Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Custard Corner welcomes the summer crowd

The warmer weather means the time has come for ice cream. Amber Rivera of Custard Corner & Grill scoops up one of the first cones for a customer on a Sunday afternoon in May. The custard stand, owned by husband and wife Mike and Rene Wolasz for over 30 years has been a favorite of many on the Lower West Side. Both are longtime West Side residents. “We have regulars every week. It’s a tradition on the West Side coming here,” Mike said. The custard stand, at Porter Avenue and 7th Street,  is open from April to September. The establishment is known for being crowded on sunny days. “Sunny is money,” Mike said. Along with homemade custards and Perry’s ice cream, customers can get their hamburger and hotdog fix. The custard stand, close to D’Youville College, offers discounts to all college students with IDs. By Christopher Baggs and Neseemah Coleman

Lil’ Libraries coming to a corner near you

Two West Side locations have been chosen for Little Free Library boxes, a project of the Buffalo Architecture Foundation. You can expect to see one outside of the Grant Street Neighborhood Center, 271 Grant St. and the other outside West Side Community Services, 161 Vermont St. Matthew Etu of the foundation discusses the purpose of this free-book reading project. By Zachary Huk and Terrance Young

Urban Roots offers Asian, African plants

Urban Roots Garden Center, located at the corner of Rhode Island and Brayton streets, will provide specialized Asian and African heirloom vegetables, free from genetic modification, to cater specifically to its surrounding community. Providing immigrants and refugees, who make up much of the neighborhoods’ population, with foods and spices they would have only had access to in their native countries. Urban Roots also offers a variety of free workshops for all levels of experience in horticulture. These workshops are hosted in conjunction with Grassroots Gardens Buffalo, the organization that facilitates community gardening, said Urban Roots General Manager Patti Jablonski-Dopkin. Urban Roots is a co-op gardening center, established over 10 years ago by a small group of friends looking to improve their community. By Marcus Darby and Makeda Singletary

Boys & Men of Color reaches W.S. youth

Boys & Men of Color offers an opportunity to teenagers and others an opportunity to be mentored and supported. Created in April 2013, the organization work with Say Yes Buffalo across Buffalo but has a specific mission on the West Side to work with  young Latino and refugee men. Boys & Men of Color’s purpose is to educate, guide and provide a safe haven for young men of color who aren’t receiving it anywhere else. It is a goal to make sure the young men go as far as college and then eventually become mentors in the program themselves. The group meets every Saturday at t Lafayette High School with students from multiple schools. By Tiffany Channer and Kai Lewis

Friday, May 18, 2018

FHA buyers losing out to cash on West Side

By Tara Hark and Max Wagner
Bengal News West Reporters
A new family searches Buffalo for a perfect home to start their lives in, finding one sitting on the corner of Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue. They go to the bank and to their excitement, they’re approved for a Federal Housing Administration loan and are right on their way to a brand-new house and life on the West Side.
But sitting on the lawn is a big red sold sign, signaling that the house was purchased before that family even got the chance to step foot on the sidewalk. The buyer gave a cash offer, trumping the FHA buyer and leaving them once again searching for their home. 
Realtor Naomi Lasco
This situation has been problematic for FHA buyers all over the West Side.
“Cash will just come in, put a lower offer in, maybe asking price, take it as is, and call it a day,” said Naomi Lasco, a West Side real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty and West Side resident. “In a situation where there are several offers on a house; FHA offers are always at the bottom. Cash most always wins, because it’s quick, up front, and involves much less work for the seller. There’s no appraisal, no inspection, just some paperwork.”
Lasco, on the impact of cash real-estate deals:
This problem is rampant on the West Side for an FHA buyer because the homes are generally older and in need of renovations. Sellers are choosing cash buyers because they don’t want to pay for all the repairs required, real estate agents say.
“The reason why FHA or conventional loans are not as desirable to sellers is because they have a reputation for nitpicking houses and requiring them to do certain repairs in order for the buyer to get approved for the loan to buy the property,” said Lee Tringali, Metro Real Estate agent and investor on the West Side.
Besides FHA buyers being shut out of the market, cash buyers can be problematic for renters on the West Side.
Lasco explains a history of cash buyers neglecting their obligations to the tenants of their properties and squeezing as much value out of the home without putting in work.
“A lot of the time cash buyers are not occupiers, they are investors. So, then we run into sometimes having people who do not maintain the property, and just keep it as is or it deteriorates,” said Lasco.
The issue of neglectful landlords in Buffalo was so expansive that the city implemented the Rental Registration Program in 2005 to specifically identify problem properties, absentee landlords, and the quality of life for Buffalo tenants.
“We have many, many out of town landlords, and it is a problem. Some are even out of the country,” said Sam Fanara, director of rental registration for the City of Buffalo.
Lasco mentioned her own neighbors on Congress Street, who are Somalian, Burmese, and from Sudan, who all rent from an absentee landlord. The tenants were bringing out cupboards filled with water due to poor plumbing and roofing issues.
“Renters need to know their rights, and be able to voice them, which is difficult when there is a language barrier,” said Lasco.
Both City Hall and realtors explained that although the issue exists, it has improved in recent years.
The West Side property value has increased exponentially in the past few years, reducing the negligence of out of town owners, Tringali said
“A lot of the buyers are people who want to live there, and they take care of their property as such. People in New York, the younger generation love the West Side, and are willing to pay for it,”  Tringali said.


