Welcome to Buffalove headquarters.
Real estate-wise, it’s not much. Just 400 square feet of storefront on Grant Street, huddled up against Sweetness7 Café and looking out on one of the city’s most eclectic stretches of sidewalk.
The walls are covered in artistic tributes to Buffalo: A heart-shaped sculpture made from old bicycle wheels and chains called “CityHEART”; a colorful mural spelling out “BUFFALOVE” in a custom-designed typeface; a 14-foot black-and-white drawing of the Richardson Olmsted Complex; and a gigantic chalkboard bearing this enticing message visible those who stop to peer through the windows: “The pop-in is a community-activated storefront.”
On Thursday, after nearly a year of planning, building and brainstorming documented in an upcoming episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters” that also chronicles their restoration of a Victorian house on Potomac Avenue, Buffalo boosters Jason Lloyd Clement and Casey William Milbrand will open their storefront to the public. The free event will feature a pop-up coffee bar, food from the Cheesy Chick food truck and likely a few Buffalo-themed surprises.
The mission of project, called the Pop In, isn’t about selling products.
What it’s selling is a new and growing brand of Buffalo pride, captured both by the Buffalo-inspired art on the space’s walls and by its owners’ full-fledged embrace of the city that brought them together.
So what exactly is a “community-activated storefront?”
Among its many loosely defined functions, the Pop In will serve as a space for community groups, artists or other Buffalo-boosters to meet and network. It will be rented out to groups for events that put the spotlight on Buffalo “and the many people and organizations who make it awesome.” It will serve as a kind of calling card for Milbrand’s art and design work, which adorns its walls.
But, perhaps most importantly, Milbrand and Clement are hoping it will function as a symbol of Buffalo’s resurgence for visitors and locals alike.
“We want other people, especially young people around the country, to pop into Buffalo and see themselves here the way that we have,” Clement said. “But it’s also about people who live here, to pop back into neighborhoods that they don’t normally go into and to participate in the ongoing, sometimes gradual, but still happening resurgence of Buffalo as a Rust Belt city.”
In the future, Clement said he envisions the project evolving to include the creation of new murals and other public art projects in and around the neighborhood and potentially the sale of Buffalo-related merchandise that would fund even more public art.
“On paper, this is not a business,” he said. “It’s our passion project because it’s a manifestation of our love for the city.”
It’s also a manifestation, in a few concrete ways, of the couple’s affection for one another.
Milbrand, who is from Buffalo, first met Clement during the 2011 National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Buffalo. Prior to that conference, Clement, who is the director of community outreach for the National Trust, had spent several weeks filming “Buffalo Unscripted,” a documentary that captured the growing spirit of 716-centric pride that has come to be known as Buffalove.
“I was here for probably three weeks or so over the course of that summer, 2011, and I talked to literally 1,000 Buffalonians on camera who all told me this was the best place to live, which is something I didn’t know going into it, but came out a total believer,” Clement said, adding that his rhetoric about the city “might have started as PR, but in the end it really wasn’t.”
When Milbrand and Clement were sitting in Milbrand’s Brooklyn apartment on New Year’s Eve in 2013, they saw a Facebook post by their mutual friend Prish Moran, who owns the building that houses the storefront and Sweetness7. In the space of a few minutes, Milbrand said, “we had this entire concept branded.” It was just the excuse they needed to make Buffalo their permanent home.
“Jason saw it the second I posted that I had a storefront for rent and he said, I’ll take it,” said Moran, who also helped the couple find the historic Victorian home they renovated for “House Hunters.” The episode is slated to air Aug. 8.
“They are the perfect couple of businesspeople, with each of their strengths,” Moran said. “Casey is so social and perky and crazy and Jason is so focused and knowledgeable about everything going on around him, he’s so connected electronically... So between the two of them, I think that they’re going to hit that nail right on the head.”
Bernice Radle, a fellow young preservationist and accomplished Buffalo-booster whose home restoration work is the subject of another HGTV show, praised the project and compared it to similar shops in Brooklyn, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
“I think that this is exactly what Grant Street needs. We haven’t had a ton of new investment in the last year or two on that area of Grant Street. I think this is going to bring new life and even more excitement to Grant Street than there already is,” she said. “I think it’s a really great way to bring excitement, but to also highlight the fact that Buffalo is changing.”
In the end, Clement said, he hopes the shop will have the same effect on people who enter it or simply walk past it as Buffalo had on him.
“To me, people are always surprised by the City of Buffalo. They come here and they walk down Bidwell or whatever and they always have this surprising moment of, ‘I didn’t know this was happening here,’ ” he said. “I think that’s how we want to program it. We want our space to surprise people in the same way that the city does.”