McKay’s Work Clothing in Buffalo’s Irish Heritage District, is a third-generation business that opened in 1973. Located at the corner of Abbott and Ramona, along a strip of locally-owned shops, its brick and tinted-window storefront is tidy and modest; inside is a deep retail space teeming with workwear for the trades, school uniforms, and an array of gift items boosting both Buffalo as well as Irish pride.
Nancy McKay, CEO, runs the store with her husband Bruce – who co-founded the company with his late father, Clayton McKay.
“My father-in-law had worked at Ford and always wanted to own his own business,” she says. “They started by selling used work shirts for $1, and used work pants for $2, before we began carrying our first line, Wrangler. After that we carried our second line, Carhartt. Our opening order with Carhartt in 1974 was for $500 worth of inventory – today our opening order is $50,000.”
Today, McKay’s features clothing and boots by Dickies, Georgia Boot, Wolverine, and Rocky. “We are a teenager destination for trendy fashions, brand-driven, that are sold locally in department stores but we are more convenient for kids living in South Buffalo,” Nancy says. “The craziest times for the trends was in the 90’s, when some Saturday mornings it wasn’t unusual to arrive and find 20 teens waiting outside our door to get the latest fashions.”
McKay’s has always been known for work clothing and scrubs, both popular items. “We also sell school uniforms for area schools,” she says, adding, “on our second floor we have a custom embroidery studio with a fast turnaround because all the work is done onsite. We sell and embroider all of the Buffalo Zoo uniforms.”
McKay’s has become a popular destination for hats for all seasons, sweatshirts, and other gear promoting the city. When asked if she loves the business, Nancy says, “After 40 years, I better like it! We get a lot of support from the community, and in the last two years we’ve seen a surge in the ‘Shop Local’ mindset, which is great.”
Nancy talks about the renaissance of people who are shopping smaller, discovering the advantages of locally-owned stores. “Some, at first, have never seen any independent stores and had only shopped in big box stores. Then they see that when they shop smaller and local they get great service. When they need help with sizing or selecting items they can actually talk to someone who works here. It’s very satisfying for us and the customers.”