Faces of Flint & Genesee: Kevin Begola, Owner, Bridge Street Exchange

It started with an idea and a $10,000 credit card. When Kevin Begola quit his job in the insurance industry a few years ago, he dove head-first into the world of men’s wedding rings.

It stemmed from his own experience: when Begola got married, he noticed that the focus was on the bride and her wedding day, but there weren’t a lot of options for men to express their personalities. So he connected with a few ring manufacturers and launched Titanium Buzz, a website offering a unique selection of camouflage and sports-themed bands.

The business quickly took off, and about three years ago, the need for a brick and mortar shop became evident.

“People were finding us on the internet and showing up at our office in a building next to a medical dialysis center, wanting to look at rings – it just didn’t feel right,” says Begola.

A friendly real estate market and small town charm led Begola to Linden, where he opened a men’s retail store specializing in menswear, wedding bands and other accessories. Today, Bridge Street Exchange carries top brands including Shinola, Stormy Kromer and Thorogood Work Boots, to name a few.

How has the business changed since you first opened?

We have actually moved the rings out of the main store and over to our office because the clothing and gift items have outgrown it. We have grown every year since our opening. I would guess that the average customer drives 20-30 minutes to see us.

What advice can you offer to fellow business owners or future entrepreneurs?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. You might have an angry customer, or your website could go down for half a day. In the moment, it might seem like a big deal. But those kind of things are really just a small picture of what it is you’re doing. I like to address the problem, and then move on from it. It’s important to be able to start over fresh the next day, and see what you can make happen.

What challenges have you encountered?

The biggest stumbling block is just getting the word out. There’s so much going on in people’s lives. On a daily basis, we have people who live 10 minutes from here that have never heard of us and have never been here.

How do you market your business?

What inspires you?

I love seeing everybody happy around the holidays. When people come in and they find the perfect gift for someone, and they’re pretty excited about it – that’s a good feeling.

What is your favorite part of being a business owner?

Doing it as a family has been fun. When you buy a building and you say ‘let’s do this’ – I’m the crazy guy that says it, and my wife actually goes along with it. We have three small kids now. My daughter has a lot of ideas for the business. She loves being here, working in the store and ringing up people.

How would you describe Linden to an outsider?

Linden is a cute town with charm. It’s a close-knit community with a lot of pride in the small town character. Being a business owner here, it feels like all eyes are on us a lot of the time. When we first opened, we had a lot of people come in, asking about who we are and what the store is about. That motivates me to do my best. I want the residents here to feel proud of our store and what it adds to the community.

To learn more about Bridge Street Exchange, visit www.bridgestreetexchange.com.