Of all the buildings on Binghamton’s Main Street, one of them certainly sticks out. Tom’s Coffee Cards & Gifts, with its eccentric pink and blue exterior, is one of a kind.
The store’s interior only further entices those who choose to enter, with its unconventional styling and colorful decorations. The smell of coffee and handcrafted soap fill the air as you wander through endless aisles of diverse varieties. From glass-blown figurines to unique jewelry, comical pins, delicious sweet treats and beautiful prom gowns — there is something for anyone and everyone.
The cozy and eccentric feel of the shop is unique and a reflection of both Binghamton and the shop’s owner, Tom Kelleher, who opened the store in 1982. Kelleher’s entrepreneurial spirit shone through at a young age, as he involved himself in antiquing and reselling at the age of 9. Following this path, Kelleher opened the gift shop when he was just 25 years old.
“I like form, design and color — and that’s what my store really is,” Kelleher said.
This inclination toward artistic design is clear from the eclectic collection of jewelry and interesting pottery lining the shelves, the unique socks and even the creations that Kelleher finds from his travels around the country. More than just a gift shop, Tom’s is a museum in itself, showing off a myriad of spectacularly unorthodox designs and giving people a chance to support talented American artists.
Kelleher’s initial vision for the shop was to include a variety of gourmet coffee and crafts, a concept ahead of its time.
“Gourmet coffees were way ahead of the curve,” Kelleher said. “There were no Starbucks. There were no gourmet coffee stores.”
While the shop today is stocked with a vast variety of artistic and unique items Tom’s customers know and love, they are considerably different from its initial stages 41 years ago. At the time, Tom’s only sold work from three craftspeople, along with teas, spices, and some lotions and soaps. Still, the overall idea of the store remains the same as it was over four decades ago.
When describing his original store, Kelleher gestured around, stating “the whole store was about this size,” in reference to his small back office — less than a quarter of the size of the store now.
The idea for a distinctive, one-of-a-kind shop was there — Kelleher just needed to create a sturdy foundation for growth. There have been some personal touches and changes encouraged by the community that has made Tom’s what it is today. Not only was the shop smaller when Kelleher started out, with fewer varieties of items, but it had a different name entirely, starting off as the Main Street Coffee, Tea and Spice Shop.
It wasn’t long before the shop became known as Tom’s by word of mouth, since the original name didn’t stick. Calling the shop Tom’s was not Kelleher’s initial intention.
“I didn’t really like that because it seems a little egotistical to me to name a store after yourself,” Kelleher said.
A few years into owning the store, however, Kelleher decided to get an awning installed and realized that, at $5 a letter, the shop’s initial name was way too long. In an effort to save money, and stay true to the community, the store was officially renamed. This change was certainly embraced by his customers, who had been referring to the shop as “Tom’s” since its conception simply because Kelleher and his whimsical shop were such prominent structures within their community.
The renaming of the shop is only one example of the shop’s larger, overarching theme of community engagement and connection. Kelleher knows all of the artists that provide their one-of-a-kind designs for his shop personally, having sought out craftspeople to work with and maintaining personal relationships with them over the years. Some of the crafts in the shop are made by local artists in Broome County, others are made by people out in Tucson, Arizona or Washington, D.C. Some of the artists, whose vibrant and intriguing creations are on display, have been working with Kelleher since the 1980s — when the shop first opened.
Kelleher emphasized the importance of the community in the development of his shop as well. He explained that customer reactions and behavior have informed how he stocks his shop. More than just a reflection of Kelleher’s own appreciation for interesting artwork, Tom’s mirrors its customers’ interests and preferences.
“Our connection to the community here is essential to our business and essential to my life,” Kelleher said. “It’s just who I am.”
This shop is a little piece of artwork in and of itself, and it certainly reflects Binghamton’s residents’ appreciation for creativity and the hard work of craftspeople. From the warm lighting of the sun passing through glass creations to the small jokes on the socks on the store’s shelves, there is something for everyone in this cozy shop. Located just a short drive from Binghamton University’s campus, a visit is certainly worth the hours one can spend just wandering the bends of the small slice of paradise that is Tom’s.