Nickel City Gritty: Rust Belt Love


Wedding planning has come a LONG way in a short amount of time. Back in the day before Instagram and Pinterest, you had to read magazines to get your inspiration *gasp*

Alyson O’Connor realized ten years ago, before the age of online wedding planning, that she had the perfect business idea. She started out designing wedding invitations for family and friends and eventually for herself, and saw that there was really nobody locally in the custom wedding invitation business. Soon after that, her little idea became her full-time business. She started Rust Belt Love by selling on Etsy and at a pop up market, but soon fell in love with the idea of having her own brick and mortar store. She now has a storefront in the Market Arcade building in downtown Buffalo.

I had the pleasure of being on the very first Buffalo Boss Babes panel with Alyson, and she’s such an inspiration, and not to mention totally hilarious. I loved sitting down with her inside of her beautiful store to chat about her style, her friends, her family, and, of course, Disney princes.

Take a listen to her playlist while you read through the interview below!

This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Alyson O’Connor of Rust Belt Love.


Tell me how your business got started.

I have always been in illustration and graphic design, and like most other people in the wedding industry I started designing invitations for my family and friends and eventually my own. At the time, going back to 2009/2010 there really wasn’t anybody in Buffalo doing custom wedding design. We were one of the first doing custom design. We found our footing that way and it expanded. We started doing more weddings and weddings for people we didn’t know, and that was really exciting! In 2014 we did a temporary shop in the Market Arcade building with the Queen City Pop Up and we did it with the intention with just doing something for the holidays since it’s a down time for wedding season. We had a few stationery items on Etsy that we decided to sell. At the end of it we fell in love with the building and the people and how excited people were to come in a shop on Main Street. We ended up getting our permanent space here in 2015 and here we are today!


Describe your personal style.

You know, this is funny. That is the first question that I always ask people in our invitation meetings every single time, and I’ve never thought about it myself! That’s hilarious! So I try to do sort of like a chic professionalism look. I’m not super trendy, but I try to be. I’m getting to the point where I’m not sure exactly how to dress my age, like at what point am I supposed to dress like someone in may late 30’s? At what point am I supposed to change? Not like I’m not ever wearing things that age inappropriate or anything. You know, there’s a weird thing that happened to me when I had kids where I took a good four years away from anything fashionable. I had babies at home and I wasn’t working outside the house, so I was just in yoga pants all day every day. Then when I opened the retail space and was meeting with people all the time, it was like, “Oh I need to look a certain way. I need to join the real world.” All the clothes I had were now five years old and I had dress pants with pleats in them. *laughs* I’ve been trying to rediscover what kind of style I should be having.


What were you like in high school?

I was very much an artist kid and I was friends with everyone. I went from a Catholic school where it was very small and I had no friends there, to going to a public high school where I realized that if I was just a nice person I could literally be friends with everyone. I was pretty easy going and I just wore jeans and flannels everyday because it was the 90’s. I wasn’t athletic, but I was tall and the math teacher was the basketball coach and he would beg me to join the basketball team. He was like, “You don’t have to do anything, I’ll just put you under the basket and stand there!” but I couldn’t do that. I always took a lot of art classes. I knew I always wanted to go specifically an art school. At the time I wanted to work for Disney, so I looked at a bunch of art schools outside of Western New York that were specifically listed by Disney that these were the schools that they sourced from, but then you get to college and realize that there’s more to the world than Disney. But yeah, I was very easygoing and just hung out with my friends and hung out at school. I think I was the kind of kid that I hope my daughter is *laughs*


What role do you play in the group of your friends?

I like to think of myself as someone who is the one who cannot always be relied on to show up when everyone’s making plans, but if you call me or text me and need anything, I’m there in a heartbeat. If you text me at 2am I’m probably gonna text you back. I’m not always there in the group setting where we’re all hanging out because of life and family and stuff, but I like to think that when my friends need me I’m there for them. That’s my hope, at least!

If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

Oooohhh…everyone in the whole world?!


Oh my gosh! It would be that everyone would have to realize that their experience is not universal. I would wish that everyone in the entire world would realize that there is an existence outside of their own that might be okay, and they don’t have to understand, and that everyone can just do their own thing and maybe that’s okay.


What is your spirit animal?

My friend would say her spirit animal is a raccoon because it has circles arounds its eyes and eats garbage all day. *laughs* It’s so hilarious! Ummm…my dog is probably my spirit animal, because all it wants is constant affection, so tell me I’m pretty, but also I wanna sleep all day. Wait, that’s not actually my spirit animal, but that’s what I wish I could do! Okay, but for real, I’m gonna say a tiger, because tigers take care of their babies, but they are also really good at camouflage, and I feel like that if I need to blend into a space I can do that. So I could become ignored, but I can also stand out if I have to, which I feel like a tiger does that! Come on, they’re orange. So I’d say a tiger…not a Katy Perry version, but a real one. Plus it’s my daughter’s favorite animal.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with your extra time?