Baseball, softball leagues need coaches

The West Side Boys Baseball and Girls Ponytail Softball leagues are looking for coaches and umpires for the start of their season.
The first games are on June 2.
League organizer Tovie Asarese says the experience of coaching is worthwhile.
“It’s a great experience for everyone involved,” Asarese says. “It’s been hard to get coaches. Many don’t want to come forward and spend time with the kids during the summer.”
Along with baseball and softball, the West Side leagues also offer T-ball for 6- and 7-year olds. Ages for all leagues range from six to 18 and are played at LaSalle Park. League play extends until 31
Asarese can be reached at 885-7692 regarding interest in coaching or umpiring for the upcoming season.
Asarese, 89, has been involved with West Side youth sports since 1953, when he first coached boys baseball. He is a member of the Great Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’ve always enjoyed amateur sports more than professional sports. It’s a truer sport. Just going out there and playing,” Asarese says. “I probably should have retired a long time ago, but I enjoy working with the kids in this area.” By Chris Baggs and Neseemah Coleman

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Biking making a path in Buffalo’s culture

By Marcus Darby
Bengal News West Reporter

As you drive down Elmwood Avenue, you might notice the presence of a huge cyclist culture. Blue bike racks decorate each block and even the ones outside of coffee shops have sometimes three or four bikes locked in them. As you turn down Lafayette Avenue and reach the intersection with Grant Street, you’ll also see a row of red bikes lined up for rent.
All over the area you’ll notice sharrows and green bike lanes that make a way for cyclists to safely travel. This is when you realize it’s just as popular to ride a bike as it is to drive a car.
         The cycling culture is becoming a huge trend in cities all over America and leaders are making it easier and safer for those who choose it as their primary means of transportation.
Buffalo is becoming the latest city to make the adjustments, in an effort to attract the younger demographic to the city.
Cycling has become a huge trend in the area over the past decade. The city has made the roads and neighborhoods more bicycle friendly.
Not only do these changes promote the culture of cycling but it makes the city more eco-friendly too.

Kowalik, on the growing popularity of biking in the city:

