Sunday, October 25, 2020

Farmers Market to cap successful season


Elmwood Village Farmers Market runs through November.

By Johnathan Ciolek 

There have been numerous sightings of large groups of Buffalo residents gathering on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway in the midst of COVID-19.

That’s because customers were eager to get fresh and locally grown products at the Elmwood Village Farmers Market before the season comes to an end.

Tyler Ross is one of the family owners at Belleview Farm, a vendor at the farmers market. He is very pleased and enthusiastic with the positive turnout despite the pandemic.

“This market went very well for us,” Ross said. “We nearly tripled in market sales as well as we picked up more local wholesale business.”

Belleview Farm is a family owned and operated sheep farm in Corfu,  that raises all-natural lamb, as well as beef and pork. Ross said the farm has been in the family for five generations now and has focused on traditional farming values  to supply Western New York with some of the best lamb products available.

“I found that more people came out to the markets because of the shortages of quality food in supermarkets,” Ross said.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, only about 8 percent of farms market their food locally leaving the rest to supply grocery stores and restaurants.

            Rooted Locally, another vendor at the Elmwood Village Farmers Market, is also part of that 8 percent benefiting from these direct-to-consumer sales.

            Lisa Brocato, who owns Rooted Locally with her husband, Jason, enjoyed the business Buffalo residents provided.

“At the Elmwood Village Farmers Market, we were able to space the vendors out and expand the market footprint to allow people to feel safe and comfortable shopping there,” Lisa Brocato said. “I would say it was a very busy year there, but with how things were spaced it never felt too crowded.”

Rooted Locally is one of Western New York’s largest vertical growers of microgreens  and edible flowers located in Williamsville. In the growing process, only non-genetically modified organisms seeds and organic soil is used, no pesticides.

Brocato along with other vendors admire the personable aspect the market provides.

“We are a producer-only market which means what is being sold at every booth is either grown or made by that business,” Brocato said. “Many times, the person working the booth is an owner. It's the epitome of buying local.”

The one-on-one aspect the market provides helps all the vendors there build stronger relations with customers.

“We continue with the Elmwood Village Farmer’s Market because we really enjoy serving our customers and building deeper relations with them,” Ross said. “The market has served as a great stepping stone for us to get our product onto local family’s plates.”

The Elmwood Village Farmers Market is ending its season on Thanksgiving weekend. Until then, people are able to visit 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday.

Monday, October 19, 2020

PUSH marks 15 years building community

 By Bryan Pearson-Reese

    The organization PUSH Buffalo is celebrating its 15th year anniversary this year after the organization started in 2005 by founders Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker. PUSH stands for People United for Sustainable Housing, and its purpose is in the title. 

            Since the hit of COVID-19 PUSH was forced to continue work remotely. This was very different for the organization, considering that it is a very hands-on group. The nonprofit organization looks out and seek ways to create a strong neighborhood by reclaiming empty houses from neglectful public and private owners and redeveloping them for occupancy by low-income residents. Through this process PUSH also tries to develop neighborhood leaders capable of gaining community control over the development process, and also plans for the future of the neighborhood. 

Photo courtesy of PUSH Buffalo

             Harper Bishop, deputy director of movement building at PUSH, said since the pandemic in March, PUSH had moved its staff to remote working. Almost 50 people had now been assigned to work remotely, except for essential workers, such as property management and property maintenance staff.

            In the face of this crisis, PUSH Buffalo took immediate emergency action to reduce social harm and economic hardship while coordinating delivery of vital mutual aid services to members of our community. We cancelled and forgave the rent payments for all PUSH Buffalo residential and commercial tenants several times over the past 6 months,” Bishop said.

            The organization knew that Buffalo would go through some hard times, and some people would be suffering financially not knowing how to bring a steady income in, or how to feed their families. With canceling and forgiving rent payments PUSH had positively impacted 99 residential and five commercial tenants, according to the organization.

