Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Business conditions improve on Elmwood

By I’Jaz Eberhardt and Dylan Sleight
Buffalo Review West Reporters
At a glance, one could understand why the Elmwood Village is often hailed as one of Buffalo’s hippest districts: an eclectic street lined with colorful storefronts, lively murals and A mix of visitors and residents can be seen on any given day.
In fact, it may be hard to believe that just a year ago, a visitor walking down Elmwood Avenue could see over 30 vacant storefronts in the same areas that appear vital and prosperous today.
This was indeed the case according to Ashley Smith, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association, who explained that the 17 percent vacancy rate in 2018 was nearly double the acceptable rate for a business district.
She praised the community’s efforts, however, to aid in Elmwood’s resurgence, noting improved communications among association business owners and residents.
 “I think we’re entering a new period for both this organization and the neighborhood with a different level of engagement,” she said.
The community has worked to address this issue within the past year by identifying several contributing factors to the village’s turnover and vacancy rates. The decline of brick and mortar stores on Elmwood mirrored the national scope of retail.
Data from Coresight Research shows that 2019 store closures are already predicted to exceed those of 2018. Within the past year, the nation has seen the demise of popular retailers like Toys “R” Us, Payless ShoeSource and Bon-Ton.
Online shopping has been significant in the market shift. Ten percent more people are likely to prefer shopping online than in-store for reasons such as special deals, product comparability and saving time, according to GoodFirms survey findings.

Ashley Smith, on the cost of doing business on Elmwood Avenue:

Smith explains that Elmwood business owners are finding ways to adapt to the digital shift.
“We’re seeing a lot more of our boutiques making sure they have online stores because even beyond that broader market, there are folks in the neighborhood who are shopping online versus necessarily going into the store,” she said.
An issue that has specifically impacted the Elmwood Village, however, is the move of Women and Children’s Hospital from 219 Bryant St. in 2016.
“I think the businesses there have felt the impact of Children’s Hospital closing,” said Buffalo Council Member Joel Feroleto. “When the hospital was there, you had hundreds of employees there that were in the area that would support businesses in the area.”
Another problem unique to Elmwood establishments, Feroleto explained, was a lack of representation.
“At the time, the Elmwood Village Association did not have any small business owners on their board of directors, so [the association] decided to step up,” he said.
In addition to securing positions on the Elmwood Village Association board, about 50 business owners formed their own alliance called Elmwood Strip. The organization puts faces and stories to the storefronts to familiarize visitors with business owners, many of who are natives to the area, Smith noted.
Cindi Thomason, senior business advisor at the SUNY Buffalo State Small Business Development Center, believes there could be larger issues that are pushing the economic climate of the Elmwood Village to its current predicament.
“A lot of it comes down to the property development types that bought a lot of the property on Elmwood,” Thomason said. “This is when it was getting pretty popular. It was really a lot more than a lot of small businesses could afford.”
            She attributed rent spikes and seasonal decreases in foot traffic as threats to Elmwood businesses.
            Thomason cited dining as another area of business that had been affected, but she insists that shops and boutiques are still at the forefront of the larger issue.
“A lot of people think restaurants are the hardest businesses, but I really think basic retail, right now, is the hardest business,” Thomason said.
            Feroleto noted that the Elmwood Village Association has been working to identify the types of businesses that would be supported in the area based on community need and square footage, a process he describes as “proactive” instead of “reactive.” A growing public art scene, funding through state grants and private investments, and events organized by the Elmwood Strip are other factors he contributes to Elmwood’s regeneration.
            “I’m very happy with what’s been happening on Elmwood,” he said. “There have been nine new businesses that have opened or announced openings recently.”
            With events like the holiday tree lighting and a three-day Oktoberfest celebration last year, Feroleto believes Elmwood’s businesses will continue to encourage community involvement, which will, in turn, boost retail.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Olmsted Parks bike tour gets rolling soon

            The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is gearing up for its fourth  Saturday West Side Bike Tour 2019.
            The tour will kick off May 25 and will continue every fourth Saturday from June 22 through  Aug. 24.
            The tour will start at the Rich Products parking lot, Breckenridge and Niagara streets and will include stops at Days Park, Symphony Circle and Front Park. Each tour will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.     
            Zhi Ting Phua, marketing communications specialist at Olmsted Parks, cited the presence of several Olmsted landscapes, such as Front Park and Days Park, as a reason why the tours are held on the West Side. She said this event helps community engagement with both tour attendees and local partner organizations.
            “Learning and discovering Buffalo’s Olmsted landscapes on your bike is a unique experience, especially since you have the opportunity to ride on the historic tree-lined parkways,” she said. “This event helps educate and increase awareness of Frederick Law Olmsted’s legacy in Buffalo.”
            Each of the four tour dates is capped at 15 attendees. Ting Phua said the conservancy is hoping for at least 40 attendees overall for the bike tour this year.
            Tickets for all tour dates are $10 each and can be purchased on the Olmsted Parks website. By Zach Rohde and Nick Lukasik

