Sunday, December 13, 2020

Work continues on Hispanic Heritage center

Proposed Hispanic Cultural Center

By Jacob Fries 

  Undeterred by the COVID-19 pandemic, those at the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York is still forging ahead with their long-term goals, particularly in the construction of the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute on the West Side. 

The council has recently started environmental surveys for a site where they hope to build the center and are currently raising funds for it. The Cultural Institute, which is to be planned for development on the corner of Niagara and Hudson streets would be the first building of its kind in Western New York, and one that could be culturally indispensable for the West Side once it’s completed. 

While the project is still in its fundraising phase, members of the Hispanic Heritage Council feel proud about the funds they’ve raised already from the City of Buffalo, Erie County, and other corporate donations, and feel confident they will be able to raise more of what they will need for the $10 million project. Casimiro Rodriguez, past-president of the Hispanic Heritage Council, is optimistic about their current efforts.

 “We’ve got support from government, private, and public officials. We’ve got really good grassroots support,” Casimiro said. “We have consultants working on the business sustainability plan. We have architects working on the conceptual drawings of the facility, inside and out. We’ve got a team of folks working to make sure that this becomes a reality.”

Manny Lezama, the capital campaign chairperson of the Hispanic Heritage Council, believes that the Institute, once completed, will be a place where people of all ages will be able to be educated and entertained.
       “We have a place where people can actually go,” Lezama said, “and not just young-adults. We have seniors, we have veterans who can go over there and utilize that center to better themselves in many ways.”

The building is intended to be environmentally conscious, and some of its interior spaces proposed will include a museum, an art gallery, a café, a gift shop, a performing arts theater, activity space, learning labs, and even television and radio stations. The Hispanic Cultural Council also made great care to thematically time the opening of the institute to be during Hispanic Heritage month in 2022, which takes place from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

The decision to build the institute on the West Side was also strongly taken into account, due to its diverse cultural demographics, as well as its proximity to the U.S.-Canada border. While the institute would largely be showcasing Hispanic and Latin cultures, the council is aiming to make it a place where people of all cultures can feel welcome. Buffalo Councilman David A Rivera is optimistic about this notion.
            “It’s a cultural center where people can go, not only for my community but they’re opening up to other communities as well on the city’s West Side,” Councilman Rivera said.
            Rodriguez also emphasized that an institute such as this would be critical in being able to tell Hispanic history for years to come.
            “Every day is a new day for history in our community, and we don’t want to lose any of that,” Casimiro said.

The city of Buffalo has always been able to be enhanced through multiculturalism, and this proposed institute looks to be a reminder that we all have histories that we can be proud of, and they make our communities and ourselves better as a whole.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Salvation Army, Red Cross seeking donations

By Julia Kavanagh

            Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen people lose their jobs left and right, leaving people and their families with little to no income. What this means is they might not be able to afford the simple needs such as food, water, and clothing. Organizations like the Salvation Army here on the West Side can give families a little relief.

            Our work has significantly increased and become much more difficult since the start of the pandemic. The need in the community has significantly increased,” said Laurie Krajna, development director. The need for food has increased six times what we usually distribute.”

            Having an organization like the Salvation Army also heavily depends on the support of the local community. If people were to simply stop donating food and clothes, for example, people who rely on that center would be in trouble.

            We partnered with FeedMore WNY to take food to the communities most in need, setting up a drive-thru type system where cars pulled up, popped their trunk, and we’d load bags of food,” Krajna said.  

            Besides seeing an increase demand for in necessary items, the center has a workforce development group that is, Krajna said, seeing an uptick in clients needing updated resumes, high school equivalency classes and specific training.

            “Funds and financial support are needed more than ever,” Krajna said.

            If that isn’t hard enough, it’s almost December, which means a busy Christmas season for the Salvation Army. Many children look forward to Christmas because of all the toys they get to play with. Many kids face the fact that they might not be getting anything because their family simply can’t afford to. 

            “This Christmas we are preparing to serve 1,000 families with needed toys for their children,” Krajna said.

            The American Red Cross on the West Side has also been busy keeping up with the demand of COVID-19. Though they are a donation center for blood and plasma, their mission of supplying donated blood does not stop because of a pandemic.