            PUSH also made more job opportunities as it prioritized mutual aid and solidarity work.   “We set up a Mutual Aid Hub at PUSH’s headquarters at School 77 and provided nutritional support, as well as computers, transportation, and other needs to families who needed it most,” Bishop said.

            PUSH has a clear mission to create strong neighborhoods with affordable housing that have good quality living conditions, expand job opportunities, and advance economic and environmental justice in Buffalo. PUSH members also work with partners and funders that try to improve the city in quality education, healthcare, community control of resources, and transportation.

            “At PUSH, we have built a multigenerational, multiracial, intersectional movement for justice. Our definition of success is deeply living into a world free of exploitation and extraction, and based on sacredness for our people and our planet, ” Bishop said.

            However, PUSH knows the work does not stop there. The organization will hold its

10th Annual Building Block Breakfast that will be held Oct. 29. The breakfast is a fundraising event and this year’s theme is Solidarity Amidst Crisis.

            “Please join us for an inspiring program on how the first 15 years of PUSH Buffalo have prepared us to meet the current moment and how you can create positive change,” Bishop said.



Sunday, October 18, 2020

Musicians make note of Rolling Stone list

 By Joseph Morganti

            Rolling Stone Magazine in September released an updated 500 Greatest Albums of all Time List, a reputable list that ranks the best and most notable albums throughout music history. Musicians across the West Side have been analyzing the list to see where some of their idols lay.

            Many musicians in the West Side wouldn’t be where they are in their musical endeavors without being inspired by some of these musicians in the first place. Inspiration is key in any field, but many point to how vital it is in the music community.

            “The Beatles played a significant role in my childhood, being primarily the only band I listened to growing up, and without them, I wouldn’t be playing music today,” said West Side bassist John Vaughan.

            Vaughan has been involved in the Buffalo music scene since he was a teenager and has been residing in the West Side for the last year. Prior to the pandemic Vaughan toured extensively throughout the summer and winter months while working at Overwinter Coffee on Elmwood Avenue in between.

John Vaughan and Jay Zubricky

            “Growing up playing guitar, some of the first songs I learned were Beatles songs,” Vaughan said. “As I expanded my taste into punk music, that’s when I started playing bass, my main instrument now and the bass lines of Mike Dirnt made me push myself to become a better player.”

            Rolling Stone thinks highly of Dirnt too, as the list had two Green Day records, “American Idiot” and “Dookie” at number 248 and 375 respectively.

            “The various artists on this list through the decades show the impact that music has had in our world,” Vaughan said. “From punk to soul, and rap to experimental rock, the list shows the impact of the various voices to their specific fanbase or just occasional listeners.”

            Most musicians will cite how any album that makes a list like this has a special meaning to music history. One artist in particular, James Taylor, who had his 1970 album “Sweet Baby James” at number 182 on the Rolling Stone list, has a special relationship with the West Side.

Taylor is a singer and songwriter who has sold more than 100 million albums throughout his career and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

In 2015, Taylor recorded at Buffalo’s GCR Audio, 564 Franklin St., where he spent time working on his 2015 album “Before This World.”

Local sound engineer and producer Jay Zubricky remembers working on the session with Taylor and members of his team, feeling the surreal moment attached to working with an icon like Taylor.

“The James Taylor session happened because he was coming through Buffalo on tour and he needed a place to record because he was working on an album,” Zubricky said. “His producer, Dave O’Donnell, contacted our studio about a week in advance and explained the situation

“I was able to work as an assistant engineer on the two songs from the album that we worked on while James was in. It went really well, James and his crew are true professionals and some of the kindest people around.

“An artist like James Taylor can influence younger generations not only through the hard work that he has invested into refining his talents but also as an example of how to properly treat the people you work with.”


West Side Bazaar navigates through COVID-19

West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St.
By Randy Sargent

Face masks and social distancing are just some of the changes happening in the  community as COVID-19 blazes its path of economic uncertainty and reorganizes the community. 

 One of the many effects of the pandemic has been the sudden halt of business for some refugee families who have had a unique opportunity to share their culture with the West Side.  

