Monday, July 26, 2010

A Buffalo Commercial District Benefits From a Visionary Businessowner

The Grant-Ferry neighborhood is one of those neighborhoods you find in many shrinking East coast cities. It was once – and continues to be – a place where immigrants call home. First Italians, now Burmese, Somalian, Puerto Rican, etc.

Like other similar urban neighborhoods, the community has suffered from disinvestment and blight. But scattered among the vacant lots and boarded up buildings, things are happenings. Slowly but surely, new businesses and urban pioneers seem to be discovering the area. During my visit, I had the opportunity to interview one of those pioneers. Prish Moran is the owner of Sweetness 7 – a coffee shop/social meeting spot in Grant-Ferry. When Prish moved to Buffalo, she didn’t know about Grant-Ferry. Maybe that was a good thing. The neighborhood didn’t have the best reputation, but she didn’t have any preconceptions. Amazingly, she and her son bought their first house in the neighborhood for $11,000! With hard work and sweat equity they renovated the home. Amazingly, others followed.

Prish's most recent acquisition was a run down building at the corner of Grant and Lafayette. The building Prish purchased now houses an art gallery and artist coop, a flower shop, and apartments above her wildly successful coffee shop. Her hard work is evident in every nook and cranny. She clearly put to use her skills as a decorative artist/restaurant interior designer and used it to re purpose what others consider ‘junk.’ This allowed her to turn her coffee shop into a unique space – done afford ably but with an aesthetic of high design.

The coffee shop is just one piece of the commercial district revitalization puzzle - but an important one. Successful businesses are the best marketing tool for a community looking to attract new businesses (and inspire old ones to clear up their act!). Here are some tidbits of insight I culled from my chat with Prish. These are great lessons from an inspirational lady making neighborhood change a reality in West Buffalo.

  • “People are sick of predictability” - Differentiate yourself in the market. Early on, Prish bought a $15k espresso machine. Coffee aficionados were impressed and according to Prish, starting blogging about it even before the place opened. In a market like Buffalo, this was a risky, splashy move that gave her immediate ‘street cred’. It was a risky investment, but it worked to differentiated herself from other coffee shops.

  • Word-of-Mouth is the way to build a successful business – and Prish has thrived on word-of-mouth. Local bloggers and internet sites were buzzing about Sweet-ness 7 even before it opened – and they continue to do so. The day she opened doors – there was a long line waiting to buy coffee. And it didn't hurt that she had one of the best espresso machines in the entire region!

  • Looks Matter. “Many don’t understand the aesthetics of people who have money to spend” says Prish. She mentioned that she often gets approached by other local business owners who ask her how she is attracting so many customers. In her frank manner, she simple says they need to invest in their storefronts and look better.

  • Take a risk and be the first one to try something. According to Prish, “everywhere I have gone and taken a house on a block and turned it into something beautiful. People start by calling me crazy, and then others start doing the same.”

Prish has hopes for what else can happen in Grant Ferry. Can the empty lot down the street become a weekend market? Can the community harness the creative energies of the local immigrant communities and help them sell arts, crafts and ethnic goods? Can they rent outdoor movie screens and show films in the evenings? All great ideas that deserve careful consideration given who they are coming from…

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