Alumni business owners treasure the community they’ve created.
Photos and Story by Matt Burkhartt
On any given morning with a clear sky as you turn onto Main Street, the rising sun sweeps across the half mile of small-town America, bathing the shops, restaurants and offices in the golden light of a new day. The SUNY Geneseo alumni who own several of the dozen small businesses that line Main Street have had hundreds — and in some cases, like Al “Buzzo” Bruno ’72, thousands — of new days to move to other communities, yet they choose to stay.
Geneseo is the kind of village in which people take care of and invest in each other. Customers become friends of shop owners, and shop owners watch the children of their regulars grow up.
Meet 10 of the alumni business owners:
Al “Buzzo” Bruno ’72
Al “Buzzo” Bruno ’72 is inextricably linked to Geneseo. A native of Long Island, Buzzo opened his store, Buzzo Music, in 1971, making his storefront the oldest business on Main Street. His decades-long participation in the local music scene and community easily qualify him for institutional status.
Buzzo is such a community fixture that the Village of Geneseo declared May 23, 2004, “Buzzo Day.” Village officials held a ceremony at the village park to celebrate his 33⅓ years in business.
“It’s a really nice area,” says Buzzo. “… It’s nice. The College is nice.”
A proprietor of guitars, records and other musical instruments and accessories, Buzzo boasts that his prices are lower than Amazon’s. He’s been in town long enough to see Geneseo evolve and people come and go. Buzzo describes himself as somewhat of a liberal. Yet one of his friends was the former chairman of the Livingston County GOP, Lowell G. Conrad, who died last January. “I knew him for like 30 years,” says Buzzo. “He was a good man.”
In addition to being a business owner, Buzzo has also offered warmth to those wanting to join the community. He helped Shen Quan, owner of Main Moon Chinese restaurant, with logistical challenges when he arrived on Main Street. “When he first showed up, he had no concept of English,” says Buzzo. “I had to take him to court, I had to take him driving.”
A couple of days after one of their driving lessons, Quan called Buzzo when his wife went into labor with their second child. They needed a ride to the hospital. “Shen called me at four o’clock in the morning and went, ‘Baby coming,’” says Buzzo. “I was going to follow him over there, but he put his wife in my car and he followed me.”
The saying goes that if you find something you love to do, you will never work a day in your life. Buzzo has that privilege. “The reality is I don’t have to work, really,” says Buzzo. “I spend a lot of time here. I enjoy it, but it’s not work.”
Fred Mingrino ’73
In July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon. That fall, long before Interstate 390 was completed, a young man from 106th Street in Spanish Harlem stepped off a bus in Geneseo.
It might as well have been the Moon.
“II freaked out,” says Mingrino. “I got off the plane, took a bus to Geneseo, and I went, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ But after a couple weeks, you meet people, it’s fantastic.”
Mingrino’s college career was an amalgam of diverse areas of study. He entered as a math major, but by graduation, he had spent time studying speech communication, drama and anthropology. Mingrino didn’t envision doing anything specific with his diploma.
“Days were different back then,” says Mingrino. “I really wasn’t worried, I knew something would happen. People weren’t as nervous about life as they are now.”
Always a voracious reader, Mingrino began working at Sundance Books on Main Street in 1972, when he was still in school. He took over the store in 2013. In his 50 plus years in Geneseo, he has become a Main Street fixture — whose recommendations for customers’ next books are sought and trusted.
“Ninety percent of the people who will walk in, they’re friends. They come in, my friends come in, we become friends,” says Mingrino. “And I know what they like. They’re always asking me, ‘What should I read next?’ I ask them, ‘What did you like?’ It goes back and forth. You take it for granted after a while, but it’s special, it really is special.”
Each fall, Mingrino meets the new generation of Geneseo students and sees the college’s continued metamorphosis. “I’ve always liked the energy that youth brings,” he says, “and the older I get, the more I appreciate it. It just keeps the place changing constantly.”
When it comes time to close Sundance Books — and other Main Street stores run by alumni of his same era — Mingrino knows the departure will be part of Geneseo’s evolution, for better or worse.
“I don’t think people are going to realize how much they’re going to miss Sundance and Buzzo and Touch of Grayce,” says Mingrino. “We’re all probably going to be leaving together, right about the same time. The town will be quite different.”
