Buffalo Exchange

Elizabeth Ferrara looks through dresses while shopping at Buffalo Exchange, 2001 E. Speedway Blvd.

For decades, locals have flocked to a certain shop in central Tucson in hopes of finding a hidden gem among the many clothing racks and shelves.

Little did shoppers know that as they flipped through the racks and shelves in search of the perfect vintage shirt, shoes they didn’t know they needed and fabulous accessories to complete their outfits, they were helping this second-hand clothing shop become a Tucson staple.

Now, a lil local shop you may know as Buffalo Exchange is celebrating 50 years of keeping Tucson sustainably stylish.

“There's that thrill of the hunt when you find something that is really unique and one of a kind and is such an amazing deal,” said Jessica Pruitt, Buffalo Exchange’s associate marketing manager. “You just don't get that anywhere else, right? And beyond that, it's a place where we really embrace individuality. And that goes for our staff, but also our customers as they have the chance to discover their own unique sense of style.”

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Buffalo Exchange is hosting a special pop-up shop starting at 11 a.m. March 16-17, at their Tucson location at 2001 E. Speedway

The pop-up features a raffle, photo booth, special gifts with purchases and an appearance from Buffalo Exchange’s retro Airstream trailer filled with one-of-a-kind finds including vintage, designer and trendy pieces. Plus, exclusive 50th-anniversary merchandise will be available for purchase at the event.

“We've been saving special inventory for that (event), so it's kind of the best of Buffalo inventory,” Pruitt said.

Natalie Bettencourt tries on a pair of shoes while shopping at Buffalo Exchange, 2001 E. Speedway, on Aug. 26, 2020.

But don’t expect to find many fast-fashion brands at the event or in Buffalo Exchange stores in general. The stores, which are now in dozens of cities throughout the nation, focus on giving high-quality and one-of-a-kind fashion pieces a second chance at life.

“We want a business that benefits everybody, like the community and the environment and the customers, and, honestly, to keep clothing out of landfills and to provide really cute clothing at a great price and to just treat people well,” Pruitt said. “Those are some of our core principles from the start that have kept us going all these 50 years.”

50 years of Tucson roots and sustainable fashion ♻️

When Kerstin Block and her husband Spencer opened Buffalo Exchange, formerly called The Buffalo Exchange, at 1072 N. Warren Ave. in 1974, they brought a whole new sales model to second-hand stores.

Although resale and second-hand shopping wasn’t as popular in the 1970s as it is today, the Blocks gave the “buy, sell, trade” sales model a shot in hopes of creating a sustainable fashion community in Tucson, where locals could get a good deal on quality pieces.

Kerstin Block, founder of Buffalo Exchange, in front of the company's first location in 1974.

“I think Buffalo was one of the first companies really to use that model — the buy, sell, trade model — and that has been instrumental in helping to change that landscape and make second-hand shopping actually be considered chic and fashionable and fun,” Pruitt said.

The shop and its unique model became a hit in the community.

In 1974, the Arizona Daily Star reported that Buffalo Exchange was a “fascinating new shop” and a “fun place to visit.”

By the late 1970s, the Buffalo “herd” began to head north and west as the Blocks opened new locations in cities outside of Tucson. Today, Buffalo Exchange has over 40 locations in 15 states, but its headquarters remain right here in Tucson.

A Buffalo Exchange location in Tucson in 1981.

Aside from its distinctive resale model, another major pillar of Buffalo Exchange’s mission is giving back through its many community-centered initiatives that have donated “over $2.2 million to thousands of local nonprofits, environmental and animal causes, artists and our local communities,” Buffalo Exchange wrote in their 50th-anniversary zine. (You can pick up a free copy of the zine in stores!)

One of their more popular initiatives includes the Tokens For Bags program, where customers place a 5-cent charity token inside a bin to go toward their favorite local nonprofit instead of taking a plastic bag.

“Since starting this program in 1994, we’ve raised over $926,025 for thousands of organizations and kept over 18.5 million plastic bags out of the environment,” they said in their zine. 

Staying environmentally-friendly has been a key part of Buffalo Exchange’s mission since the very beginning.

On average, Buffalo Exchange takes in 5½ million pieces of clothing each year, according to Pruitt, who estimates they have taken in over 100 million pieces of clothing over the last 50 years.

A vintage photo of Tucson's Buffalo Exchange on Speedway Boulevard.

One person who has seen numerous pieces of clothing go through Buffalo Exchange’s doors through the years is current CEO Rebecca Block, who is the daughter of founder Kerstin Block.

“When my parents opened in 1974, I was still a kid and I ended up doing whatever jobs had to be done in the store,” Rebecca Block said. “And then I worked a lot full-time during high school and college, especially over the summers.”

Rebecca Block says out of the all memories of growing up in Tucson's Buffalo Exchange, the everyday routine of working in the store with her parents sticks with her the most.

“My parents would drop us off at school and they would go to work, then we would come after school and then all go home together and that was our life for a really long time,” she said.

Buffalo Exchange founder Kerstin Block, left, poses for a photo with her daughter and CEO, Rebecca Block.

Now, as CEO of the company, Rebecca Block wants to carry on the mission that her parents created 50 years ago — here in Tucson and beyond, as they continue to grow across the U.S.

“I think we've really tried to maintain a level of integrity with the customer base with what we buy. Someone told me once ‘Well, if I want something fashionable, I'll go to Buffalo Exchange. If I just want something to paint in, I'll just go to Savers,’” she said. “I think we're known for being fashionable and staying with trends, but also having a lot of great basics for folks. And (known) for people to have a place to come that's comfortable for them and how they want to dress.

“We don't pass judgment. We're just here to help you find something that you might love.”

For more information about Buffalo Exchange’s 50th anniversary, check out their website.

Going to the thrift store can be fun if you keep a few simple tips in mind. Buzz60’s Keri Lumm reports.


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