The other day I came across the most wonderful little Buffalo screen printing shop that specializes in t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. It turns out that the story behind Inspired Buffalo is a lot of fun. Owner Marinette Kozlow sold her house in the Elmwood Village to relocate, with her family, to Black Rock, where she moved into the family’s original market/deli building.
The quaint Black Rock building was once home to the family’s deli. In fact, the refrigerator is now used to store screen printed merchandise. It’s easy to tell that this is the original refrigerator from back in the day, especially when you stop to observe the historic plaque above the fridge that reads “Fibercell – Master Butcher Refrigerator – Hellriegel & Co. – Everything In Butchers Supplies – Buffalo, NY”. There is a big walk-in cooler door (pictured inset) on the side of the “cold storage” area.
Then there’s the antique display case that once held baked goods – now used to store printable products.
The Inspired Buffalo business has literally brought the family back together, in a building that once acted as the glue for the family members. Marinette says that she is so excited to be back to where it all began – she says that she’s even outside keeping the sidewalks clean, and clear of ice and snow, as family members before her once did. She’s happy to be back to a community where she can make a difference.
Today, Marinette is in the business of custom printing, selling fabulous t-shirts for men and women of all ages, along with cards and paper goods, Buffalo artwork, tea towels, pillows, totes, etc. She also features the works of local artists (see artist stable).
Marinette’s own designs are pretty and whimsical, because (early on) she felt that a lot of the Buffalo merchandise that she came across was more on the masculine side. But now, with so many artists at her disposal, there is a great wealth of diversity when it comes to the colors, themes, designs, etc.
Here’s a conversation with Marinette about the business and its “new” home:
Are your parents involved with the business?
My mother sews the pillows, yes. My husband prints.
What was the market/deli called?
It was called Tony’s Deli but it was always fondly referred to as Mouna’s (pronounced Mona).
How long has the family owned the building?
This month it’s our 40th year this building has been in the family.
What was it like when you were younger?
I grew up watching my mother run the store since I was in 2nd grade. My parents purchased the building to live/work in. It was named after my father but shortly after, they divorced and she ran it for nearly 35 years—first as a Deli/corner store then after Wilson Farms opened up, mostly cigarettes and beer for the adults and pop and candy for the kids at school 51 and surrounding neighborhood.
My mother was the neighborhood “counselor” to the adults and the “grandma” to the kids coming in. She’d listen to the their problems and always give advise and say she’s going to pray for them. I watched her give bags of food to people in need. She’d encourage children to stay in school and if they were trying to steal, she’d tell them to just ask if they were hungry.
She retired, finally, in 2012 and sat alone in this empty building. Like most seniors, she really didn’t know what to do with her free time. She didn’t drive and was used to only walking a few steps to occupy herself and see people.
Even today, if she’s shopping or walking outside, people will go out of their way to stop and say hi with huge smiles on their faces. A passing car will have someone yelling out her name, waving frantically at her. It’s sweet to watch.
The story behind how a Buffalo Princess turned into Inspired Buffalo:
When I started the business in 2010, I was a freelance graphic designer homeschooling three boys while my husband worked full time for the State. I wanted to visit my uncle in Argentina (we immigrated from Lebanon when I was a baby—we came to the states and my uncle went to Argentina) to meet my cousins for the first time. So I thought I’d design and sell some cards in shops around Buffalo, especially the Elmwood Village where I lived, to help raise the money to travel.
After showing them to Katharine Jemison, former owner of Spoiled Rotten, she asked for a Buffalo. Inside my head I rolled my eyes but I did it. My friend who was in Florida had two daughters and I always had a difficult time buying her feminine Buffalo gifts so I drew a Buffalo Princess (and Prince). Katharine loved them and asked for t-shirts which I knew nothing about. Two years after having my designs screen printed, I purchased the DTG printer. A year later, my husband retired and I trained him to print. He’s been working with me ever since.
In 2015, we purchased my mother’s building, renovated from top to bottom. Sold our home in Elmwood Village and moved our family and business into Black Rock (we used to print in our basement on Cleveland). Now the property at 115 Hertel is full of life. It’s multi-generational living with business included. It’s been a very positive move. All my children are now enrolled in Buffalo Public and Charter schools. Say Yes was one of the many reasons why we decided to stay in Buffalo three years ago.
Though, I adored living in Elmwood Village, this turned out to be exactly what we needed as a business and a family:
1. My mother is not alone, she helps us out in the printshop when we need her and we take turns with meal making. It’s giving her purpose again and causing her to feel useful while being surrounded by family.
2. My business is no longer in the basement. It now has a proper commercial space and I can’t complain about the commute.
3. My children have a real connection to their grandmother. A lot of times, when grandkids grow they don’t get to spend time with their extended family but in this multi-generational home, they get to see her daily and help with her needs as well as get to listen to her counsel – whether they ask for it or not!
4. Inspired Buffalo is a printshop that runs by appointment only. People think we have things ready for purchase but we make the items as they are sold. Customers can order online and pickup in our shop to avoid shipping fees or they can setup an appointment to discuss custom orders.
The best way to get a handle on this fantastic print shop is to pay a visit. Whether you’re looking for something custom made, or personalized, you are sure to find something that fits the occasion.