 In 2011, the West Side Bazaar opened its doors at 25 Grant St. Over the years, the West Side Bazaar has become a hot spot for those who want to indulge their taste buds into multicultural cuisines and purchase traditional clothes and trinkets from countries such as Rwanda, South Sudan, Peru, and Indonesia. 

 It has provided an opportunity for immigrant families to establish their businesses while sharing their cultural cuisines and traditions. This opportunity gave refugee families a shot of hope and a much-needed way to generate income, establish a living, and learn the business skills needed, in hopes to one day move from the Bazaar to a possible storefront. 

    Esperance Rwigamba is the relationship manager at the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, or WEDI, which manages the West Side Bazaar. She has seen first-hand the positive impact the West Side Bazaar has had not only on the community but on the families, who are vendors of the bazaar.

“The goal for many of the store owners and food vendors is to own their own storefronts around the city, we are just here to guide them on their journey and help them become acclimated to the business world and give them the tools to succeed in their new country,” Rwigamba said.

            The pandemic, coupled with limited space, has had a huge impact on the businesses inside the bazaar, causing a temporary shutdown of all the stores within the bazaar while keeping its food services to take- out only.

            In an effort to help soften the financial blow to store owners, WEDI is busy helping the out-of-work vendors to navigate through three possible types of compensation to help support the families who have lost their income due to coronavirus shut down. The three types of possible compensation are Paycheck Protected Programs (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and The Neighbor Fund, which provide partial grants and partial loans to qualifying applicants.

            Vendors such as Julienne Nyiranjishi, a native of Rwanda, remain optimistic. She said that WEDI and the community have been helpful and have done an excellent job keeping them informed of the possible resources available as well as the plans they have to re-open when possible.

One of those plans is the relocation to a new facility at 1432 Niagara St. in the spring 2021.  Vendors from Grant Street are guaranteed a spot in the new location, which is large enough for stores to re-open, even if the pandemic remains.

            The silver lining of the story is that the remaining food vendors have learned to adapt by utilizing technology they have not used before, which allows them to learn how to incorporate their businesses with food delivery services like Door Dash and Uber Eats. This new approach has allowed the vendors to reach customers they might not have had if it wasn’t for the pandemic, forcing them to navigate and adjust through the coronavirus.

            Despite the challenges and setbacks, the vendors of the West Side Bazaar remain hopeful and optimistic of a brighter future and look forward to the opportunity to share their culture with a community that has embraced them and have enjoyed the benefits of the diversity found on  West Side.


Gather & Game throws the dice during COVID

 By Jacob Fries

It’s plain to see that the COVID-19 pandemic is having an adverse effect on small businesses across the country. Some have closed, and many others have had to significantly alter how they conduct business in order to function in a pandemic. Grant Street’s board game store and cafe, Gather & Game, is one such business that has had to significantly alter how business works during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, Gather & Game, 205 Grant St., offered up coffee in the store, as well as rentable tables from which customers would be able to play board games. However, since the pandemic has spread, the owners, Joe and Jeannene Petri, had to scale back their business to exclusively being a board game store.

Photo courtesy of Gather & Game 

         “In-store play was kind of a key driver for traffic,” Joe Petri, said. “And not even just traffic. We had table fees, and sold drinks, and all that revenue is gone indefinitely at this point.”

            The Petris owned their game store and a used bookstore, West Side Stories, which were across the street from one another. However, since the pandemic, they had decided to close West Side Stories and move Gather & Game across the street to take its place.

            The Petris reopened their game store at its new location in mid-September. While their situation hasn’t improved to the degree it was before the initial outbreak, Joe Petri feels that their situation has somewhat stabilized.

            “Like everybody else we’ve taken a real hit. It feels like now it’s starting to get back on course a little bit, but we’re still nowhere near where we were pre-pandemic,” Petri said.