            “We support collection and distribution of convalescent from individuals who are fully recovered from COVID-19 to help with treatment for the most seriously ill patients,” said Katie Potter, external communications manager at American Red Cross.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Farms find high demand for their harvests during COVID

By Rosemary Gonzalez

            Due to raising COVID-19 cases,  Gov. Andrew Cuomo had announced a restaurant restriction that requires all restaurants to close at 10 p.m. With this second wave many businesses must continue to adapt to this new way of life, until things get back to normal. However, a business that seems to thrive is the farming business.

Courtesy WestSide Tilth
         Jeanette Koncikowski , executive director of  Grassroots Gardens said Grassroots is one of the few businesses that has been very fortune during this time. Grassroots Gardens, is an organization with over 100 gardens focusing on land conservation and providing agricultural needs in places where food is scarce in Buffalo and Niagara Falls

            “We saw an increase in demand and we stayed open,” Koncikowski  said. “People were very interested in gardening and worried about food this year.”

            With supermarkets also closing early, farms are selling directly to consumers. Yet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farm businesses have experienced difficulties in production due to the labor shortages and lack of resources.  

            Before COVID-19, “consumer spending on food in the United States had been remarkably stable, growing by around 4 % over the previous five years,” according to  Mckinsey & Company a management consulting company that advises on strategic management to corporations, governments, and other organizations.

            “Total sales were roughly split evenly between retail outlets, such as grocery stores and supermarkets and food-service companies, such as restaurants, hospitals, and schools,” according to McKinsey.

            Now there is a decrease in people going to restaurants, as people are stocking up on groceries and eating at home, increasing revenue for grocery stores the month by 29% over the previous year whereas, sales plummeted at restaurants, fast-food locations, coffee shops, and casual-dining locations by 27%, according to McKinsey.

            Carrie Nader, the owner of WestSide Tilth Farm, said she has experienced a decline with restaurant orders.

            “Restaurant sales were almost non-existent this season,” Nader said.

             Nader had to postpone plans for WestSide Tilth.

            “We were unable to establish a farmer’s market, as planned for 2020. This is something we will move forward with in 2021” Nader said.  “We’ll include local vendors and strive for our market to be a one stop shop for folks, ensuring we make all of the essentials available. We’ll also feature our artisan pizzas and local artists.”

            There have been a lot of obstacles worldwide and the agricultural business is not excused.

            According to The New York Farm Bureau, farms may temporarily lose employees due to COVID-19, as they may have to quarantine and recover. New York’s largest farm organization is looking for “willing and able people to become potential employees” through a Farmers Relief Program.  

            Grassroots Gardens also implemented a program in response to the COVID-19.

             “The Freedom Gardens initiative, founded by long--time Grassroots Gardener, Ms. Gail Wells, is designed to inspire resilience and independence for Buffalo residents most impacted by coronavirus,” according to the website.

            “Freedom Gardens unlike the community gardens where people go and share a plot of land, Freedom Gardens brings the garden to people’s homes,” Koncikowski said. “We together built and delivered 50 home gardens to people during the pandemic for free, so that if they wanted to grow food at home they could safely do so.”

            Koncikowski  said that people cannot directly grow food in their backyard in the city of Buffalo because of the risk of lead contamination.

             “It was important to be able to give people raised beds and clean soil that we brought in that was organic, so that they didn't have to worry about contaminating any food they were growing at home,” Koncikowski  said.

            Another community garden, Explore and More Rooftop Garden, which sits on the rooftop of Explore & More Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Children’s Museum faced some obstacles during this pandemic.

            “We have been able to incorporate some of that stuff that we grow into our programs” Rebecca Glon, museum tech specialist, said.  “We had plans on using the garden to help educate kids about responsible farming, but because of 2020 reasons we weren't able to do that.”

            Koncikowski said the need for healthy, free, fresh produce is “critical.”

             “Food is a human right,” she said, “and you shouldn't have to worry about where your next meal is going to come from.”



Bars dealing with orange zone designation

By Johnathan Ciolek

            With COVID numbers on the rise, bar owners have realized that the leaves are not the only things changing colors right now.

            On Nov. 18, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced stricter restrictions as part of Erie County was moved to an orange zone.

            In an orange zone designation, residential and nonresidential gatherings are limited to 10 people. When it comes to restaurants and bars, only outdoor dining with four people per table, takeout, and delivery are available.  All high-risk, non-essential businesses, such as gyms, hair salons, and personal care services located in an orange zone are to close.

