A Caring Community Makes a Huge Difference

woman painting

Standing in front of the enormous wall of paint that fills the back of her bustling shop, Annie Sloan Stockist, Giuliana Albanese, has never been able to choose just one favourite colour. They are all so beautiful, vibrant and unique.
It is a busy Saturday morning and her shop, White Buffalo Vintage, is humming with activity. There is a steady stream of customers anxious to talk with her about their plans for their next project and consult with her on techniques and finishes. Customers are immediately drawn to Giuliana’s vibrant energy, and they are quick to pick up on the fact that she herself is very unique. Giuliana Albanese is profoundly deaf. She has been since birth.
While she has faced many challenges in her life, running this business is not one of them. Her loyal customers know her and new customers are quick to adapt making sure that they stand close enough and face her when speaking so that she can easily read their lips. When customers drop by, they give a wave and quick “Hello” to let her know they are in the store.
Her hearing was not even a consideration when she opened the store last October. Any concerns that she did have were overshadowed by her excitement to sell Annie Sloan products and offer Chalk Paint workshops and she was confident that she could balance running the store on weekends with her full-time job at the Department of National Defense where she has worked for the past 22 years in the First Aid Centre.
The concept for the store was born four years earlier when she learned from her partner – an antique collector – how to spot a well-crafted quality piece of furniture. Giuliana became a natural at selecting and applying colours and finishes to transform the pieces. She was inspired by the design, hues and textures. It was not long before their home was overflowing with everything from buffets to bed frames, armoires, dining sets and side tables. In time, people started to take notice and Giuliana began taking commissions to paint for others. The house was now full to capacity, they needed a lot more space.
She found the perfect historical commercial building on Main Street in the storied little town of Shawville, Quebec, not far from where she grew up. With its exposed brick walls, cedar-beamed ceilings and wide front doors flanked by two showroom windows, it was the idyllic setting to showcase her talent.
In addition to the paint supplies, Giuliana filled the shop with beautifully curated décor items that she describes as a mix of modern farmhouse and rustic vintage with a bohemian flair. The airy displays of overstuffed pillows, Turkish towels and findings were a perfect complement to the Annie Sloan line.
When customers asked for workshops, she hesitated knowing that it would be a challenge. Her partner, Rick, was behind her all the way. On February 22, 2020 she simply took a deep breath, calmed her nerves and hosted her first of three very successful workshops. With the help of an assistant, they were able to respond to questions and work one on one with each participant to make sure they all had a positive experience.
During the first few months of Covid-19, the demand for paint and supplies was incredible. Everyone suddenly had time on their hands and a project in mind. Giuliana adapted overnight and was busier than ever thanks to her loyal customers, who ordered online and reached out to her on Facebook when they had questions or needed advice. During the day, she delivered products or met customers at the shop door. In the evening, she caught up on her commissioned orders.
By June, retailers across the country were anxious to open up again even under strict regulations for social distancing and wearing masks in public. Giuliana was anxious for other reasons. Masks made it impossible for her to read lips or even know if a customer was speaking to her. It was devastating. She knew that there was no way she could operate under these circumstances.
Once again, her customers and the little community rallied around her and assured her that it would be okay, that she could not let go of her dream and all of the hard work she had put into the shop. Even so, it was a very stressful time for her.
White Buffalo Vintage reopened on May 20th. Giuliana carefully organized her new Annie Sloan colours and put her spring décor out on display. She opened the door and with apprehension. Would her people come back? How would she ever communicate with anyone new?
The first customer, a local lady and her daughter, arrived early. When they came in, they looked at Giuliana, gently lowered their masks and gave her two thumbs up. Every customer that day did the same. They respected her capabilities and were happy to accommodate lowering their masks only when talking directly to her. She was overjoyed and overwhelmed at the grace and generosity of her customers and community.
Giuliana can’t wait to see what the future brings for her and White Buffalo Vintage. In Quebec, they say, “Ça va bein aller,” Everything is going to be okay. With the support of her community and her passion for design the future certainly looks bright.