Williams students celebrate the life of Paula Buxbaum

Bux Vintage has been a stop for Williams students on any walk down Spring Street since Paula Buxbaum opened her shop in late spring of 2021. The store was bright and inviting, with its gumball machine, lampshades made out of slides that glowed in the light, and classic records playing on the record player a step through the door.

“What sealed the deal for our friendship was that she was selling a children’s bib with a lobster on it, and when I wore it, I walked down Spring Street to show her the outfit and it brought us both so much joy” said Williams student Isabel Kuh ’23.

New shirts and hats made a show on the $5 rack outside, and those drawn into the store to look at a lamp or vintage jewelry would always end up staying a little longer than they expected, savoring the experience and chatting with the shop’s warmhearted owner.

‘In her short time on Spring Street, she illuminated my life with her generosity.’ — Salvador Robayo

Buxbaum passed away on October 29th in a car accident. “It is a very difficult loss for the community,” Kuh said. “She prioritized us through vintage and sharing her special space.”

The store became a haven for many students attracted to the shop’s creative collection, and people rarely left Buxbaum’s eclectic shop empty handed, as she would help them to find an item to pique their interest. Between her distinctively enormous clip-on earring collection that spread across the center table, or the timeless leather jackets that hung on the back rack, the store was vibrantly filled to the brim.

“Paula was always so full of love and kindness,” said Williams student Salvador Robayo ’23. “In her short time on Spring Street, she illuminated my life with her generosity.”

Community members left flowers and gifts in front of Buxbaum's storefront.
Ella Napack

Community members left flowers and gifts in front of Buxbaum's storefront.

Buxbaum opened the store in May in the Images storefront, realizing her childhood dream of owning a brick-and-mortar vintage shop. She had dedicated her life to supporting youth, and the store became an extension of this work for young artists and creatives in the Williamstown community.

She had been involved in youth advocacy for decades — she served as the director of the Special Advocates program for Berkshire Children and Families in Pittsfield, where she provided advocacy training for children in the juvenile court system. When living in Los Angeles, she was a regional volunteer coordinator for a K-12 program that brought education to children in homeless shelters.

In 2019, she became a director of the ROOTS Northern Berkshire Teen Center, and she carried this dedication to supporting youth to her storefront. She had also run an eBay vintage business for some 20 years before her store opened in Williamstown.

“The community has been great,” she said. “The college students love it, the high school students love it, and I love interacting with them. I can’t have that same interaction with them online.”

Many local teens and college students spent hours in her shop chatting with her and playing dress-up with her collection. The quirky store gave many a place for expression and even artistic inspiration, as many of the items in the shop were used in student art projects on campus — Kuh explained that Buxbaum was instrumental in hosting the student art show last year, and Buxbaum helped to create the art show Charm Bracelet that Kuh curated in October.

In an interview with By the Way Berkshires in June of 2021, Buxbaum explained how her dream came to be. “I have been in the nonprofit world for many years,” she said, “first in volunteer management, but I always loved vintage and always have had the dream of having this store.”

She loved the opportunity to bring her vintage collection to Spring Street.

“Even as a child, I was into antiquing and old things,” she said, “and then it grew into a passion for thrifting and second hand.”

The collection was unmistakably ‘Paula,’ filled with intriguing and distinctive items. She knew every piece in the store and spoke of them warmly, and treasured sharing pieces with the community even more.

“There was nothing better than visiting her on the weekend and sharing our love of clothes with each other,” Robayo said.

“It is a passion,” Buxbaum said, “but I can also call it a sickness that I can spot something on a rack or online and just know it is something I want for the store, or myself, or I’ll know it would look good on someone I know. It started with my older sister taking me to a store in Harvard square when I was 12. I bought an original sailors’ shirt and I thought it was just the coolest thing ever. I loved to dress differently than the other kids were dressing at the time, and it just sort of stuck.”

Buxbaum was inspired to move into a more permanent location on Spring Street after the initial success of her pop-up store, and she met this goal as she shifted from the shop’s temporary location in the Images storefront to the space next to Papa Charlie’s Deli in mid-October.

“It has been an amazing experience to have the store,” she said. “It has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t really know what to expect — it was an experiment. I want to continue this for the next 5 to 10 years.”

She was inspired by the enthusiasm of the college students, and the college students matched this appreciation for her.

“My favorite thing is when two people come in together and I just hear ‘ooh’ or “look at this,’” she said. “It just makes me laugh because it is so fun for me to share that excitement with them.”

Buxbaum brought care to each interaction she had with a visitor in her store—she often gave away a scarf or lace doily with any purchase, and she was known to give out free costume jewelry when she thought it would match their purchase well.

Students were drawn to her store not just for the incredible collection, but for the openhearted space she curated with ease.

“Everyone who talked about her was always blown away by her kindness,” said Kuh.

“Everyone who talked about her was always blown away by her kindness.’ — Isabel Kuh

Buxbaum was blown away by the youth of the community in turn, and she often effusively chatted about the creativity she witnessed. “I have seen kids coming in and wearing a nightgown to the prom, or a slip to an event, which is really fun to see.”

“There is a uniqueness to the styles of the current moment, like that sailor short I had when I was a kid,” Buxbaum said. “There is so much fluidity and gender fluidity going on, young people are just more comfortable in their own skin right now then I was at that age, and that is inspiring to me.”

Buxbaum dedicated much of her time to the artistic projects of students.

“She was there for anything I needed,” Kuh said. “She was very much about collecting people and connecting youth on campus to others who were doing creative pursuits.”

Buxbaum cultivated a community of youth artists and vintage fanatics around her storefront. Her friends and the students have been keeping her memory close over the past weeks, adding gifts and mementos to the dedication outside the door to her store.

Community members left flowers and gifts in front of Buxbaum's storefront.
Ella Napack

Community members left flowers and gifts in front of Buxbaum's storefront.

“I miss her a lot, Robayo said, “and Williamstown does too.”

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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