            Much like many other small business owners, the Petris have had to diversify how they could interact with customers in order to keep their store functioning during the pandemic. This was largely achieved by prioritizing online sales from their website, as well as encouraging curbside deliveries and pickup.

             Another difficulty that Gather & Game has needed to face was that the in-store interaction that was a staple of the store would need to be put on indefinite hold.

            “So much of it was about in-store play. It’s kind of embedded in our name. This is a place where we all come to gather and play games,” Petri said.  

            In spite of those difficulties, Petri has tried to keep Gather & Game’s community together on social media through board game tutorials. He also mentioned wanting to promote some of the new business that will be opening in the neighborhood as well.

            Despite the unusual circumstances, Petri feels confident that Gather & Game can still play a role in on the West Side.

“I feel that we’ve always been neighborhood focused,” Petri said. “We chose the West Side because it’s our home.”



Friday, October 9, 2020

Schools to introduce BLM curriculums

By Rosemary Gonzalez

        In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other unarmed victims, Buffalo Public Schools stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement as schools plan to teach students about the reality reflecting on the injustices African Americans have faced for years.        

       The BLM movement, founded in 2013, was a response to the killing of an African American teen, Trayvon Martin. On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, carrying a bag of Skittles.

        “These are the things we want our children to know the truth about. We want them to know our history and to have awareness about what’s going on,” Terrance Heard, Buffalo Public School Board Member at-large, said. "We were taught lies, for example, the story of Christopher Columbus and as I got older, I realized that those stories were all spoke tales.”  

            Heard advocates for equality for the community and children of Buffalo.

            “I want them to know, they can believe in themselves and achieve any goals they want to,”  Heard said.

            According to BLM at School, the curriculum will “challenge racism and oppression providing students with the tools needed to take action.”

            Jeffery Faunce, chair of the Education Department at Medaille College and former social studies teacher, thinks the lack of teaching about Black history comes from past ideals.

            “We haven't had multiple perspectives when decisions were made people that decided what should be taught, didn't represent, the cultural mosaic of the of the United States,” Faunce said. “We got a whitewashed version of history because other perspectives from people of color, women, and LGBTQ weren't empowered to make decisions.”

            He said schools could do a much better job at incorporating all different kinds of perspectives into what is taught to the next generation.  

            “The president keeps saying ridiculous things about what should we study in school where some people think all we should talk about are the good things. That's not a full picture of  the history of our country,” said Faunce. “If the president had his way, it would happen again.”

            Faunce said teachers should work to help children understand what's happening in the world.

             “Part of my job is to help people learn how to work with young kids to translate what's happening. Another is inviting other people to the table, whether it’s the voices of the kids in the classroom or the voices that have been silenced throughout history,” Faunce said.

            People need to be free of judgement, Heard said.

            “It's a really generational curse on our people by not knowing who we are. Allow African Americans to know who they are and give us the respect and support and you will be helping yourselves and this society,” he said.  “The purpose is love. You can’t help someone until you help yourself. Our youth has a lot to contribute to society.”




Businesses trying to keep in the spirit

By Julia Kavanagh

            COVID-19 will. Make Halloween look a bit different this year especially for businesses that usually like to do something fun to entertain kids and their parents.

            Businesses during COVID-19 have already taken a big hit because they can’t have as many people in their stores and are not selling as much. However, businesses that are able to capitalize on the holiday are certainly looking forward to it.

            According to the National Retail Federation, in 2017 alone, consumers spent $9.1 billion on Halloween. That number alone sets a new record high compared to years previous.

Image by pikisuperstar

            “Elmwood has always had trick or treat and with us being outside now there really is no change for us. It will be business as usual,” said John Higgins, owner of Elmwood Pet Supplies, 706 Elmwood Ave.  

            “It’s more fun than business for us,” Higgins said. “It gives us an opportunity to talk to more people and have fun with it.”

            Bars and restaurants are finding it much more difficult to keep business going because of the pandemic.

             “We are going to try and create a fun and safe dining environment while in line with the rules and guidelines the state gives us,” Robert Rabb, owner of Mr. Goodbar, 1110 Elmwood Ave., said.

