At least 125 years ago, Samuel Cristall began
selling thread to tailors and small clothing manufacturers
in the Queen City. Today, his great-grandsons continue his
legacy with the much-expanded S. M. Cristall Co.
Based on Kenmore Avenue in Buffalo, S. M. Cristall Co.
distributes sewing and embroidery thread and supplies
to companies across the Northeast. Its inventory includes
all types of industrial thread, tailoring and alteration
supplies, needles, pins, and some of the textile industry’s
top brands, like Velcro and YKK, which manufactures
more than half of the zippers used worldwide. Meanwhile,
its customers run the gamut from small businesses to
big-name companies like New Era, Land’s End, Eddie Bauer,
And it all started in 1893 with one savvy Buffalo
“Thanks to the loyalty of a lot of our customers, we’ve
The boys’ mother, Virginia Cristall Kaufman, took
been able to keep our business going for a long time,” says
owner Gary Kaufman, who runs the operation with his
brother, Jeffrey Kaufman. “It’s a challenging environment
today in the textile industry. Over ninety percent of the
apparel manufacturing that was done in the United States
is now overseas, so you have a limited customer base to try
to grow your business. It’s a challenge, but it’s an exciting
Samuel Cristall ran the business until he was
diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1930s, and his son—Gary
and Jeff’s grandfather—Sheridan Millard Cristall took over.
Providing the name for the present-day company, Sheridan
grew the business by becoming an independent sales rep
for many major suppliers in the industry.
ownership in 1977 and continues to stay involved today.
Gary came into the organization in 1989, and Jeff joined
five years later.
“Originally, I was going to school to be a dentist,”
Gary recalls. “The company was ninety-six years old, and I
thought, ‘A family supporting itself for ninety-six years is
pretty amazing. It’s so close to a hundred—I gotta see what
In the early 1990s, Gary re-established distribution
contracts for key product lines and diversified into new
areas, including embroidery, which turned out to be a
fortuitous move as many manufacturers began moving
“All of a sudden, all these manufacturers were shifting
So, what’s the S. M. Cristall secret for 125 years of
their business over to China and any place else they could
find cheap labor. We had to reinvent ourselves,” Gary says.
“Industrial embroidery requires a quick turnaround, and
with business casual, everyone was wearing their company
logo on a shirt. I got us a distributorship for a company
called Robison-Anton, which is a US manufacturer of
Ten years ago, the business expanded again with
the acquisition of a Chicago-based company, that was
rebranded Cristall Thread & Supply and now serves as the
base of the company’s Midwest operations and accounts
for two-thirds of sales.
success? The current generation credits their commitment
to quality products and one-on-one customer service—for
“We’re lucky to have a grandfather who was a smart,
successful man, so we learned old school,” says Jeff
Kaufman. “What’s kept us around so long is being able
to take care of the customer the right way, knowing that
you’re not going to press one for this, two for this—we pick
up. We’re there.”
Jeff continues, “Whether you buy one cone of thread
or a million cones of thread, you get treated the same.”
B Y MATTHE W BIDDLE