtime Buffalo Exchange customer with a unique sense of style and a great appreciation for secondhand shopping. Mark grew up in Oklahoma, where his love of patterns, color and texture got a lot of attention. When he traveled down to the Southwest for grad school, he discovered Buffalo Exchange Tucson. Since then, he’s browsed his way through various locations over the past 28 years and found some amazing pieces along the way – find out what he loves about shopping resale!

Mark in silver puffy jacket

Mark with denim Jacket

Mark’s Favorite Buffalo Finds 

Since starting to shop at Buffalo Exchange, Mark has collected many pieces to round out his style – a gold pair of Oakley sunglasses and a Minnetonka bucket hat are among his favorites. In fact, the vintage leather hat is such a prized possession that, when it went missing one time, Mark’s friends created a lost-and-found post on social media. Luckily, Mark shares with a chuckle, the hat “was found stuffed between the wall and my bed’s headboard.” In keeping with his love of accessories, Mark’s favorite section in the store is the shoe wall – he’s always in search of his next pair of sneakers.

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Art in ATX: Local Artist Alex Coronel’s Mural At Buffalo Exchange Austin

Local Artist Alex Coronel’s Mural At Buffalo Exchange Austin

By Marcella Willden, Photography and Artwork by Alex Coronel 

It’s been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words, but we think this new mural at Buffalo Exchange Austin, painted by local artist Alex Coronel, is easily worth 1 million! To learn more about his incredible mural, we caught up with Alex to chat about his creative process, passion for art and love for Buffalo Exchange.

Alex Coronel and his dog

When did your passion for art begin?

I’ve always considered myself an artist and I’ve been painting for as long as I can remember! When I worked for a friend’s theater company after college, I started creating murals without even knowing it — they needed an artist, so I signed on and painted a few backdrops. That experience came in handy when I applied to do my first mural and I felt more prepared than I initially thought I would!

 Alex Coronel’s paintings

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’d say that my style is ever-changing and unlimited. I would never want to snuff the light of an idea just because it wouldn’t fit into a certain style of mine. So, a lot of the time, I try a medium or style I’m not too familiar with. I quite enjoy it!

Alex Coronel’s paintings

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Take chances! Instead of limited yourself to an 8×11 canvas, paint on something that’s 6 feet tall. Fill that space with something big— it doesn’t literally have to be a 6ft canvas, it can be anything that intimidates you. It might not be what you initially had in mind, but you may surprise yourself. I want to encourage aspiring artists to explore the art world with confidence and tenacity.

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Happy New Year and Thank You for a Wonderful 2019!

As 2019 comes to its end and we enter the new decade, we find ourselves grateful for all of the wonderful things that have happened over the past year and we’re looking forward to what’s to come. We want to say thank you to all of the customers and employees who have supported Buffalo Exchange through the years and contributed to our success. We simply couldn’t do it without you! Wishing everyone a fantastic 2020!

Buffalo Exchange Seattle (Market)

Buffalo Exchange Minneapolis

Buffalo Exchange Las Vegas

Buffalo Exchange Charlotte

Buffalo Exchange Eugene

Buffalo Exchange Pittsburgh

Buffalo Exchange San Diego (Hillcrest)

Buffalo Exchange Philadelphia

Buffalo Exchange San Diego (Pacific Beach)

Buffalo Exchange New Orleans

Do your New Year’s resolutions involve a love for fashion, people and working hard in a fun and friendly environment? Start 2020 off right by joining our herd! We’re always looking to expand our Buffalo Family and we offer a ton of perks like paid time off and an employee discount to name a few. If you’re looking for a fresh start to the New Year, stop by any of our locations and apply in-store or online today. Happy New Year!

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Tokens for Bags® Charities

Every six months, we support new local charities through our Tokens for Bags® program. Instead of giving out bags, we give customers the opportunity to donate five cents (the cost of the bag) to a charity of their choice. Our Tokens for Bags® program has raised over $803,000 for thousands of local charities since 1994, saving over 16.06 million bags from polluting the environment!

Find your local Buffalo Exchange below and check out the charities you can give back to.

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Way Out West: Meet Buffalo Exchange Austin Store Manager Lucy

Ever wanted to know more about the amazing people that make up Buffalo Exchange? Recently, we caught up with Lucy Abare, Store Manager at Buffalo Exchange Austin, to ask her a few questions about how she got started at Buffalo Exchange and what the job means to her!

What led you to apply at Buffalo?

I was new to Austin and loved fashion. Walking into Buffalo Exchange for the first time was exciting because it gave me a feel for my new neighborhood and community. I remember feeling like this was a place I could see myself working. While waiting to sell clothes one day I decided to fill out an application. 

What position did you start out in?

I started as a part-time Buyer and just immersed myself in the clothing and the culture. I loved the job and gave it my all every day. About a year into the job, a management position opened up and my manager asked me to apply. I didn’t think I was the person they needed for the job, but they were confident I would be good at it. Six years later, here we are! I’m so glad they believed in me and gave me the push to try something new.

What do you like best about the job?

Every Buffalo Exchange store is so connected to its local community. I love getting to meet all of our customers – especially new people that I wouldn’t meet in my own social circles. The job really broadened my horizons in that way.

How do you think your employees would describe the environment at your store?

Supportive and fun. The environment is also one of endless curiosity – employees want to learn more and are always working to do so. I really encourage them to try new things and be okay with mistakes so long as they learn from them. I also love coaching and being a team leader because I’m able to motivate my staff every day to learn more and improve. 

What kind of skills do you think you’ve picked up along the way?

I’ve learned a lot over the years, but the most valuable thing I’ve picked up is people skills – how to build authentic relationships with people. Buffalo Exchange places a lot of emphasis on transparency and honest communication.

What is your impression of Buffalo Exchange as a company?

The things Buffalo Exchange values are the things that I value in my personal life – giving back to the community and giving back to the environment. I think that the way Buffalo Exchange values people and our world is so important. It allows us to be collectively sustainable and to grow as we move forward.

Does working at Buffalo Exchange sound like the job for you? You’re in luck because we’re hiring at locations across the country! Your love for fashion, sustainability and working with people could be the perfect fit. Learn more about our open positions, then apply online or stop into your local Buffalo Exchange – we’d love to meet you in person!