By Lauren Zaepfel
Small businesses are working together to steer Buffalo Avenue on the road to improvement, by attracting new business and customers through enhancements to the area and beautification initiatives.
The goal for Buffalo Avenue is to make it "very pretty," said President of the LaSalle Business & Professional Association Lisa Routhier.
By making improvements to the area, Routhier said she hopes it will become a "very nice" business and tourism district.
Routhier owns Sunshine Café, which offers home-style cooking at 8649 Buffalo Ave. She has taken up shop on the street for the past 17 years, offering traditional American breakfast and lunch dishes as well as Mexican-inspired omelets, quesadillas and burritos.
She said several Buffalo Avenue business owners meet monthly, on average, through the LaSalle Business & Professional Association to determine ways to attract more commerce.
Besides the street's Rite Aid store, Routhier said, "We're all family-owned businesses, pretty much. ... And we all work very well together. So, it makes it really nice."
Routhier said she has applied for grants over the past few years to help improve Buffalo Avenue's esthetics. With money received, the businesses have been able to obtain Christmas decorations and flower baskets for the street.
"We just keep our neighborhood alive and beautify it and try to keep things going," Routhier said. "You know, our neighborhood's our home. We try to work with the city, the mayor, and everyone combined to get things going."
"The city's committed to working with the (LaSalle Business & Professional Association) to look for additional sources of funding for streetscape enhancements," said Anthony Vilardo, director of business development for the City of Niagara Falls.
"Just through our City Development Corp. ... in the last three years, the city has funded seven businesses alone in that district."
He said the city has assisted these neighborhood businesses when opening or expanding through startup funds, grant money and low-interest loans.
This summer, the city, through federal and state funding, will be repairing Buffalo Avenue's roadway, curbs and sidewalks from 65th Street to Cayuga Drive.
"A refurbished road is only going to enhance the small businesses and families who live in and around Buffalo Avenue," Vilardo said. "It will make it more attractive for visitors coming into the area, more attractive for the residents there, more attractive for the businesses who continue to do commerce on Buffalo Avenue."
"We have a beautiful area here," Routhier said. "But I think it will rejuvenate the whole area once it's done - give people a nice ride down Buffalo Avenue instead of bumpy roads and bad sidewalks."
"You got to have nice roads," said Joseph Previte, owner of Joey's Pizzeria at 8707 Buffalo Ave. "I mean, we have people come as far as Toronto. I get a lot from Lewiston, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Wheatfield - we have them come from all over."
Joey's Pizzeria opened 35 years ago and offers a full menu, including pizza, wings, submarine sandwiches, chicken fingers, and Friday fish fries and seafood dinners.
Having run his business on Buffalo Avenue for years, Previte said the street is "getting better."
He said, "If you come down here on a Friday night, for example, we're packed in here. ... Cars on both sides take up the whole street, all the way down the side streets."
Previte's son, Mark, who helps run the family business, said he has noticed some growth on Buffalo Avenue, as well. New businesses have been opening on the street, he said, which means "More people, more traffic, more business."
One of these new businesses includes Submariners, a full-service neighborhood deli that offers sandwiches, as well as meat, cheese and other deli items by the pound.
Owner Kelly Jones decided to offer food at Submariners next door to her other business, The River Pub at 6004 Buffalo Ave. On May 14, Jones celebrated the pub's first anniversary.
"Me and my husband both live in LaSalle and we wanted to open a business in our home area," Jones said. "And just the improvements with even the couple of hotels that are down the street as well as ... I'm seeing other business owners keeping up their property a little bit better, too - it's just awesome to see."
With the River Pub, Jones said, "We wanted to make sure that we opened up a corner pub that was clean; that people would have a good time. ... And just really some place low-key for our neighborhood and our friends to go and hang out."
The River Pub offers a variety of bottled beer and a specialty "Grass Island" shot, named after the Niagara River's Grass Island hangout area.
Live, local music and dart tournaments are hosted at the pub. A patio seating area is also available for customers.
For more information on Buffalo Avenue business initiatives, call the LaSalle Business & Professional Association at 716-283-0858.
Joseph Previte, owner of Joey's Pizzeria, stands with his son, Mark, in front of his business on Buffalo Avenue. The two recently hung new flower baskets in front of the business.