Alyssa Cope ’11
Gazing out the top floor windows of Milne Library, Alyssa Cope ’11 could see the house she grew up in, down in the valley. But she didn’t truly appreciate the beauty she was surrounded by until she transferred to Geneseo from Ithaca College in 2008 and returned home to stay.
Many people recognize Cope as the owner of Honey Girl Gourmet, but in college she was a psychology student struggling with ambivalence in a major in which she did not feel whole.
“You kind of do need to get a master’s with that degree,” says Cope. “But I didn’t want to rush into it because it reminded me of going to Ithaca and I realized I hated all of my classes just because it was a major that I didn’t enjoy.”
As a student, Cope worked at the Main Street Touch of Grayce gift store, gaining invaluable experience and, she says, a nuanced understanding of retail. At a crossroads, she saw an opportunity to offer something she felt was missing on Main Street. She took a leap of faith and opened the Honey Girl Gourmet in 2015, selling specialty food products and local and handmade gifts.
“I love to cook, but I have no restaurant experience. I have no desire to own a café or anything like that, but I do have lots of retail experience,” says Cope. “I felt that this idea combined those two things — something that I love with something that I know about. I always wished that Geneseo had a store like this, so I figured I’d give it a try.”
Cope appreciates the community’s rhythm.
“There’s an ebb and flow to growing up in a college town. There’s all this hustle and bustle, and then in summer it’s a little bit quiet, but you really want everybody to come back and bring life back,” says Cope. “Something about that agreed with me.”
Cope appreciates that customers are more than just a transaction at the Main Street shops. “It gives people places to go in their community where they feel seen,” she says. “You get to know the people who come into your business on a regular basis, and I think that relationship goes both ways, too.”
The camaraderie among Geneseo business owners also feels unique. “The overwhelming feeling for all the business owners is that when one of us does well, we all do well,” she says. “We’re all trying to boost one another up because no single business could exist in a vacuum. We have to have a strong main street that people want to visit, and that’s dependent upon the success of everybody.”
Grayce McLaughlin ’82
When Walmart moved in to Geneseo in 1995, the V&S Variety store closed. It created a vacancy on Main Street — and a void.
Grayce McLaughlin ’82 saw a need for a toy store and a women’s clothing retailer. She and a friend bought the V&S storefront space and opened Touch of Grayce, which sells a variety of those items as well as books and gifts.
McLaughlin, like her husband, Fred Mingrino, had an eclectic career path that benefited her new endeavor. Originally from Long Island, she earned a photography degree from Herkimer County Community College before studying art history at Geneseo. She worked at photo studios in Rochester and in retail and food service in Geneseo.
“When we opened, we definitely felt like we filled a niche, and people were excited to come in here,” says McLaughlin. “We were happy to welcome families, students, visitors — and that’s how we envisioned the store, a shop for families and everybody, not for kids only.”
The friendships McLaughlin has made with customers over the last 30 years have been a privilege. “You get to know people. I’ve seen kids grow up from when they first came in, carried in front packs on their parents,” says McLaughlin. “Some of them are now teens, and some are even adults. That’s really nice.”
McLaughlin has also enjoyed working with extraordinary employees, who developed years-long friendships that originated at her store. Her kids and their friends have also worked at the shop. Alumni often come in, she says, and remark that they remember the smell of Touch of Grayce.
“Most people love it,” says McLaughlin. “I don’t know, you can’t really bottle it. We don’t burn incense, but it’s a combination of the candles, the incense and whatever. It’s fun when alumni come back and are like, ‘I remember that smell.’
“Main Street is pretty vibrant right now,” she adds. “If you have a business, it has to be nurtured and you have to put your heart into it.”
Angela Amedore Caplan ’75 and Jacki Brown McCausland ’76
Before they met, Jacki Brown McCausland ’76 and Angela Amedore Caplan ’75 connected through the language of dance at a Paul Winter Consort music workshop.
“Neither of us played instruments, but we were invited to just improvise and didn’t quite feel comfortable doing that. The teacher said, ‘If you want to dance and move to the music, please do,’” remembers Caplan. “I popped up right away. It was a natural impulse of mine. And the only other person who popped up was Jacki, so we danced with each other before we even spoke to each other.”
That was the beginning of a life-long friendship for Caplan and McCausland. Both studied dance at Geneseo, and Caplan studied theatre as well. In 1982, they opened the Valley School of Dance, teaching a variety of styles to people of all ages.
