By Joshua Maloni
In a five-minute stroll down Center Street, one could easily find a breathtaking original painting of Niagara Falls, a Clark Griswold “Christmas Vacation” collectible toy – complete with Jason Voorhees mask – and the best chocolate chip cookie in the world.
There is, perhaps, no village more Amazon-proof than Lewiston.
Works of art, rare memorabilia and culinary creations are just some of the many items shoppers can find in this one-square-mile of history.
While locals know this firsthand, November is the time when the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lewiston Business Group invite the outside world to descend the hill and experience the magic of our main street.
Throughout the month, events, sales, social media and The Sentinel will encourage people to “Shop Small.”
Two highlight promotions include “Holiday Kickoff – Lewiston Style,” which is next Saturday, Nov. 2, and then the Thanksgiving weekend Black Friday/Small Business Saturday doubleheader (Nov. 29-30).
NFP will profile these signature “Shop Small” events, starting with today’s feature on “Holiday Kickoff – Lewiston Style.”
Kathy Pignatora works on a commissioned piece at Inspirations on Canvas, while Roger Passero shows off some of his unique inventory at Viva Nostalgia.
Businesses Band Together
To a person, Lewiston business owners have high praise for the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, the Lewiston Council on the Arts, and the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston, which are responsible for a handful of large, popular, profitable and well-publicized events each year.
And yet, for as well as these merchants do at the festivals, more is needed to stay afloat.
These storeowners have some degree of difficulty (or more) in the winter months. It’s cold. It’s wet. It gets dark early. And going out of the house – let alone shopping and dining – seems to be less appealing.
Recognizing this, the Lewiston Business Group was formed and, in little time, came up with a series of activities designed to encourage patronage in the “off months.”
Initial events included “Sip. Shop. Eat!” in March (slated to return in February 2020) and “Shop Hop” in April. The group’s inaugural presentation was “Holiday Kickoff – Lewiston Style” last November.
“I was ridiculously, pleasantly surprised,” Inspirations on Canvas owner Kathy Pignatora said. She organized the event with You & Me/Baby & Me boutiques owner Laura Mann Falsetti. “I was happy if it brought seven people that weren’t coming.”
In fact, retailers claim this was one of the year’s most successful weekends.
“The thing about Lewiston, we’ll call it in between festival season and Christmas, is it’s a struggle,” Pignatora said. “You’ve got to find ways, as a business owner, to really make it work.”
She explained, “When Laura and I really started this last year, it was like, ‘Let’s just combine forces and see what we can do,’ and then, ‘Hey, let’s get everybody on board.’ And the sharing of resources that we talked about last year and all working together, to me, it’s transformed – that catapulted a new way of looking at the offseason. It doesn’t get me down anymore. I’m excited about it.
“I’ve enjoyed how it really brought together our Lewiston Business Group through the chamber. We’re like a pretty solid, great group working together. Coming up with ideas and just brainstorming, and sharing, and monthly meetings. And it went from, ‘Let’s just try this,’ into something really significant.”
The organizations that stage the Smelt, Art, Jazz and Peach festivals are stretched thin each year, as small quantities of people execute large-scale events on shoestring budgets. Practically speaking, it would be difficult for them to add one additional happening, let alone three or four in the winter.
“We appreciate what the chamber does, and the work that a very small staff puts into the events they do that make it really doable for us to have a business here. And those events are significant to how well we do, and people coming back and seeing us,” Pignatora said. At the same time, “The feedback we got is, ‘Do this again; do this more; we love this; this got me out of the house today; I don’t have to hibernate.’
“And, you know, maybe it’s just like any of the festival events that happen. People don’t necessarily always buy at those. But I can’t tell you how many times so many of us have heard, ‘You know, we were here for the Harvest Fest or the Art Fest, or we’re here at the ‘Sip. Shop. Eat!’ now,’ and they came back on a Wednesday in February, because they saw something.
“It’s just getting people out; it’s getting exposure. It’s something exciting and fun for us to look forward to as business owners. And we’ve appreciated the help from the community to do that.”
The Village Bake Shoppe owner Michael Fiore is the Lewiston Business Group’s liaison to the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce. He said, “It’s a total blessing that people know us for our festivals; they know us for the great weather and the scenery; but now, if we can grab those people in the offseason, to have them spend money in businesses will keep the local economy going so that we don’t fear that offseason as much anymore.”