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Forest Lawn wildlife oasis ready in June

 Forest Lawn Cemetery is home to an array of wildlife, such as fish, ducks, geese and many deer, including a rare albino doe. The cemetery is collaborating with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper to create an environmental oasis for both wildlife and people to enjoy. New trees are being planted around the Waterkeeper oasis for the opening in June. The oasis is located on the north end of the cemetery near the Scajaquada Creek. By Brittany Edward and Kaitlyn Mayrose

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Farmers markets set summer sale schedule

            As the cold weather subsides, farmers will begin to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables to sell to local residents at farmers markets.       
            Joann Tomasulo, marketing and owner services manager of Lexington Co-op, described the advantages of getting produce directly from local farmers as opposed to shopping at supermarkets.
            “I think the advantage is that people get to meet the people behind the food,” she said, “and it gives the farmer that direct money so that they don’t have to go through a middle man.”
            As warmer weather approaches, keep an eye out for these farmers markets that will be operating on the West Side:
            Elmwood Village Farmers Market, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Saturdays beginning May 11, Elmwood Avenue at Bidwell Parkway
            • Downtown Country Market, 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning May 28, Main Street between Court and Church streets
            Also, pop-up farmers markets will be hosted throughtout the summer at the Horsefeathers Building, 346 Connecticut St. The Massachusetts Avenue Project’s  mobile market will go on the road beginning in June. MAP takes products from its farm to locations through the city, providing opportunities for every neighborhood to take part in healthier eating habits.
            The Lexington Co-op’s location at 1678 Hertel Ave., will operate a farmers market in its parking lot from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on May 16. By I’Jaz Eberhardt and Dylan Sleight

Businesses react to minimum wage hike

Dakota Follis-Ziarko, manager of Second Chic

By Brittany Edward and Kaitllyn Mayrose
Buffalo Review West Reporters 
            Employees are elated for the increase of minimum wage going into effect in New York State this year. However, there are employers who have expressed concerns as they determine how to keep their small businesses afloat.
            As of Dec. 31, 2018, minimum wage inNew York State, increased from $10.40 to $11.10 per hour. This is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  On Dec. 31, 2019, minimum wage is set to increase to $11.80 per hour.
            Minimum wage is the lowest wage permitted by law that a worker may be paid. This has been a controversial subject for many years.
            There have been many arguments for the increase, which people say is necessary because it would reduce poverty and help economic growth. The arguments made against the increase have come from the views of minimum wage being only a supplemental wage for families, not a career wage.
            The hospitality industry is the second largest employment industry in the United States. With the minimum wage increasing many small businesses and restaurants have been negatively affected.
            Many small businesses and restaurants on the West Side have been forced to undergo changes due to the increase.
            Guercio & Sons Inc., 250 Grant St., had to change its business hours from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and cut a few positions. Vinny Guercio, manager, is against the increase because it is damaging to small businesses.
            “It’s like a disappointment. I can’t keep raising my prices and hope customers come in because we are known for our low prices,” Guercio said.    
            Another business that has been negatively affected by the increase is Nick’s Place, 504 Amherst St. Peter Ananiadis, manager, said the increase has hurt, not only the restaurant, but also its employees.
            Ananiadis says that the problem is not the increase itself, it’s the increase in cost for the rest of the staff.
            “We’re not like a produce place, you can’t just raise prices… When your prices go up, it hurts a lot of restaurants,” Ananiadis said. “This is why people get laid off, or their hours get cut, because the restaurant still needs to take money for themselves.”
            In 2016, legislation was passed that would bring the minimum wage in upstate New York up to $12.50 per hour by Dec. 31, 2020. New York state Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, voted for minimum wage increases multiple times.
            Kennedy said that the increase makes it clear that New York state values all of its workers. He said unemployment in Buffalo, and all of Upstate New York, has continued to drop due to the steady increase in the minimum wage for three years.
            “For years, the minimum wage failed to keep up with inflation, forcing many workers to work 50, 60 or more than 70 hours per week, just to keep the lights on and put food on the table,” Kennedy said.
            Kennedy continues to defend his stance on the increase of minimum wage by mentioning how unemployment continues to drop and Buffalo-Niagara’s economy is doing better than it has in decades.
            “The fact is that hard work deserves a fair pay, and that is what we are ensuring,” Kennedy said.
            Second Chic, 810 Elmwood Ave., is a small consignment store. Unlike Guercio & Sons Inc. and Nick’s Place, Second Chic did not have to adjust business hours and employee schedules due to the minimum wage increase.
            Dakota Follis-Ziarko, manager, said the increase will continue to have an impact on small businesses.
            “Unfortunately, it affects small businesses more than it does affect corporate businesses,” Follis-Ziarko said.

