Travis Barr and Alex Altomonte stepped into Melissa Zomro Davis's small Cazenovia office with a wish, a dream, and a legacy. Little did they know that their journey would not only change their lives, but also the many lives of the residents and visitors of this quaint little community.
The idea of owning a business is not a new one for Travis and Alex. In 1946 Travis's Grandfather opened the Brae Loche Inn, which is still owned and operated by his uncle and his uncle's wife. Travis's cousin is the also owner and operator of 20East and Cazenovia CutBlock.
McKenzie Houseman has been Travis and Alex's biggest influence since starting this venture over a year ago and, having been a long-time client of the SBDC, knows the value of having small business support. So, when she referred them to Melissa, the NYS Advanced Certified Business Advisor who works out of the SBDC satellite office in Cazenovia where Travis and Alex met with her to discuss their business venture. Zomro Davis helped them with business planning, financial projections, and the start-up mechanics for the business.
Travis and Alex had a vision for a general store that would supply unique and functional products. Anything from cocktails, and books to jewelry, make-up, clothing and accessories could be sold there. Travis and Alex wanted to focus on bringing small batch and independent brands to the village from makers all over the USA. They wanted to create a place where community members and visiting travelers could discover a plethora of goods.
But most of all, H. Grey Supply Co. was created with the intention that it would be a safe space. A place where everyone would be treated kindly and fairly - regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, sexual orientation, race, or gender. The products that they supply would bring out all perspectives and they could offer products that celebrate diversity and inclusiveness with a "treat yourself mentality", as Travis put it.
Starting a business is a process that takes time, patience, persistence, good timing, research, and - maybe - a little luck. "Melissa couldn't have made us feel more comfortable about starting our own business. From the very beginning through today, she is a resource we are grateful to have. She helped us navigate turning our dream into a reality when we, at times, had no idea how it would happen," said Travis. The group worked hard to make sure all aspects of a good foundation were present. They created a solid business plan, a start-up budget, and projections to estimate how a loan would be repaid.
When a lender stepped-up to help them fund the project and the space was identified, the pandemic was on the horizon. March 2020 was the anticipated time frame for entering their storefront and making the leasehold improvements. Clearly, that was not going to happen. Thankfully, that did not stop Travis and Alex. They spent time during the Pandemic pivoting their plans. Not to be derailed, they became refocused. They found a new place to rent and they added essential products so that if the area shut down again they would be able to stay open. They also began to work more closely with the owner of 20East to learn more about the retail business.
After Christmas 2020 Travis and Alex circled back to the lender for the loan, securing their space in town and finalizing their start-up costs. Not quite a year into the pandemic and they had stronger credit, a stronger foundation, more knowledge, and a better sense of what the ultimate purpose for the business was. Perseverance was the name of the game because they knew that their ultimate goal was to bring a store to rural small-town USA, and that has meant more to the community than they could have imagined.
Travis's Grandfather and his entrepreneurial spirit lead Travis to want to continue the family legacy and bring new energy to the community that raised him. In fact, H. Grey Supply Company is named after Travis's Grandfather (Henry Grey Barr). H. Grey Barr was a trendsetter who knew what his community needed: good cheer, good eats, and good people.
Travis and Alex also knew that their community needed a place everyone can feel appreciated, which is not always easy. That is why the H. Grey Supply Co. founders worked hard to bring the first Pride event to Cazenovia in June 2021. It was held over Father's Day weekend, since that holiday weekend can be tough for many due to a lack of parental involvement, the passing of a loved one, or being separated by distance. Travis and Alex coordinated with other members of the community to create an event where everyone had a place to go. It was a celebration of acceptance and the knowledge that no one is alone.
On H. Grey Supply Co.'s social media from May 9, 2021 Travis wrote "Had the most amazing experience in the store today. Everyone is welcome in this space and love, kindness, inclusion is celebrated here." A mother had messaged Travis and Alex about an occurrence that had happened earlier that day. In her message she said "Thank you for making my child feel comfortable, he cried in the car that people did not say he was strange because he likes lipstick. He wants to come back and see you guys and learn how to do makeup from you... so proud of you and thank you for being such a wonderful role model for my son."
These two dynamic individuals have done a lot for their small town in such a short period of time. It will be exciting to see what else they have in store for Cazenovia and its community members. The SBDC is proud to have been a part of their journey, helping them find a way to work through the challenges of the pandemic while celebrating diversity in small town USA. All it takes is one person to stand-up and shout, "we are all human, we are all different yet all the same."
Learn more about H. Grey Supply Co. LLC on their website: www.hgreysupplyco.com
Article published in the CNY Business Journal on August 5th, 2021
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