“The city has definitely done a lot to make the roads safer for cyclists,” said Jenn Kowalik, manager at Campus Wheelworks. “We are all really excited about the plans the city has come out with.”
Bike lanes and sharrows have been installed throughout the city to promote awareness to motor vehicle drivers that the road is to be shared with cyclists.
Sharrows are simply decals on the road as opposed to bike lanes, which give cyclists their own lane of traffic which they can safely travel on.
In the summer and fall seasons there are numerous events that cater to the cycling community such as the Slow Roll and smaller community events that involve physical fitness and more.
Bikes for rent on Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue
Rick Cycle Shop, 55 Allen St., has been involved in the growth of community events.
“We help plan and hold numerous events that include cycling such as women only events as well as numerous charity events,” said Tom Azzarella, manager.
Events like these attract people to the cycling culture. In fact, that is one of the goals for another local bike shop.
Campus Wheelworks located at 744 Elmwood Ave., is also an important catalyst in the cyclists’ culture on the West Side.
“We definitely want to promote the cycling culture. The community events we hold help people realize that there are groups in the area they can join in on,” Kowalik said.
Campus Wheelworks is looking to expand the cycling trend further into the West Side with plans to build a new facility on Niagara Street to create a safer environment for cyclists in the lower West Side.
Bike lanes and sharrows on Niagara Street
“The new building is an addition to the Wheelworks family. There is a lot of misinformation regarding that, but the Elmwood location will remain open,” she said.
Niagara Street is a wider road, which makes adding protected bike lanes easier for the city without squeezing traffic as opposed to Elmwood Avenue, where the space is limited and adding actual bike lanes may be impossible without making significant changes to the area.
The cyclists culture has become an integral part of the West Side neighborhoods. No matter what culture, religion, or ethnicity you identify with cycling has brought them all together.

Local artist talks street artwork scene

Buffalo-based artist Vincent Alejandro talks about his push to have street art become a more accepted form of expression in the local area. Members of the community have been receptive to the few murals that exist, however misunderstandings between what is street art and the traditional views of graffiti have led to a disconnect.  “As soon as you say graffiti, it gets a negative thing in people’s mind. As far as street art; street art was kind of an it was an attempt to bring graffiti into the forefront with a different label,” Alejandro said. “There are so many walls here that scream for it.” Even cities as nearby as Rochester are more accepting of street art, providing designated areas, or “free-walls,” where artists can go and create street art without fear of breaking the law. By Terra Harter and Ben Hauver

Friday, May 11, 2018

Police see big improvement on West Side

Patrol beats may be a thing of the past, but police commitment to the community is continuous. Areas like Grant Street have been subject to crime over the years, but according to Buffalo police, the neighborhood is improving. “It has gotten progressively better over the years,” said Police Chief Joseph Gramaglia, who oversees the B-district, on the West Side. While budget constraints implemented in 2003 directly impacted the decline in police beat walking, new efforts were made on behalf of the force to engage the community in more personal, effective ways, resulting in a positive impact. Captain Steve Nichols, a West Side native, is confident in the direction the community is headed. “Our focus has been to get out and engage the community. We know the only way to make it safe is to partner with the community,” Nichols said. By Chris Baggs and Neseemah Coleman

Big crowd expected for Buffalo Pride Week

         The annual Buffalo and Western New York Pride Week, the cultural event of the season,  will begin late next month with an expected attendance rate upwards of 30,000, 10  times the amount since the festival’s move to Canalside in 2011. 
Pride Week preparations are well underway with the flag raising ceremony kicking off the festivities on May 29.
Other events include the Gay 5k on May 30, the Dyke March on June 2, and concludes with the Pride Parade and Pride Festival on June 3.  The Pride Parade has over 100 organizations participating in support of their LGBTQ community. Starting at SUNY Buffalo State campus at noon, the parade stretches over two miles down Elmwood Avenue and ends on Allen Street.
            With such a large number of attendees, festival goers will have to pay a $10 fee to enter the final event taking place at Canalside.
“When you're seeing all over the country people with bombs and driving into crowds, it makes security more expensive because we have to protect the participants.,” Mordecai said.
Mordecai also warns, bags will not be permitted into the venue for security reasons.
Dating back to the early 1970s, Pride Week has been a beacon of acceptance. Damian Mordecai, executive director of the Pride Center of Western New York, attributes the growth in popularity of the week to this region.
         “Stuff that happens here doesn't happen in other cities, it really does say a lot about this area,” Mordecai said. By Tara Hark and Max Wagner

