One year ago, we posted a “Huge Deal” for downtown Buffalo, when a number of significant buildings at the Genesee Gateway changed hands, including 130 Genesee Street. At the time, news of the transaction was extremely welcome news. Now, a go-getter entrepreneur by the name of Keelin Burke has signed up with Legacy Development/Character: A Property Company to occupy 130 Genesee Street, which is the most visible corner location in the lot.
Keelin made the decision to move back to Buffalo after spending three years in LA as a brand and partnerships manager for a seasoned retailer. Now that she’s back home, she’s in the process of restoring the corner location that sits within the Genesee Gateway Preservation District. Her new venture is a gift and lifestyle store that she’s calling Realm.
As a precursor to the opening, Keelin is launching an online store next month, while she concentrates on building out the brick and mortar location that is ideally situated at the intersection of Oak and Genesee. The actual storefront should be open in time for the 2021 holiday shopping season.
Hopefully, this investment into the previously vacant storefront will help to incentivize others to jump onboard with similar investments. The Genesee Gateway area is already home to a number of restaurants, and is in close proximity to the Chippewa District (now full of more upscale bars and restaurants), as well as the Theater District (and the Metro Rail).
It wasn’t that long ago when the Genesee Gateway wasn’t even considered a “gateway.” Rather, it was considered more of an exitway for people to vacate downtown. We’ve seen so much progress since then. Even on the tailend of the pandemic, this area looks to be in pretty good shape, with the newly renovated AMC Market Arcade 8 movie theater, Fitz and The Space Between, Braymiller (opening soon), and various other commercial and residential nuggets all contributing to the revitalization of downtown Buffalo.
“This location has been vacant for decades and I am incredibly excited to breathe some new life into it and be a part of downtown’s growth,” said Keelin. “I was born and raised in Buffalo, and worked at a number of small businesses, including Anna Grace, Fern + Arrow, Hotel Henry, and Ró. I always knew that I wanted to open my own shop in Buffalo, but I decided that I needed to get out to LA to work in the field of digital marketing and branding – I also wanted to have more of a background in, and knowledge of, e-commerce. [To that end] I got a job at Retrospec (outdoor and sporting goods company) where I helped them to grow their social media presence and expand into a larger national brand. It was a whirlwind, because during the pandemic everyone wanted to buy bikes and outdoor gear.”
As we discussed Buffalo and retail, Keelin told me something that I found fascinating. She said that ever since she can remember, she has coveted the 130 Genesee Street building. “I think it was empty before I was even born,” she said [laughing]. “I don’t remember anything ever being in there – I was always curious about the building. Before I left for LA, my friends and I were hanging out down at Marble + Rye and Eddie Brady’s, and I passed by it on my last day before moving. The space has always been on my mind. Then, when I was out in LA I read a Buffalo Rising article about the Preservation District, which is when I reached out to Legacy. I ended up submitting a business plan to them, and before I knew it I signed a lease for a ‘build to suit’ and here I am.”
As for the space itself, Keelin said that it’s going to be “absolutely amazing.” Once open, Realm will be place where people can purchase functional and multi-functional goods – things that are not considered throwaways or dust collectors. It’s going to be a mixed bag, featuring a pantry section with cookware and table top goods. There will be some clothing and accessories (because downtown needs some clothing and accessories), outdoor gear, and even hard to find makeup and beauty essentials. Everything will be priced to sell, with nothing being over $150. The average ticket sale will be between $30 and $45. Working in retail all of those years, and being in touch with the Buffalo small business community, Keelin feels that she knows what people are looking for, and what they’re comfortable spending.
“The goal is to meet people where they’re at,” Keelin noted. “We’re living through a pandemic. I think people are going to want to support small retail again. There are a lot more people living downtown, and we’re right along a busy thoroughfare. Once open, pandemic permitting, I plan on hosting forums and events at the space. I want to be as accommodating as possible, while being receptive to people’s needs. I’m open to any suggestions – to hear what people are looking for. I plan on carrying some kids products, because of the (sad) closing of TreeHouse Toy Store on Elmwood Avenue. It will be a place where people can shop for themselves, or buy gifts. I see good things for downtown – when people questioned me about opening there (and being a pioneer), I told them that I wanted to give back to the community… to a neighborhood that I love. When I lived in/visited Buffalo I found that I was spending more and more time at Tappo, and Big Ditch, Fattey Beer Co., Graylynn, and Toutant. There has been a resurgence of dining and drinks – now I feel that it is on the cusp of supporting retail… it’s a natural progression. Along with my online shop that opens on June 15, I believe that the Realm store will be a great addition to Downtown Buffalo.”
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