Mid-Century Modern at CooCooU27

By Nancy J. Parisi

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“This is the place for me to be, where artists, friends, and all kinds of interesting people from all walks of life and from all over the country come in,” says Michael Merisola, owner of CooCooU27, Buffalo’s legendary home of vintage furniture, décor, and artwork.

Recently relocated to 1261 Niagara Street on Buffalo’s West Side, the new spot features large, street-facing windows perfect for showing off the impeccable inventory.

As if on cue, two women from Toronto enter the shop. Nicole Young and Bessie McDonald had recently learned about CooCooU and had made the trip to Buffalo to explore its eclectic wares. Bessie zeroed in on paintings along one wall and was also smitten with a chunky ceramic vase she spotted near the front door. To not compromise surfaces of the stock, adhesive price tags are not used here; Merisola asks customers to snap images of pieces they’re interested in, and he walks around with them to talk prices.

Nicole Young and Bessie McDonald, visitors from Toronto, ON, shop CooCooU27

CooCooU27 first opened its vintage-adoring doors in the 1980s, and through the years – and several locations – became synonymous with prime mid-century furnishings, vintage musical instruments, and other unique decorative pieces with interesting back stories. Internationally renowned, the film industry rents or purchases vintage pieces from Merisola, who can recite the movies where his pieces appeared. His daughter, Olivia Loffredo, grew up amid the world of collecting and inherited a keen eye for beautiful furniture; she stages homes for her realtor mother-in-law, working as Olivia Hudson Homes. 

CooCooU27 is on a block of diverse, locally owned businesses that are also in former industrial buildings. There is street parking in front as well as a lot behind CooCooU on Gelston Street – accessible by turning down Breckenridge Street from Niagara. Look for the rear door. Merisola refers to this new home base as “a super-hot two blocks of Niagara Street.”

CooCooU27 looks voluminous to the eye of a shopper amid its 6,200 square feet, but for Merisola it’s small. “I’m coming from 30,000 square feet with an upstairs and a downstairs,” he says. “Collectively my storage footprint is 8,000 square feet and I lost about 1,000 square feet in the showroom, so I have to really super-edit what I bring out of my warehouse.”

CooCooU27 owner, Michael Merisola

The shop is open Tuesday-Friday from 11am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12pm-6pm, but call ahead to make sure that Merisola is around — the life of a collector and self-defined “picker” is complicated; his phone is constantly abuzz with shoppers and those offering to sell him goods. “I am open on Saturdays and Sundays pretty religiously,” he says, “because no one else is open on Sundays. And my warehouse is still open by appointment only. My business cards state my hours as ‘I’m open every day for the rest of my life.’ I thought that was kind of funny.”

Merisola is both a mid-century collector and musician. “I play everything and started playing when I was seven years old,” he says. “I went to Lafayette High School, and they forced me to play the trombone. My music teacher gave me a Curtis Fuller album (a jazz trombonist who began his career in the post-war era) and I took it home. It changed my life. I played all through high school and then at Buff State where I played in a big jazz band.” It’s not unusual to find Merisola taking a break, playing jazzy riffs on his keyboards amid the furnishings.

When asked how he got his start in business Merisola says, “I met my girlfriend Christine, now my wife, and we were both into vintage clothing – we were pickers for Zoot Suit City. At that time all we could afford was thrift store stuff for our apartment, and back then you could find a lot of mid-century – unbeknownst to me, it was high-end furniture.”

And the origin of the name CooCooU27?

“The name is from a Manhattan Transfer song from 1979,” he says, adding, “I always liked the song, it’s kind of out there. Plus, we weren’t selling antiques, we were selling all kinds of kooky things, at that time you didn’t see a store selling boomerang coffee tables. Another reason I liked the name was my grandmother used to call all us kids ‘Coocoo.’” It stuck.

“My eye was always drawn to modernism, and we were filling our place up with it,” Merisola continues. “It was the 80s and Christine and I went to New York City on a weekend road-trip and walked into a gallery and said to the guy working there, ‘We have all of this in our house.’ I asked if they bought furniture and the gallery worker said, ‘Why, what do you have?’ and I said, ‘I have thirteen of these chairs.’ He said, ‘Well send me photos.’

“Sure enough, the guy calls and he bought all of the furniture. Then we opened the first CooCooU27 location on Elmwood in 1987. I had never thought of how a piece of furniture could be made by a designer; back then there was no reference on mid-century furniture. There were Kovels’ guides to porcelain, et cetera, but not this, so I had to educate myself by going to galleries and learning what it is. The rest is history.

“In some ways these designs bring me back to my childhood and give me a feeling of home because it’s very familiar,” he adds. “I was born in ’58; I didn’t live with this in my home growing up, but it resonates with me – the fashion, the music, the style of that time. It’s very design-forward, ahead of its time. And then obviously look at the materials. Architects who were out of work started to design furniture and it’s just a phenomenal period of design, glamorous stuff with curves influenced by a lot of Art Deco but with much cleaner lines. It was very high-tech for its day.

“What I carry here fuels my soul and passion. We had such a rich concentration of mid-century furnishings here – there was industry, a lot of money with everyone working after the war.”

And how is his home decorated, is it top to bottom mid-century? “We live in Arts and Crafts style bungalow in North Buffalo,” he says, “so mid-century modern doesn’t look good in it. What we do have is French Art Deco.”

1261 Niagara St, Buffalo, NY

Nancy J. Parisi headshot

Nancy J. Parisi

Nancy is a social documentation photographer based in Buffalo, NY.