In every line of business, it takes a leader – a pioneer – who knows exactly when to raise an industrious flag, and where. In the case of retail in downtown Buffalo, Joe Incao is the guy who, I believe, will help to put this city back on the retail map, and I’ll tell you why.
Historically, when we think of retail in downtown Buffalo, we think of the fabulous department stores that once lined Main Street. Actually, there was one department store that stood out from the rest, and that was LL Berger. It just so happens that Joe Incao (inset photo) once worked in sales at LL Berger’s Spotlight Shoe Department in the early 80s. Joe tells me that he left that job and headed for NYC, the same year that the Metro Rail was laid down.
After the LL Berger stint, Joe honed his craft in NYC, where he spent 30 years working up the ranks in high-end luxury retail brands such as Ferragamo, Alfred Dunhill and Prada. That’s where he learned the ins and outs of the industry. But after 30 years, Joe began to hear rumblings about his home town, and saw that it was on the verge of a comeback. Four years ago, Joe and his partner packed their bags and headed back to Buffalo, banking on this city as a place to call home that would not only gain traction, but would steamroll.
Once Joe returned to Buffalo, he began to carefully plot his course. For some time he had known that his big picture dream was to own his own retail business, and he believed that Buffalo was the city that would afford him to do so. As his business concept evolved in his head and on paper, Joe poked around the city, looking at various buildings that might one day suit his needs. In the meantime, he landed a job as Retail Director for the Martin House Museum Store. After two years at The Martin House, and four years back in Buffalo, he felt that the time was right to pursue his dream, which sends chills down my spine just thinking about what is to come.
With the help of real estate agent Paula Blanchard, Joe was presented with something that he says is a “karmic convergence”. “It has all come full circle,” Joe explained to me, as we sat down at Chris’ NY Sandwich Shop to have lunch. “With Paula’s help, I have secured a location for my business, which I am calling Furnishings. The location? The exact storefront where I once sold shoes within the LL Berger building, now owned by Ellicott Development. And to think that I left when they were laying down the Metro Rail, and now I’m returning to the same building as cars are returning back to Main Street.”
Joe also recently discovered that this was the exact spot where the department store opened within the building in 1905. In the years following, the department store expanded into the rest of the building.
Joe stated to me, “The downtown area’s population density is increasing daily, and it was this realization that between residents, workers, hotels guests and conventioneers there was a real opportunity to lay a business foundation on Main Street.”
The tagline of Furnishings will be “Gift, Home & You”. Joe mentioned that when it comes to the merchandise, there will be a variety of well-curated and affordable gifts, including Buffalo souvenirs, exciting home decor items along with smaller furniture pieces and some vintage. Already, Joe has enlisted the help of Catherine Newman of Essential Home Decor to secure one of kind vintage items, while another friend will be supplying doggie threads – her Buffalo venture is called Bitch Knits.
The “& you” (in the tag line) will sport personal furnishings like ties, small leather goods, backpacks and handbags along with fabulous local knits from Holly Henderson at Simply Natural Clothing…. and NO jewelry. “There’s so much jewelry everywhere, that I decided that we could do without it,” Joe chuckled. “The idea is, that I want guests to feel comfortable to walk in and explore.”
“Ultimately it’s not just about the purchase you are making, it’s also about the experience you had while doing it,” claims Joe. In a day when we shop at home in our underwear and check out our own groceries, it’s nice to know that personal service is still something we be able to find at Furnishings.