I’d probably fill it with work, and that’s not the right answer! I would probably do more art for myself, which I really don’t do a lot of, and I would make sure that I actually did see all my friends all the time. I have a lot of different groups of friends, and it’s hard to make time for all different people who do different things and have different schedules. If I could find time for everyone, that’s what I’d do.


Okay, so bringing it back to Disney, which Disney prince do you think is the cutest?

So growing up I had a huge crush on Eric, because come on everyone does. I wanna also say John Smith but he’s kind of a douchebag! And Mel Gibson, ew gross. Wait, who’s the new one, I love him, he’s so funny and he was raised by trolls. Who is it, from Frozen? He’s not really a prince, though. Kristoff! I love Kristoff, I love his personality the most. Because hold on, Eric was kind of a dick! Like seriously, you saw a girl singing on a beach and was like, yeah let’s get married. He’s cute but kind of dumb…really dumb. The Beast was kind of a douche, total Stockholm syndrome. But I did like Aladdin…he was really sweet. He became a prince! Also, can we talk about how Disney princesses are not allowed to have moms?


Right? All of the moms die. Finally Moana was allowed to have a mom. It’s all about, I think, glamorizing the daughter relationship with their father, making the father figure the “savior.” But yeah, I’d definitely have to go with Kristoff even though he’s not technically a prince, or Aladdin cause he was cool, too.


What is on your playlist?

When we first opened, the guys from Rise came in, and they had us make a playlist, and I was horrified because my taste in music is terrible. *laughs* I was so embarrassed. My taste in music is a version of Canadian alternative and female indie pop. The Pandora station I put on here is Kimbra and Lily Allen and I love it. If I’m in the car and have to listen to the radio, I’ll listen to the Canadian Edge. I really don’t care about music though, which is a weird thing. I don’t dislike it, but I’m not passionate about anything. The only concert I’ve ever really gone to as an adult was Florence + the Machine and Of Monsters and Men. It’s weird, I know. I listen to a ton of podcasts, though. Most are work related, which is stupid. I also love audio books because I can do it while I’m doing something else.


If you could bring one fictional character to life, who would it be?

Ooohhh okay, have you watched Russian Doll? I wanna hang out with her! I love her on that show! But I’d also wanna hang out with the X-Men, that’d be sweet. Could I bring all of them? I’d want that to be real and be one of them. I probably wouldn’t have a cool super power, I’d probably have a lame one but it wouldn't matter.

What are some of your favorite bars or restaurants in Buffalo?

Hmmmm…I love so many! We just went to Billy Club which was awesome. Dapper Goose…I love. The people there are amazing, the food is amazing, the cocktails are amazing. It’s probably one of my favorites just because every time I go it’s an incredible experience all around. I love Marble + Rye because they have an amazing steak tartare which my dad makes because he used to work in a restaurant in Buffalo that isn’t around anymore and he would make it and say, “Nobody makes this anymore because they’re all afraid of the raw meat.” I went to Marble + Rye and they had it and I was so excited! It’s so good. I love Pastry by Camille because I love them and their space is so welcoming and European. Lucky Day is another favorite. Nick loves going there because he loves whiskey.


When do you feel the most confident?

Probably at work when I have delivered something to someone and they love it. No matter how many proofs I go through, until they pick it up and say that they love it, that’s when I feel the most confident about what I’ve done. It’s different when you see it in real life and we’ve had people pick up their invitations and they start crying. I don’t mean to be like, “I love seeing people cry,” but I feel really good about what I done and it makes me feel really confident when people are really happy.

Which of your five senses do you think is the strongest?

Sight. Well, okay. In what aspect? Because my sight is probably my weakest, but it’s what I use the most. So I can look at something and then draw it, which I feel like is a strength, but I always say if the zombie apocalypse happens I will absolutely get eaten because someone will step on my glasses and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. My eyesight is so bad that I’m not even a candidate for Lasek. So it’s also my weakest, technically, but it’s what I can do the most with. I’m definitely getting eaten by zombies.


What is one story that your family always tells about you?

Hmmm…I’m sure it’s nothing nice. My mom loves to tell the story about dropping me off at college and how I slept the entire way to New York. She was so upset and I just got in the car and fell asleep. And she tells it like I was this heartless kid that didn’t give a shit and just slept the whole way and went away to college. But at the time it was the most traumatic experience of my life up until that point and I was thinking if I could just get through the next three days I’d be fine. I’m one of those people where I will immediately go to sleep when I get in a car, so I got through it by taking a nap. She loves telling that story!


The last question that I always ask is, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I think I’m doing it! I’m really excited about that answer! You know what? I will say, when I started my business, I was like, “Okay, now I have a business!” and looking back, I can see like oh, my business was a baby here, it was a child here, it was a toddler here, moody teenager here, and now I feel like I’m in the adulthood of my business…in the 30’s. But as far as like, being a grownup? When do you actually feel like a grownup? I keep waiting for that feeling. I still need my dad for things! I’m not sure if growing up ever happens. I think it’s a total myth. I think when you think you’re grownup, you think things will be easy and you will have your shit together…are there people like that? Maybe someday!

You can visit Rust Belt Love’s store inside the Market Arcade building, 617 Main Street in downtown Buffalo.