ELMA, N.Y. - Mark Andol has one requirement for the products he stocks at his retail store: They have to be made in America - 100 percent, from product to packaging.
So not only is the maple syrup tapped from U.S. trees, but it's also bottled in U.S.-made containers. Toys are shrink-wrapped in American-made plastic, clothing and American flags stitched with homegrown thread.
Everything is displayed on American-made hangers and shelving in a converted, closed Ford dealership.
"It's what I've always believed in," said Andol, whose Made in America Store in a Buffalo suburb drew 800 customers on opening day two months ago, including war veterans eager to shake his hand.
The idea has caught on so quickly that Andol is already in franchising discussions, with visions of having a store in every state.
"I've had so many people say they'd never felt so American before," said Andol, 43, his T-shirt bearing the store's motto: "Save our Country First."
The idea grew out of Andol's other business, General Welding & Fabricating, which he began in his father's garage in 1985. The business expanded to a four-location manufacturing operation before losing a big account to a Chinese competitor and seeing sales drop off in the recession.
While closing two facilities, laying off workers and reading up on overseas competition, Andol saw the appeal of an entirely U.S.-centered business.
"I feel for the blue-collar worker," Andol said.
That a store selling strictly American-made products is a novelty troubles David Gonsiorek of East Aurora, who said he made a point to buy American whenever possible and taught his 10- and 12-year-old daughters to do the same.
"It just shows you the state we're in now," said Gonsiorek, the son of a former steelworker, as he browsed a toy display at the store last week. "This is a specialty store in our own country. I think it's a good idea. I'm sorry that it had to come to this point."
Andol, who gives veterans a 5 percent discount, knows of no other retailer who goes so far to feature U.S.-made goods. He ensures that even the display shelving and racks fit the bill by fabricating them at General Welding, which also makes fire pits, grills, and other items sold at the store.
Outside vendors have to sign a letter of authenticity guaranteeing their items are entirely made in this country before he will sell their products. The Federal Trade Commission requires "virtually all" of the product to be of U.S. origin to carry the Made in USA claim, but that doesn't go far enough for Andol.
He said the hardest part of finding merchandise to add to his inventory of Okabashi sandals, Texas jeans, and the like is the research.
Even well-meaning vendors can slip, like the one who slid decorative signs into protective plastic sleeves that were made elsewhere. The sleeves were quickly replaced, Andol said.
While Andol's store seems to have struck a chord, retailers as a whole have not seen a measurable preference for American-made products among shoppers, according to the National Retail Federation. Generally, price and quality have more influence than where a product was made, said Erik Autor, the federation's vice president and international trade counsel.
"There may be individuals for whom that's an important consideration," he said, "but as a general matter that's not really what drives American consumers and their buying behavior."