Still, still open, Part II
By Joshua Maloni
In part two of this series, we look at a notable trend in Lewiston: the rise, relocation and expansion of new businesses over the past 13 months, even as the pandemic brought major challenges. Also included is an update on two local construction projects.
Though master barber Aaron Stephens figured it might take a decade or so of experience before an opportunity to own his shop occurred, he was ready to roll when opportunity knocked after year three.
The 28-year-old Stella Niagara and Lewiston-Porter graduate learned at the feet (or the clipper) of former Mayor Terry Collesano at the Olde Time Barber Shop.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, Stephens was restricted on how, when and where he could continue his craft. On a whim, he bumped into Will Cruz, who was operating the barbershop at 744 Center St.
“He came down here – just for a haircut – and Will was working. And Will said, ‘Why don’t you come over here? You can do walk-ins. So, he came down here to work,” said Stephens’ mother, Lynn.
“Me and Will actually became good friends. He was a good barber,” Aaron said.
“He was having a hard time coming up here, because he has three kids. With COVID, the schooling, each kid had to do a different tablet thing. So, he was never able to get here.
“But when he saw that I was able to make it here – because I live five minutes away. ... He realized that I have already built a clientele. I had been working for three years at Olde Time Barber Shop. So, once I came here, it was just an easy transition for my guys to come right up the street here. …
“Will saw the potential in me. He wanted me to do this – he wanted this building to remain a barbershop. So, we kind of became friends, and it wasn’t working out for him, so we bought him out. That was that.”
The Vintage Barber was born – “And I have already made at least 100 new walk-ins since then,” Stephens said.
Aaron Stephens recently opened The Vintage Barber.
Cruz specialized in a razor cut. Stephens, on the other hand, “My nickname is ‘The Whippersnapper.’ I was taught by Terry, like the old kind of Italian way, which is clipper over comb,” he said. “So, I use my comb and my clipper. You could tell me anything and I could make it work. …”
“I’m more of an all-around barber, where I can basically do it all.”
Stephens said this style is “a very expressive way to do hair-cutting, because, like I said, you’re taking that clipper, you’re angling it, and slicing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. If I wasn’t doing that right, then people would not be coming back to me.”
“I consider it an art. I love that. It challenges me. And I still learn; I’m still learning every day, which is great.”
The Vintage Barber offers haircuts, beard trims, hot lather neck shave and a hot towel facial.
The décor is a mix of modern and yesteryear, with historical accents – posters and instruments – hanging on the walls.
“It’s a historical town,” Lynn said. “And we’re right on Center Street. This building’s over 200 years old. So, we thought the Vintage Barber would be a great name – and those are the vintage barber tools we have framed. And then that King Henry (painting) addressing the surgeons and the barbers. So, we kind of wanted to get a vintage feel for the place since we are in a historical town.”
Aaron said, “And the chairs; we want it to be more of like …
“More like a spa feeling than a barbershop,” Lynn said.
“Not those uncomfortable chairs,” he said. “We want everything to be classy, clean, especially now with the pandemic. We want everything to be clean. … We make sure everything is spotless.”
Patron Gene Riley said, “I have lived in Lewiston for 10 years. I started having my haircut at Aaron’s about three years ago. Prior to that, I used to have my haircut with Vince in Youngstown. He passed away unexpectedly. I have become so comfortable with Aaron’s services – I just walk in without saying a word, and Aaron cuts my hair just the way I like it. That is not to say we don’t have interesting conversations while getting my haircut. We talk about all different subjects, and I plan to use Aaron’s services while I remain in Lewiston.”
“Did it come natural to me? No,” Stephens said. “I had to work really hard.”
He explained, “When I went to school at Buffalo School of Barbering, it was brand-new. It had just opened up. I was in the first class of the school. Now there’s like a waiting list to get in. I was actually the first person to graduate from that school and get a barbering license – and probably to be employed as well. Mr. Nick (instructor Thomas Nichols) actually tells every class that.
“I had to work my butt off, because I had never picked up a clipper before. So, once I got a job with Terry Collesano, it was awesome, because he’s a very old-fashioned barber. I would spend a lot of time with him, watching him, watching, watching, and then cutting, and making mistakes, learning from mistakes, and then it just clicked. He said you have doubts in the beginning. You’re going to be scared, but stick with it and then it’s going to click one day. And it did.