Best time to rent is around the corner

The best time of the year for renters to move into the City of Buffalo is right around the corner.
With most colleges ending during the month of May most apartments become available around June 1.
This is the perfect time of year to move into the city of Buffalo and its surrounding areas, according to Jill Greco the co-owner of Greco Rentals LLC.
 “What people don’t know is that the beginning of the summer, in the months of June and July, are the best months to move in. Lots of students are heading home for the summer which causes us to have a lot of our clients’ apartments available during the early summer months,” Greco says.
 Because there are several colleges that border on the West Side such as SUNY Buffalo State and D’Youville, Canisus and Medaille colleges, there are several apartments becoming available after the semester is over.
 Greco Rentals is a management company that helps property owners with the showing, screening and leasing of their apartments to suitable tenants. Greco clients’ properties are located across the West Side from Potomac Avenue  across from Chapin Parkway to Richmond Avenue and Summer Street.  By Zachary Huk and Terrance Young

Bidwell Market readies for its 20th year

Five Points Bakery items ready for Bidwell Market

          Elmwood Avenue will get a little more colorful as local vendors prepare their fresh fruits, vegetables and bakery items for the reopening of the Elmwood Village Farmers Market’s 20th season.
The market opens at 8 a.m., May 12 at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway.
The market will take place every Saturday from 8.a.m. to 1.p.m. until Nov. 24., rain or shine.
            Among the approximate 40 vendors expected to be a part of the market, Five Points Bakery will be making its return after a three-year hiatus. After stepping away to renovate their new location at 44 Brayton St., owner Kevin Gardener and his family are excited to rejoin the market.
            “We missed being at the market,” Gardener said. “It’s fun, it’s like a party every weekend.”
            The market allows for attendees to choose from a variety of locally sourced produce and baked goods. In addition, it provides a chance to introduce people to a wide range of local sellers, which boosts the local economy.
            “For us, local just makes sense,” Gardener said. “I have a connection right to where the products are coming from. These are people in my community, spending the money that I’m spending back into the same community. It makes the local economy work. It makes sense.”
          The market will also feature yoga classes, art and live music. By Terra Harter and Ben Hauver

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Property costs soaring on the West Side

By Chris Baggs and Neseemah Coleman
Bengal News West Reporters
The sun sets on Elmwood Avenue on an early spring day, behind the budding trees bustling sidewalks. Many can be attracted to the city’s West Side, with its 19th century homes, vibrant neighborhoods and diverse shopping areas.
But for some like 31-year old Ryan Cox, who is looking for investment property on the West Side, buying property can be frustrating. Prices are increasing, and inventory is low.
“It’s not going well,” Cox said.
“I’ve been ushered away from the West Side. People are coming in with huge offers – big cash offers – raising the prices.”
The Elmwood Village and Allentown districts are in demand for homes right now and with the summer months fast approaching, the market will only get busier and make home buying difficult.
“What we’re finding right now is a lot of people want to be in the Elmwood Village. It’s an appealing area right now for buyers,” said William Abels, HUNT licensed real estate salesman.
Abels has been handling real estate with the West Side for five years now.
“There’s a lack of inventory and high demand. Prices are increasing on the West Side of Buffalo and people are starting to look for the next closest options. It’s like a train stop – Elmwood – Black Rock – Riverside,” Abels said.
The main problem for the West Side’s low home ownership, seems to be those lack of homes opening up on the market. According to the Census Bureau's Housing Vacancies and Homeownership report , the Buffalo-Niagara region’s homeownership rate fell to its second-lowest total in 25 years in 2017.
As a result, prices are increasing for potential homeowners. The West Side is experiencing this as well, said Mark DiGiampaola, MJ Peterson licensed real estate agent.
“Prices are escalating into areas we never thought we would see.  It’s making it tough on first time buyers over there,” DiGiampaola said.