            Bobby Rhab, owner of Mister Goodbar, 1110 Elmwood Ave., said he feels COVID-19 is a very serious issue and needs to be treated that way.

Mister Goodbar owner says "be smart, stay safe."
      “COVID numbers are real. The people that are affected by this virus are real,” Rhab said. “We are fully committed and compliant with all New York State regulations. We will continue to comply until we are allowed to safely reopen.” 

               According to the New York Department of Health, Erie County currently has a little over 25,000 confirmed cases. On the West Side of Buffalo alone, there are almost 1,500 confirmed cases.

            These high case numbers are problematic for any business trying to operate. Rhab said that this is not easy for anyone right now.

            “We want to be part of the solution and not the problem,” Rhab said. “Times are difficult for all of us in the city, state, and country. The only way to get through this is to be smart and stay safe.”

            Other places, such as Forty Thieves Kitchen & Bar, 727 Elmwood Ave., are attempting to still operate safely by launching new takeout hours and delivery options through DoorDash and GrubHub.

            Tommy Cowan, owner of Forty Thieves Kitchen & Bar, thinks that it’s best to limit the time interaction with customers.

            “We have just launched new takeout hours from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday through Saturday,” Cowan said. “We just need to be smart about this entire situation and this is one way we can do that.”

            According to MarketWatch, delivery services, such as UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Postmates, brought in about $5.5 billion in combined revenue in the months of April through September. This is more than double what these companies made during the same period the previous year.

            With the Erie County daily positive rate near 10 percent and 8 percent in Western New York, the switch to a red zone could become a reality.

            New restrictions for a red zone designation would prohibit any type of mass gathering, whether it be residential or nonresidential. Also, only essential businesses would be open. This means for any bars and restaurants offering outdoor dining, the switch to strictly takeout and delivery will need to be made if possible.




Albright-Knox continues construction on expansion project

Foundation for Gundlach building underway
By Kiera Durning

            The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is continuing to undergo construction with expansion plans continuing into 2022.

            Currently, the foundation of the new Gundlach building is being constructed on the Elmwood Avenue side of the art gallery.

            According to Gilbane Building Co., the project’s management partner, “the construction pit that now occupies the space where the parking lot was located will soon form the foundation for the subbasement of the new Gundlach building.”

            The new building is named after Jeffrey Gundlach, a Buffalo native who donated $52.5 million toward the total project.

            The first steel beams were put in place during the spring, according to Gilbane Building. The total project is slated to be completed in 2022

            Through the construction, the Elmwood Avenue location has remained closed.

            Despite the closure, the museum utilizes its Northland location Fridays through Sundays for its current show, Swoon: Seven Contemplations. Virtual classes and workshops by Albright-Knox staff also are available.

             The expansion project, AK360, began with OMA, an award-winning architectural company, that finalized a design being approved by the Albright-Knox board of directors and Gilbane Building.  

            The finalized design introduces an expanded campus, allowing more than 30,000 square feet of gallery space to be added.

            According to the museum’s website, the construction will allow, “more than double the number of works the museum can display at any given time, including state-of-the-art space for presenting special exhibitions.”

            There will be added  space for educational purposes, dining facilities, and events, to further ensure visitor satisfaction.

            According to the Albright-Knox communications team, “the new Gundlach Building  will add 30,000 square feet of space for displaying special exhibitions and artworks from the museum’s world-renowned collection of modern and contemporary art.”  

             The Gundlach Building will have a sculpture promenade that wraps around the premises, giving on-lookers and museum goers a view of Delaware Park and Elmwood Avenue.

             The museum is also renaming the 1905-building after the late Robert G. Wilmers, former M&T Bank chairman and CEO, and his wife, Elisabeth.

            There will also be an incorporation of a bridge that connects the museum to Iroquois Drive  off oElmwood Avenue. The scenic bridge will be named in honor of John J. Albright, one of the founders of the museum.

             The museum also plans on adding an underground parking structure, transforming the current outside parking into a green landscape.

            Construction-related questions can be sent to




Sunday, November 29, 2020

Help available for winter heating costs

 By Julia Kavanagh

            Buffalo is well known for its cold days and long winters. November is here and that’s when the weather usually takes a turn for the cold and snow. However, most people have heat and fireplaces that can keep their homes nice and toasty.  

