Buffalo Exchange Colorado shut down multiple locations at the end of July after dozens of sexual-assault and -abuse accusations surfaced on an Instagram account called Buffalo in the Room against co-owner and Denver cultural maven Patrick Todd Colletti. Workers were laid off. One died by suicide. And customers of the secondhand clothing dealer were left wondering whether their store credits would be honored.
Now, months later, Omaha-based entrepreneur Kelly Valentine is opening a second location of her Nebraska re-sale store, Scout, at 51 Broadway, the 5,000-square-foot location that had held a popular Buffalo Exchange (and also a basement party room that played a large role in the Colletti accusations). Her silent backers in the Denver project are the owners of Forgotten Works, the LLC that ran the Colorado Buffalo Exchange franchise — minus Colletti, who was pushed out after the charges surfaced.
During the summer scandal, the co-owners were accused of standing by Colletti for years while knowing about his drug-fueled parties and various accusations of sexual harassment, workplace bullying and assault. But according to Valentine, some of the partners had long been trying to fire Colletti, who founded the company in the ’90s.
As part of Scout's entry into the Denver market, the co-owners have signed contracts stipulating that they won't speak to the press, Valentine says.
Valentine, who never knew Colletti, shopped at Buffalo Exchange from 1998 to 2004, when she was going to school in Denver. She was so inspired by the resale shop that she modeled her own store after it.
"I wanted to shop at a store like that in Omaha," she recalls. Though she had no retail experience and had never run a business, around thirteen years ago she decided to launch Scout. "I figured it was a great opportunity. It was one of those ideas I got in my head and couldn’t get out of my head."
While the Omaha store hasn't exactly made her rich, "it’s been a dream," she says. It's given her flexibility as a single mother to raise three children and to pursue her passion in both fashion and environmentalism. "It’s wild that it’s full circle, where the store that I was inspired by I’m now owning," she adds. "I never would have guessed. I always thought I would have come into the Denver market as a competitor to Buffalo Exchange."
Back in May, before the accusations surfaced, Scout had converted a vintage camper into a traveling store that Valentine called Scouty. She took it around the country, but her ultimate goal was to set up a pop-shop at Buffalo Exchange on Broadway. "That is the pinnacle," she remembers thinking. "If we can book that, I’m going to be really proud."
She befriended one of the managers and secured the gig; her pop-up was a smash.
A couple of months later, Colletti was ousted. "When I saw everything go down on social media, I reached out, and here we are," Valentine explains.
The new store has no relationship to Arizona-based Buffalo Exchange Corporate, and while Colletti's co-owners are still on board, they are mostly providing financing for the operation, Valentine says, adding that she could not have opened in Denver without that support.
"They wanted to sell it outright to somebody, and then they could get a big lump sum," explains Valentine. "With COVID, the market is crazy. They decided the best thing for them to do was to parlay the inventory, fixtures and assets into an existing business. Same concept, great location, no reason why it shouldn’t work."
The co-owners had already quietly opened a company in the Broadway Buffalo Exchange location, Forgotten Works. That shop will officially transition to Scout in early January.
While Scout may have been inspired by the Buffalo Exchange concept, the toxicity of the workplace will be a thing of the past, Valentine promises.
"It’s a new owner, an absolutely new culture, and we’re going to have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual harassment and those things that happened prior," she explains. "I want this to get back to being a safe space. I think this community needs healing, and local art will be a part of that.
"One the first things we set up is an anonymous hotline for employees to report anything they want to an HR hotline so we can investigate, and hopefully nothing like this ever happens again," she says. "I’m sickened that it lasted as long as it did, and it felt like there was a company culture where it was acceptable. I’m personally a survivor of sexual assault, and it’s relatable, and it’s unacceptable. "
As she builds her staff, her top priority will be to bring on former Buffalo Exchange Colorado employees; Scout has already hired around half a dozen onetime workers at the franchise.
"I”m going to have clear boundaries with the staff," she says. "I’m in a close age range to a lot of the employees. I'll have friends outside of work. You do like these people. You like your employees. You spend a lot of time with them and collaborate in a lot of ways. It’s easy to become friends with these people and lines do become blurred. I'm going to make clear boundaries."
Her hope is that by establishing a new organizational culture — where drinking and drugs are not allowed at work and where people have access to human resources — she can offer healing to a broken community.
"While I don’t want to take on the sins of Todd and Buffalo Exchange Colorado, I do see where Scout can be a healing force and try to have something good come out of this awful situation," she says.
And to heal relationships with former customers, Scott will honor Buffalo Exchange credits, she notes.
Valentine is also starting a recycling program at the store, doubling down on her environmentalist ethics. Despite Buffalo Exchange's commitment to reusing clothes, the shop apparently threw many things away, she says.
"A big thing about Scout Omaha is that Scout is more eco-minded than Buffalo Exchange," she explains. "We’re very focused on being as zero waste as possible. We’ll be reusing whenever possible. We are a bring-your-own-bag store."
The basement of the Broadway shop, where Colletti had built a bar and thrown drug-laced parties, is going to become headquarters for Scout's online store, I Love Scout.
"Closer to the January 2 opening, we’re going to stage the entire place — find someone locally who can bless it or get rid of demons," Valentine promises. "Let’s clean the space out and start fresh, get rid of the bad energy. The goal is to make this a safe space."
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