DiGiampaola, on homeownership:
Buffalo had a 39.6 percent decrease of overall home inventory since February of last year, according to Business InSider, which detailed the fall of home ownership rates elsewhere across the country.
With the city witnessing a growth in retail and restaurants, the West Side is more attractive to live. However, to live in the city’s West Side, will come at a cost to a potential homeowner’s pockets.
The high demand for property in the area is taking its toll on those people looking for places to rent, too.
Khalid Ahmed looking for an apartment

“Yes, honestly the places I’ve been looking at on the West Side aren’t worth the price,” said Khalid Ahmed, a potential renter, who has been living on the city’s West Side for over seven years. “I don’t think renters have a chance. It’s not just home buyers. Current tenants are smart and will extend their lease if it’s a decent home. Finding a place is difficult for renters too,” Ahmed said.
Even though price has been a stumbling block, there might be other factors deterring home owners away from the West Side. One of them is the fear of crime. Cox agrees.
“It’s a real thing. There’s gang activity. For me, I never truly felt unsafe. I maybe have been lucky never to have experienced the crime myself but I’m sure it’s happening to others,” Cox said.
The popular local Facebook page, “I am a Product of the West Side of Buffalo,” routinely has people voicing frustration over pricing for West Side homes and fear of crime.
Both Abels and DiGiampaola say that the current prices will likely be the norm from now on and that prices will be going up as long as the inventory remains low.
For potential home buyers, price and lack of available property is a real concern with the West Side.

Tattoos find more acceptance on West Side

Sweet_Ness 7 barista Julianna Turtone wears her art on her sleeve.
By Terra Harter and Ben Hauver
Bengal News West Reporters
Located on the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Grant Street, Sweet_Ness 7 Cafe’s vibrant exterior welcomes everyone with painted swirls and stars of yellow and white, giving a taste of what to expect while walking in for your fresh cup of joe.
The first thing you might notice is the chatter of people mixed with the intoxicating scent of freshly ground coffee beans filling the room. Hardwood floors and a variety of old and new décor create a cozy, one-of-a-kind atmosphere. 
While choosing a drink from the extensive chalkboard-written menu, the vibrancy of the interior extended to the arms of the barista who proudly displays two full sleeves of tattoos.
Julianna Tutorne is one of the Barista’s at the Sweet_Ness 7 Café.
“I’ve had tattoos for 12 years,” Tutorne said. “I’d say the popularity of tattoos and them becoming more acceptable in the workplace has been more towards the past five years.”  

Tutorne, on the popularity of tatoos:

According to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development, 86 percent of young professionals don’t believe that tattoos or piercings reduce the likelihood of getting a job.
The divide in the opinions of tattoos is generational.  
Dr. Howard Stanger is a professor in the Department of Management at Canisius College. 
“Tattoos are one of the ways that younger people try to find themselves and project themselves outwards,” he said. “But those things can change over time.” 
More than merely having tattoos, the placement of them can have a significant impact.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal if you have them covered up, nobody can see them,” Tutorne said. “I’ve been denied jobs because of having my hands tattooed.”
Gary Grundtisch and Dan Erickson, owners of Ink Assassins Tattoos on Grant Street, have over 20 years of combined experience as professional tattoo artists in the Buffalo area. They also agree that the location of the tattoo on the body is the most important factor on how it will be regarded in a professional setting.
“If you walk into a job interview with a tattoo on your face, they’re probably not going to hire you,” Erickson said.
"If you're 20-years-old, and you get a tattoo on your face you don't know how many interviews you're going to have to go through in the next 10, 20 years," Grundtisch said. "You're not thinking about that most times."
"Face tattoos, we don't do them here," Erickson added. "It's not ethical to do."
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, grooming practices were a stronger influence on the evaluation of candidates than tattoos or piercings.
“For the most part, it’s a non-issue,” said Dr. Stanger. “If I were to get a tattoo today, I probably wouldn’t be as careful as I was when I was younger.”
As of 2016, there were over 21,000 tattoo parlors in the U.S.
“The tattoo industry is getting bigger all the time,” said Grundtisch. “More shops are popping up and more people want to get into this field. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”
According to Grundtisch and Erickson, Buffalo is a place that embraces the self-expression that comes with tattoos.
“People are pretty open here,” Grundtisch said.
“It’s the city of good neighbors,” Erickson said. “We’ve gotten a lot of love here.”