While in college, they explored yoga and found it paired naturally with their love for dance. They opened Shakti Yoga in the mid-1980s. “It made so much sense to me to use the body as a means of going inward,” says McCausland, “and the meditation practice was a great complement to the movement.”
They see their role at Shakti Yoga is to address the physical, mental and emotional health of patrons, especially loyal customers.
“It’s a very heartfelt experience,” says Caplan.
“We’re all getting old together, which is wonderful,” adds McCausland.
Ben Gajewski ’07
Ben Gajewski ’07 entered Geneseo undeclared. His interests were broad, but he settled on sociology with a minor in environmental studies.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do until, I think, the beginning of my junior year when my counselor told me I had to choose a major if I was going to stay in school,” says Gajewski.
While he chose sociology, growing up hiking and camping helped lay the foundation for his chosen career.
Now the executive director of the Genesee Valley Conservancy, Gajewski began his work with the local office of the national organization through an internship his junior year, taken as part of his environmental studies minor. He was hired by the conservancy in 2007 and full time in 2008, helping to manage and protect the natural beauty of the Genesee Valley.
The conservancy’s work is behind the scenes, but by no means invisible.
“The vast majority of our work is protecting important open space and natural resources,” says Gajewski. “So whether it be properties like the research reserves here that have incredible habitat values, or water quality, we are protecting clean drinking water for the region, and that’s something you don’t really see or think about when you turn on your tap.”
Some of Gajewski’s most rewarding experiences involve meeting the landowners who share his passion for stewardship and preservation — which has fueled the conservancy’s success in protecting more than 26,000 acres of land locally. This includes privately owned land as well as the Indian Fort Nature Preserve, the Island Preserve and Mill Creek Nature Preserve, which is open to everyone.
“Hearing people’s stories and how passionate people are for their land, and being able to help them protect that land for generations so it will never be subdivided and developed — that’s really meaningful,” says Gajewski. “People are so passionate about their land and preserving it. It’s really fun to be a part of that story with them.”
Chris Rubeck ’89
In 1986, Rubeck entered Geneseo as a biology major, hoping to work in health care. By his senior year, he had decided on chiropractic.
“My chiropractor back home in Hamburg, N.Y., was a cool guy, and he helped me out with a shoulder injury I sustained in lacrosse,” says Rubeck. “He had a dog in the office and wore Birkenstocks. I was like, ‘Hey, I could handle that.’ So I wear Birkenstocks now and have a dog in the office.”
After graduating in 1989, Rubeck worked with two chiropractors as an associate in Dansville and in Nunda before opening his own practice in Geneseo in 1995.
“I liked the vibrancy of the town, the young people and the quaint, all-American Main Street, so I set up shop here,” says Rubeck. “You know most of the families in town, you get to know their kids and you get to know a lot about their lives being in a small community. It’s just a great place to practice, number one, and to raise a family, number two.”
Rubeck says he’s able to offer more complete care to patients because of how intimately he gets to know them.
“Not only does healthcare involve the physical aspect of the human body but the psyche and the social part of their lives, too,” says Rubeck. “When you address all three, you’re giving the patient much more holistic healthcare.”
Offering this care and affecting positive moments in his patients’ lives makes Rubeck grateful — something he acknowledges every day.
“Even if I have the crappiest day ever, I can look back and say, ‘You know what? I had the privilege of trying to help somebody and that is a privilege because other professions you won’t have the privilege of trying to touch somebody’s life in a positive way,’” he says. “Even if you fail, you have that opportunity to try, and I get to do that every day.”
Keith Walters ’11 and Joanna Duell Walters ’13
It didn’t take long for Keith Walters ’11 to find his family at Geneseo.
“They put me into a hall with a bunch of other transfer students, and within that first move-in weekend I had found the group of friends I would spend the next two years with, and then move off campus with,” says Keith. “I think Geneseo prides itself on being a residential college first and foremost. That’s key in students developing relationships that will last forever. That was really special to me.”
Keith majored in business and was a student photographer for the College. Joanna Duell Walters ’13 graduated with degrees in math and education and a minor in computer art. They met singing with the Between the Lines a cappella group and have been together since.
“We both auditioned for the a cappella group at the same time. We both got in,” says Joanna.