Moreover, an event like “Holiday Kickoff – Lewiston Style” is designed so that all the businesses – as well as restaurants and even specialty services such as Deal Realty and Allstate – can profit.
“It’s a completely different Lewiston than when I first started eight years ago,” Fiore said. “Businesses talk to one another; everyone’s on the same team; there’s a lot less finger-pointing; and it’s a lot about, ‘Hey, how can we help each other grow.’ The mindset of if one does well we all do well, is really starting to catch on. And it’s showing.
“Just the camaraderie and the cooperation between all businesses, it’s just been amazing. And getting that, ‘Hey, we’re all on the same team,’ mentality has helped tremendously.”
Now, About that Clark Griswold Toy …
Viva Nostalgia owner Roger Passero will tell you some of his collectibles can be found online.
But you better block out eight hours … oh, and you’ll have to search for items … you might not know exist.
That seems doable, right?
At his store, “This is stuff that you just don’t ordinarily go into places and find,” he said. “Yeah, this kind of stuff’s available online, but you have to know it exists. You can’t just go online and say, ‘Well, I’m going to search for a license plate.’ It’s not that way. Same thing with these. … We started selling these diecast metal cars. Now these are all ’50s and ’60s muscle cars, but these are all related to movies and TV. Batman, Deadpool, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn. We’ve done Elvis. We’ve done very, very well with these.”
Viva Nostalgia has a full line of cars, whereas a box store “might have one or two or whatever, or thrown upside down in the corner that some kid took and threw away,” Passero said. “If you go online, yeah you can put in ‘Batmobile.’ But is it the same thing?”
He simply stated, “That’s what makes this place unique, is because we don’t have a store full of regular stuff that you can find anywhere.”
The store carries an assortment of pop culture classics – in everything from DVD to Blu-ray, classic action hero figures to modern-day Funko POP!, eyeglass cases to ceramic mugs, license plates to playing cards.
There’s also a candy counter with brands from Canada. (Imagine a half-dozen KIT KAT varieties!)
“We have a different kind of selection than you’re going to find in Target,” Passero said.
In terms of his toys, “What happens is, like Walmart and Target … they get whatever the new movie is. They get 150 pieces, and then once it’s gone, they don’t get it back anymore. They don’t sit there and say, ‘Well, you know what, Freddy Krueger is popular. Let’s order Lucy, and let’s order this and that.’ They don’t do that. I can pick and choose what I want. So yeah, when you look at this, this is a great selection, because I get all the ones that I know people are going to look for. And I sell these over and over again. The Pennywises and the Michael Myers and the Beetlejuices,” he said. “If you’re here, and you want it, it’s here.”
A look at some of the cool items on sale at Viva Nostalgia.
Though the word “nostalgia” might suggest something from the past, Passero has items from current games and series such as “Fortnite,” “My Hero Academia,” “Dragon Ball” and “Stranger Things.”
“Nostalgia is your own perspective,” he said. “I’ll get people that come in here, and they’re 70 years old. And what’s nostalgic to them? ‘The Godfather.’ And you got people coming in that are 40 years old, and what’s nostalgic to them? ‘Star Wars.’ And then I get a kid that comes in, and he’s like 13, and he sees something, and he says, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that from when I was a kid.’ Nostalgic is just your own perspective.
“Everything is nostalgic to somebody. It doesn’t have to be really, really old. ‘Star Wars’ is old, but there’s new stuff for ‘Star Wars.’ It’s still relevant. It’s nostalgic to some people, and to a little kid who just found ‘Star Wars,’ yeah, it’s new, but to his father it’s nostalgic.”
Passero said, “The whole thing is I keep looking for unique things. And so many people when they come, they say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen all this stuff. I’ve never seen any of this stuff.’ And that’s what tells you you’re doing the right thing. They don’t always buy, because not everybody’s looking to spend money all the time, but maybe when they need a gift or something, they’ll remember.”
That uniqueness is what makes Lewiston particularly special this time of year.
Inspirations on Canvas, The Village Bake Shoppe, Viva Nostalgia, You & Me and Baby & Me are located on Center Street.