Follis-Ziarko, on minimum wage increase effect on small business:
            Follis-Ziarko defended small businesses and suggests that small businesses  should receive more tax breaks.
            “I feel the balance should be different, because they’re bettering the community and they’re bringing jobs to the community,” Follis-Ziarko said.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Avengers set to increase comic book sales

According to Stephen Floyd, owner of Gutter Pop Comics, sales in his store around the time of comic book movie releases tend to be hit or miss, dependent on the movie. With the recent release of projected box-office sensation “Avengers: Endgame,” logic would suggest comic book stores would see an uptick in sales. Floyd cited an increase in the sale of “Black Panther” comics when the movie came out, but when “Dr. Strange” was released there was almost no interest in those comics. Floyd thinks the movies help general awareness, but more could be done. “I definitely think that the movies get people interested in comics, but those companies need to do a little bit more to capitalize on that. The synergy isn't there as much as it could be,” Floyd said. Gutter Pop Comics, 1028 Elmwood Ave., is one of the many comic book stores participating in Free Comic Book Day, a national promotion to bring new readers into independent comic book stores, May 4. By Nick Lukasik and Zach Rohde

Saturday, April 27, 2019

WS kitchen makes a healthy 'difference'

Lucille Altieri at work in The Difference Kitchen
By Kim-Moi Chin and Jahziel Delgado 
Buffalo Review West Reporters
            Lucille Altieri grew up working in her father’s restaurant Fat Franks, near the University at Buffalo. Admiring his hands-on philosophy, customer hospitality and his love of being in the kitchen, Altieri has taken those values and created a vision for herself by opening her own restaurant.
           The Difference Kitchen, 272 Hudson St., opened in December 2018 and has been a years-long project in the making for Altieri, a veteran to the dining industry.
Altieri on owners being involved in their business:
            A West Side native, Altieri is a SUNY Buffalo State alumna with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She began teaching in schools around the city and while at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, 315 Carolina St., a student whose father owned the Hudson Street building informed her that there was available space for rent. Altieri saw an opportunity to fulfill her vision of opening an authentic and inexpensive restaurant in the area she has long called home.
            “Being a resident here, I saw the need for what I’m doing,” Altieri said.
            Her menu draws inspiration from the diversity of the West Side. Being of Italian descent, she not only adds her cultural flavor to the menu, but also flavors from the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central America; all cultures that  contribute to the diversity of the neighborhoods she grew up in and where her restaurant currently resides.
            Altieri’s accommodations for different ethnic and economic factors were heavily influenced by the lifestyles of the population surrounding The Difference Kitchen.
            A study conducted by Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based organization partnered with Cornell Buffalo, shows that with the exception of popular districts like the Elmwood Village and Allentown, the West Side is more racially diverse and has higher rates of poverty and unemployment than other areas in Buffalo.       
            With this in mind, Altieri and her kitchen aimed to put a dent in the idea that unhealthy fast food choices are the only affordable food options in the area.
            She admitted that accessibility to healthy food is scarce in low-income neighborhoods, which is why her menu’s pricing reflects her goal of providing nutritious options for nearby residents.
            “It was very important that anyone could eat here if they had a couple dollars in their pocket,” Altieri said.
            Her preparation process reflects the health-conscious ideals that are rooted in the restaurant. She takes pride in making sure her food is fresh with no artificial ingredients or gluten.
            “There’s nothing in my kitchen that has preservatives except for mayonnaise,” she said. “Everything else I make comes from ingredients from the ground; from a plant, from a bean, from a meat. There’s nothing fake about what I do.”
            Nicholas Gonsalves, the current sous-chef at The Difference Kitchen, is part of the two-person staff along with Altieri. Coming over from Altieri’s previous restaurant, Presto!, formerly on 59 Allen St., Gonsalves has developed both personal and professional admiration and respect for her.
            “Lucille is a wonderful person as well as a wonderful business person,” Gonsalves said. “She is here to make money, make people happy, and do it at a good price point. All that together is a wonderful combination.”
            Altieri can be found in the restaurant during business hours. She adopted the ideal of making herself available to her customers and community from her father.
            She wants customers to know they are not getting a fake experience, and that is what puts the difference in The Difference Kitchen.
            “The difference is caring; you don’t see a lot of it,” she said. “It’s the realness. I’m trying to keep it as real as possible and I think that’s what makes a difference and I think people miss that.”