            Some families may not be as lucky as some when it comes to easily heating their homes for the coming winter.

            According to National Fuel Gas, the cost to heat a home is $19.95 per thousand cubic feet in the month of August. That represents a decrease from $20.14 the same time last year.  

            Pam Lazio, director of residential rehabilitation and energy services, West Side Neighborhood Housing Services, said there are some simple fixes to keep houses nice and warm. “First, and most importantly, having your furnace cleaned and tuned along with changing the filter,” Lazio said.

            Keeping your house warm doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars when simple at home fixes can be done, she said.

            “We also tell families to check their stripping around doors to reduce the drafts and re-shield doors of need be,” Lazio said.

            PUSH Buffalo is another program that helps families on the West Side.

            “We provide up to a $4,000 grant to help families replace a furnace or hot water tank,” Clarke Gocker, director of policy and strategy, said.

            PUSH Buffalo participates with The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, which offers an energy audit for families that are at 60 % of the area median income.

            “Being part of NYSERDA has helped over 1,000 homes alone on the West Side,” Gocker said.

             PUSH is looking to electric heat as a more affordable option.

             “We are trying to advocate for this new possibility of electric heat where it can be more affordable for families instead of the typical natural gas,” Gocker said.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

'Friendsgiving' a take-out affair this year


By Kiera Durning

              Friends of Night People will continue its annual Friendsgiving event this year but with a bit of a pandemic-inspired change: All meals will be offered on a take-out basis only.

Friendsgiving is a special Thanksgiving Day meal for the homeless and those struggling within the community that is usually served sit-down style in the organization’s dining room at 394 Hudson St.

Patricia Krehbiel, relationship manager, said to ensure the safety of guests, staff and volunteers, the meals will be available to go as the dining room has been closed since March.   

 Meals will available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26

“We will serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal, turkey, stuffing, potatoes and vegetables,” she said. “And of course, we will not forget the pie. What’s Thanksgiving without pie?”

Alternatives will be available for guests with dietary restrictions, Krehbiel said.

Krehbiel said  the organization is continuing to hand out personal protective equipment kits that include masks, hand sanitizer and hygiene products, thanks to donations Buffalo Resilience, Hanes, Ford, Colvin Cleaners and others.

Anyone who enters the building must wear a mask. Staff and volunteers being required to partake in temperature screenings and ask screening questions while wearing masks and gloves at all times.

            The organization also is disinfecting surfaces every 30 to 60 minutes and has plexiglass shields at contact points and air curtains at each door, Krehbiel said.

 Friends of Night People was founded in 1969 and is open daily throughout the year. The organization provides lunch and dinner, a food pantry, medial services and housing assistance.






Sunday, November 15, 2020

What's Pop-In' defies pandemic with brisk sales

 By Johnathan Ciolek

            Both sweet and savory smells of fresh popcorn fill the air as Stefan Coker enters his store. White walls are contrasted by dozens of custom stamped bags filled with various flavors of mouth-watering popcorn ranging from sugary and fruity white chocolate raspberry to the fiery spice of mango habanero.

            Coker, owner of What’s Pop-In’ Gourmet Popcorn, 418 West Ferry St., opened his storefront in November 2019. Since then, he has hustled and travelled across the United States to put his business on the map and to prove all of his doubters wrong.

Stefan Coker, top left, with a staffer and his two children
              Starting as a joke, Coker went from being an executive chef at Larkin Filling Station to creating a gourmet popcorn business. Sick of the redundancy of the kitchen, he partnered with his friend, David Whelan, to sell gourmet popcorn.  

             “The concept is really just a joke, just messing around, but the more people that said we couldn’t do it or create it, the more I was like well wait a minute, you know, now we got something here,” Coker said.

            Like Coker, there are others looking to make their ideas a reality, but this comes with some difficulty.

            Dr. Susan McCartney, the director of the Small Business Development Center in Buffalo, has worked with many small businesses across the city and helps with advising people how to get the most success with their businesses.

             “There are many challenges that come with starting a small business,” McCartney said. “At times it can be directly related to the entrepreneur themselves or in other cases the challenge is the shifting market.”

            Coker has successfully been able to identify that shifting market. According to AlliedMarket Research, a market research and advisory company of Allied Analytics LLP, the value of the global popcorn market is projected to increase to just over $15 million in 2023, a $6 million jump since 2016.  