“She remembers seeing me, and I remember nothing because I was terrified of singing in front of people,” remembers Keith.
After graduation, Keith served as Geneseo’s campus photographer for more than a decade. He left last spring to focus on Gallery in the Valley, which he opened on Main Street with Joanna and fellow photographer Lauren Wadsworth in 2020.
The couple had a modest entrance into the art world, selling prints of Keith’s work at the Geneseo farmer’s market around 2015, beside the building that is now home to their gallery.
“I would say to Keith, ‘If we ever open a gallery for you, we’re going to do it right there,’” says Joanna.
“Having this space opened up an entirely new group of individuals that we would have never known otherwise,” says Keith. “We’ve met so many different artists and people who patronize the arts through this space and I feel like it really solidified our love for the community.”
While all the work displayed and sold at the gallery celebrates the natural beauty of the area, the gallery’s primary function is to celebrate local artists who may find for it challenging to enter the market.
“We really want this space to be a place where creatives can come and show their work or connect with others — and we want it to have a low barrier for entry,” says Keith. “A space like this is important because everyone is local to somewhere and people all have to start somewhere. Galleries like this play an important role in giving people that stepping stone.”
Dominic Friscia ’79
Community is found in all different people and places. Dominic Friscia ’79 knew he didn’t want to return to Long Island after graduation, but he might not have stayed in Geneseo had it not been for his roommate the lateFrank Mandicott ’80, who was the best man at his wedding and his daughter’s godfather.
Mandicott worked at the college’s volunteer center and recruited a group of people, including Friscia as the center’s photography coordinator. Friscia found his first community within that circle.
“He was a bit of a mentor for me and very encouraging,” says Friscia. “Probably for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged to a group of people.”
Friscia is now a tax preparer in Geneseo, but before his current career, he graduated with a degree in biology and worked for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, then conducted lab work at a local winery, eventually becoming assistant winemaker. He was terminated, but it was a positive change.
“People think getting fired is a terrible thing,” he says. “It was the best thing. It allowed me to take a chance on trying something different.”
Friscia became a salesperson at Prudential Insurance and began buying and renovating properties. He became an accredited tax preparer and did 10 returns in his first year for free. His experience in a variety of disparate fields led him to his current career.
“I found out in my 30s that I was really good at accounting and taxes, but if I had to do it over again, I probably would have gone to school to be a CPA — but I hated math,” says Friscia. “Sometimes we don’t realize what we’re good at until we try different things.”
Though his degree is unrelated to his career, studying biology at Geneseo gave him the tools to be successful.
“I would have to say, the biology major, taking chemistry, taking physics, all those things, believe it or not, gave me the discipline to run a business,” says Friscia. “I’m not the smartest person, so I had to work hard to get decent grades.”
Friscia says his compensation isn’t exclusively in dollars and cents.
“Somebody once told me, ‘I think you like doing taxes because you like the personal interaction. It isn’t about doing people’s taxes and making money — you enjoy that time you spend with them,’” says Friscia. “I usually make my appointments a half hour, an hour apart, so I have time to spend with people and catch up. I think that’s just as important as making a few dollars.”
Heather Devney Grant ’99
After spending over a decade working in arts management and public administration, Heather Devney Grant ’99, who studied biology and studio art at Geneseo, found herself living just a couple towns over in Linwood with her husband, Justin Grant. The couple had a small farm and were home brewers, too. They began growing hops in 2011.
“We put up one or two rows to start,” says Grant. “Within a couple of years, the state came out with a farm brewery license, so we were like, ‘Let’s take a shot at it.’ It made it a little bit easier to get into the brewing industry.”
They opened their Linwood farm brewery, Dublin Corners, in 2016, followed by their taproom on Geneseo’s Main Street in 2019.
“I use my creativity a lot in design and coming up with ideas for how to make a cozy spot,” says Grant. “We like people to be comfortable.”
The pair met at The Idle Hour bar on Center Street. At Dublin Corners, they want to offer a welcoming, jovial gathering place — one Grant says she would have enjoyed making one of her haunts if she was a student.
“We hope that people feel comfortable to come in and have a beer with us,” she says. “We want them to tell their friends about it and come back and have a good time. We have a long history in Geneseo and the community, so it was cool to be able to bring it back full circle and have a place here on Main Street.”