            Even with COVID-19 going on, parents set out to buy Halloween candy and costumes even October.

            If trick or treating isn’t an option, there is alternative way to celebrate the holiday by trying out an escape room.

             “Despite the pandemic, we are going to stick to our regular schedule,” Jared Reichman, owner of Lock & Key Escape Room, 504 Elmwood Ave., said. “We only do private bookings so we can manage the size of the groups that come in. We are following guidelines provided by the state and wiping everything down and requiring face masks worn by everybody.”

            Halloween may be different this year because of Covid-19. From wearing face coverings and no longer being able to go in groups to help reduce contact, the village of Elmwood is still keeping the holiday tradition going but in just a few unique ways in order to keep the public safe.




Saturday, October 3, 2020

Records keep spinning during pandemic

By Joseph Morganti

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic rampaging across the globe, many businesses have been flipped on their heels trying to think of creative ways to continue business while following required health procedures.

Most people are aware of the troublesome reality restaurants and other more common businesses have faced throughout this challenging time. Still, many aren’t aware of how niche businesses have reacted to these odd times, especially in the music community.  

Record stores were once a staple of a city, allowing local customers to come and get their weekly or daily digest of great records. As great as this was for music fanatics, the streaming industry became a reality, prompting the closing of countless record stores as income from physical copies of music began to dwindle.

Black Dots, 368 Grant St.
        Record Theatre was once the mecca of a record store in Buffalo. Record Theatre closed its doors in 2017 after spending more than four decades slinging out records for Buffalo’s various music fans.                  Today, there has been a small resurgence in record stores in West Side with Black Dots Records, 368 Grant St. and Revolver Records, 831 Elmwood Ave. These two record stores have filled the shoes Record Theatre left behind, with many music fans finding a new home to buy their records.

Like many other businesses facing the pandemic, these two record stores were confronted with doing business during pandemic.

“Surprisingly enough, we didn’t lose too much business throughout all this, and having an online presence as we do definitely helps,” said Black Dots Record co-owner Quinn Moore.

Black Dots opened its doors in 2013 when co-owner Joshua Smith wanted to create a record store in his basement dedicated to the punk and hardcore scene with the name of the business being named after a “Bad Brains” LP.

Soon after, Black Dots developed a dedicated customer base, expanded its records for sale, and found a home on Grant Street. Earlier this year, Black Dots moved across the street into its current location, a larger building with a bar for record enthusiasts to grab a drink after buying a few records.

“Right now, business is basically the same, but we have to follow the guidelines. Everyone has to wear a mask and sanitize before they come in. So far, everyone has been cool, and we were able to receive a little bit of stimulus from the government, which helped a bit,” Moore said. “When we weren’t able to have customers in the store, we were online only, which wasn’t too big of an issue since we list all of our inventory online and update it constantly. It’s how record stores stay open today.”

Having an online presence has been vital for record stores like Black Dots and Revolver to keep their doors open. Both businesses utilize Discogs, an online database that record stores can use to list their inventory.

Like Black Dots, Revolver has had a slow build of a following that has come to a reasonably impressive mark for any business to accomplish. They both may be benefitting from a trend nationwide in which vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time in 40 years, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.  

            Unlike Black Dots, Revolver has faced a more difficult group of challenges throughout the pandemic.

            The pandemic has affected us in many ways,”  owner Phil Machemer said.  “We closed the doors to the shop in mid-March for about three months. At that time, I had to lay off all of my employees and I began running the day to day by myself.

            “We created a web store for our customers to buy directly through our website and choose to have their records delivered or shipped. I made the decision not to deliver records locally and it proved to be a huge success. We opened the store for inside shipping in mid-June and since then sales have been steady.”

            Despite the pandemic and difficult time for any business to thrive now, Buffalo’s record store owners have adjusted what they can do for their stores and dedicated customer bases.

            Revolver Records also has a location at 1451 Hertel Ave.