            Despite being in a pandemic, Coker is not letting that stop him from continuing to feed off this market and keep his business successful.

            “When COVID hit, we were one of the first small businesses on the street who shifted immediately to delivery,” Coker said. “We were all over Western New York pretty much doing five bag minimum deliveries and we just flourished. The pandemic did not hurt us.”

            Due to COVID, a little more than 132,500 total business closures have been reported according to Yelp. What’s Pop-In’ has continually made it a point to not fall into those statistics.

            Part of this success can be attributed to Coker’s strong social media presence and determination to stand out from the rest.

            “There’s certain popcorn businesses that I respect,” Coker said. “But none of them were hustling like we were. I’m very adamant about posting every day because content is important.”

            Customers can go on the Instagram and Facebook page of What’s Pop-In’ and see daily postings about the business, new flavors, and the people that make it all possible.

            Coker is not content with just selling popcorn on the West Side. He is actively looking for different ways to get out and enhance people’s taste palates with his creations and cash in on this booming market.

“We are really setting up shop in different cities  because it’s more than Buffalo,” Coker said. “Some people get into business in their city or their hometown and I guess some people are content with that. I want to be this household name. I want to take over the popcorn industry.”

What’s Pop-In’ is approaching it’s one-year anniversary, but Coker refuses to rest on his laurels and acknowledge the success so far.

“I’m afraid to step back and be like look what we have done,” Coker said. “I don’t have any feelings on being open a year because as far as I am concerned, our job’s not done.”


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Big Big Table area's first community cafe

By Rosemary Gonzalez

            Big Big Table Community Cafe, 272 Hudson St., will feed everybody and anybody who comes to the West Side.

             “Everybody eats. Everybody gives. Everybody matters,” Mandy Bailey, founder of Big Big Table, said.

            Bailey’s love for food and a lunch date with a friend inspired the start of the business. Her friend showed her an article she found on the Internet about the concept of a community café.

            Big Big Table will be the first non-profit community café in Buffalo. The cafe was expected to open in 2020, but due to COVID-19 its new opening date will probably be in Spring 2021.  Big Big Table’s mission is to respond to hunger in the community. The café will provide affordable meals with pay-as-you-can pricing.

            “You can walk in and could pay a quarter,” Stephanie Smith, Big Big Table’s board president, said.

             As board president, Smith leads the board of volunteers in business plan goals, fundraising, insurance, and legal matters for the café.

             “We together can make this dream of Mandy’s a reality,” Smith said.

            Bailey, the former French teacher, taught and constantly talked about food.  After one year of teaching she decided to venture on her passion.

             Encouraged by one of her friends, Bailey moved 1,000 miles north to work in a food company in Buffalo.

            “While working there, I saw a lot of food being thrown away, and a lot of people, even employees being refused food. This broke my heart. I quit and started to think about what I am actually supposed to be doing with my life,” Bailey said.

            After her experience working in the food company and doing research Bailey came across the One World Everybody Eats organization and its founder, Denise Cerreta. Cerreta is the woman who introduced the idea of a community café.

            “This awesome lady started the first one of these running a little café on her own,” Bailey said. “She and I started talking via email and phone, starting to figure out what could happen in Buffalo.”

            Bailey, who has a bunch of songs on her Spotify playlist especially about food, said the café’s name Big Big Table was inspired by a Christian rock song called Big House by Audio Adrenaline.

            “I was hanging out with some friends and we were brainstorming sitting on Elmwood on the sidewalk and eating frozen yogurt when the song came to mind,” Bailey said.

            Smith said Big Big Table is different from other cafes.

            “We always wanted to have a literal big-big table so the café will have big tables,” Smith said. “You can be sitting next to your neighbor or someone you never met, and you have no idea how much someone pays for their meal, you just know that you are all there sharing the same dining experience.”

            The Big Big Table team hopes the café will unite people of different backgrounds and promote inclusion.

            “Hey, if these people have money and these people don't have money that means that these people and those people can never be friends, but why?” Bailey said. “We can create a different world where everybody gets together.”

            As stated on the website, community cafés like Big Big Table are supported by donors and volunteers.

            “We believe in a culture of contribution,” Bailey said, “where everybody has something or some way to contribute.”