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Building Blocks: A look at the Influence of Block Club

Five years ago, in the heart of Buffalo, three young guys with artistic talent and sophisticated tastes finally hit the tipping point. Like many entrepreneurs before them they felt deeply dissatisfied with what was available. Don't mistake this for a vapid Vera Wang-needs-a-wedding-dress-and-can't-find-one story. What these boys (boys, truly; one was 20 at the time) sought to fix can be summed up in their three-word manifesto: "We want better." And so they put their heads together and Block Club Magazine was born. As Block Club's Founder, Patrick Finan (the aforementioned 20-year-old), says in the video below: "Buffalo's scrappy. And Buffalo's a grind town. But, as a city and as a company, if you have the ability to see opportunities where other people only see problems, you have a real opportunity to thrive." And how. In five years, Block Club has grown to a company of 11 employees (plus the world’s best dog, Miles, an office staple), and more than $1 million annually in revenues. So what does it mean to want better? Better what? And why Buffalo?

The original three — Patrick, Brandon and Ben — are all from the Greater Buffalo area. The caliber of their palette and quality of their work would virtually guarantee them career success in any major metropolitan city, but they felt duty-bound to revitalize their hometown. And perhaps more than duty, the Block Club endeavor was a bit of a sociological experiment: What could they achieve in their city with this project? As it turns out, a lot. The initial run of Block Club Magazine’s first issue has now developed into a regular quarterly magazine. It is very much a reflection of its founders: witty, curious, engaged, social and impeccably well-designed. It’s no surprise then that the showcase of talent this magazine provided led to an influx of design requests, and a second leg of the company was born: Block Club Creative. Do you like the New York States of Mind logo? That’s Block Club’s work, crafted using fonts that were designed in New York-based foundries; Block Club thinks “local” to the core.

As Buffalo began to awaken to new possibilities, the Block Club team noticed new businesses and great restaurants opening. Their exploratory instinct, as well as their proclivity for encouraging similar behavior in others, led them to establish the third part of Block Club: City Dining Cards. Each deck of cards — rendered in that signature crisp, fun Block Club aesthetic — is a curated guide to the best, local-only food spots in the city, with discounts to boot. The decks have expanded beyond Buffalo, and are available for Rochester, Syracuse and the Capital-Saratoga region, as well as non-NYS cities, including Boston and Philadelphia. A triple bottom line company, Block Club puts their money where their mouth is by donating 5 percent of all sales to local food banks.

Having Block Club on your side when you visit Buffalo is a boon, and the city is lucky to have such ardent, persuasive ambassadors (read: proselytizers). A day with Block Club leads to a flurry of introductions to local writers, to the owner of Five Points Bakery, to the Executive Director of Buffalo First, and a fortuitous run in at a coffee shop with Bernice Radle, a local blogger, urban planner, preservantionist and all-around Buffalo cheerleader. Block Club’s fingerprints are everywhere around the city, including at room, an interior design firm that helped re-decorate The Hotel @ The Lafayette, a historic hotel, and which also has several shops in town.

Inside Block Club's new offices. Miles the dog looks out onto Main Street.

In thinking of all that Block Club has achieved for themselves and their community in just five year’s time, the seed of a beautiful, staggering thought takes hold: If the Block Club team and their friends — a group with an irrepressible love for, and belief in, their hometown — choose to live in such a way as to promote economic and creative growth on the local scale, and then raise children with those same values, it suddenly seems very possible that a city could be revolutionized in only a generation or two. Assessing the Buffalo zeitgeist in 2012, Mr. Finan said: "There's this incredible energy in Buffalo right now. There's a spirit of invention and a spirit of reinvention. Block Club succeeds because of the team, the people who work here, the people we work with, because we're in Buffalo. Because of our surroundings and the things that inspire us every day. It works because everyone we interact with every day...we all want better." Right on.

All graphics are photos from Block Club Magazine, created by Block Club Creative.

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