Meghan Finnerty | February 02, 2022
Student Turns Passion for Handmade Buffalo Bills Gear into a Storefront
Full-time student, Hali Rockow, opens her own business selling Buffalo Bills inspired gear and a whole lot more.
Hali Rockow is a born and raised Buffalo Bills fan. Now, at the age of 24, she owns and operates Buffalo Bleached, a boutique that started with cute and comfortable handmade Buffalo Bills inspired gear.
In August of 2020, she made two big decisions. First, she decided to go back to college, transferring to SUNY Brockport to study public health. Secondly, she started what would become Buffalo Bleached. It was perfect timing due to a mix of quarantine boredom and the Bills starting what would become a standout 2020 season.
“I was just bleaching all of my stuff out of boredom,” Rockow said. “Tye dye became big again.” She saw a Bills shirt at the store, bought it, bleached it and the rest is history.
As she posted the new creations on her Instagram account, friends started reaching out wanting some for themselves. Eventually, Rockow created a separate Instagram account and launched a website. “It really took off,” she said. “It was kind of wild.”
Her evenings were spent packing orders for hours. Buffalo Bleached expanded to host pop-up shops. At times Rockow leaned on her 19-year-old sister, Avery Rockow, for assistance but mostly did all the work herself.
About a year in, Buffalo Bleached had taken over her basement completely. Rockow decided she needed a workspace to keep up with making orders and shipping.
Rockow joined an alumni networking group from The Aquinas Institute of Rochester, where she connected with another Aquinas alum who recently bought a strip mall off West Ridge Road in the Town of Greece. After checking out a few of the vacancies, she found a spot with big windows. That’s when she decided to open a storefront rather than a workshop.
“It happened extremely fast,” she said. Having experience in boutiques, after working at one in Rochester for three years, she knew what she wanted. It was designed to be colorful. “That’s always the first thing people notice when they walk in the door,” she said. “It’s my vibe in a store, bright and positive!” The store’s logo is a smiley face.
Buffalo Bleached, located at 240 Elmridge Center Dr, Rochester, NY, started with just her own work but now the store sells much more, filling a 2,000 square-foot space. Rockow welcomed in 22 vendors, 21 of which are female owned and operated – which she says is a point of pride. The store sells size inclusive women’s clothing, home goods, candles, chocolates, jewelry, and of course Buffalo paraphernalia.
She needed capital to open the store and didn’t have time to apply for grants or secure any loans. “I was full-fledged using my money. It came to a point where I had hardly anything in my bank account. I put everything into the store,” Rockow said. “That was kind of a risky decision but that’s how much I believe in the store.”
The doors opened in November, The Bills were about halfway through their regular season and the holidays were approaching. Rockow says the store has been packed.
On January 23, Rockow started to get nervous about her supply. The Bills were coming off a huge win against the New England Patriots and heading into the divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs; the store was buzzing.
“It was insanely busy all morning. People just came in last minute getting stuff for the parties they were going to. I was thinking to myself, I have a good feeling about this. I have a feeling that the store has to be full again,” she said.
So, that morning an order was placed to restock the Buffalo inspired gear. Rockow was hopeful that on Tuesday, since they’re closed Mondays, the store would be crazy again. She believed that the Bills would head off to the AFC Championship game and then the Super Bowl.
“The devastation kind of kicked in when I thought we won three different times and then we lost. So, it was kind of a panic moment where I was like ‘oh my God, did I just order all of this for no reason.”
Instead, Bills fans everywhere suffered heartbreak as the Bills lost in overtime.
“The devastation kind of kicked in when I thought we won three different times and then we lost. So, it was kind of a panic moment where I was like ‘oh my God, did I just order all of this for no reason,’” Rockow said. Then she reminded herself that Bills fans know devastation well and still support the team all year long.
She was right. Since the season ended there has been one shirt in particular that continues to sell. It’s a goat wearing a number 17 jersey (the number worn by Bills quarterback Josh Allen).
Her next step as a business owner includes finding new products. She is soon headed to a trade show in New York City. She’s excited to feel the fabrics and see all that’s available in person. “It’s a big step that makes me feel more professional,” she said. “This is long term.”
While the store has been a dream, it has not changed her career goals of working in public health and community outreach. She plans to always find a way to do both.