“I’m still learning. Every day I still learn from work. This job challenges me, which is cool.”
The Vintage Barber is located at 744 Center St. Stop in or call 716-804-3282 for an appointment.
Sara Morreale, shown during Small Business Saturday 2019, is moving the The Rose Hanger.
411 Center St.
Sara Morreale is moving her popular clothing boutique, The Rose Hanger, from 480 to 411 Center St., right next to Hennepin Park.
“The goal is to be open early June,” she said. “We have quite a bit of work to do but, if all goes as planned, that is the goal.”
As far as layout goes, “The first floor is all going to be store, and then the second floor is gonna be my more behind-the-scenes stuff – like my stock room, office, break room, etc.,” she said. “But the entire first floor will all be shoppable space, which is double the square-footage of what I have right now. So, I’m not necessarily going to have any more product; it’s just going to be easier to shop.”
A multistory building will provide more opportunities for The Rose Hanger, which Morreale, pictured above, calls “a young contemporary shop that has brands from all over the world. Most of my companies are LA-based, but I have things from Australia, the U.K. I’m constantly bringing in new product. I also have some local people in here, as well, like Spaghetti & Meatballs greeting cards, Flat Ghost Collection Jewelry. I like to bring in local people that are also small, women-owned businesses, as well, and kind of highlight them in here. I definitely have a vibe for the younger girl who’s looking to be trendy and have the current styles.”
Like many other Lewiston business owners, Morreale has found new ways to reach customers – and new items to sell – over the course of the pandemic.
“We definitely had to change gears a little bit,” she said. “I have a lot more loungewear in the store than I’ve had in the past. We did a lot of online stuff that I didn’t have previously as well. Things like an app in the App Store is something I came up with in the last year. I’ve done substantial upgrades to my website. In-store pickup is still an option; sometimes people order online and come get things in store.
“I’ve been very lucky. People have been super supportive of the small businesses, especially here in Lewiston, and I have been able to have a decent year, considering what’s going on.”
A foodie’s paradise will soon open in the Village of Lewiston – an area already nationally known for its culinary offerings (thank you, USA Today and “Man Vs. Food”).
Town of Lewiston Attorney Alfonso Marra Bax is developing a multistory building at 442-444 Center St. The first floor will feature the return of Brewed and Bottled, Sgt. Peppers and The Mad Hatter – former neighbors at Fourth and Center – plus the debut of Battle Flag Tavern.
Though units are expected to open individually as they are finished, tenants plan to work together in promoting their offerings.
Speaking of those tenants, Bax said, “All really great people. We are so excited to finally be neighbors after all this time.”
Chris Budde is shown following the opening of the first Brewed and Bottled location.
•At BREWED AND BOTTLED, “Things are speeding up over there very rapidly, which is great news,” owner Chris Budde said. “Within the past maybe week-and-a-half, we went from just having insulation to being mostly drywall, which is extremely exciting.”
He said the expectation is a late-spring or early-summer reopening.
“Since we did make the move to a new building, we have to relicense with the New York State Liquor Authority, and they might be running on a little bit of a delay right now,” Budde said.
The craft beer shop is, as he explained, “a hybrid of a beer bar and a retail shop. You can buy beer to take home, whether it’s from a can, bottle, or even a crowler can, which is a 32-ounce can that we fill that replaces the growler. Or, you can hang out and have a drink and enjoy yourself there. If you’re feeling like you really want to, you can have a drink and you can shop at the same time, which offers a very unique experience you can’t find in many places. …
“With our beer store portion, you don’t have to buy six-packs, you can buy singles of anything. You can get one, two, three – how many you want – you’re not required to get a make-your-own six pack or a pack of beer. You can just go and get singles.”
At this new location, “I would say 99% of all packaged beer to go will be cold. At our old location, we had some warm shelves with room-temp beer. But as of now, the plan is everything will be cold,” Budde said. “We are increasing the amount of taps that we have in store. And we have a nice, private area in the back where you can drink, separated from the retail store.
“In our first location, we felt like everything was kind of compressed on top of itself. So, to shop, you had to kind of mingle around the people hanging out; and to enjoy yourself, you had to deal with the shoppers coming in and out through where you were sitting. So now both spots are separated, giving it a little bit more comfort and privacy.
“We also have the back area of the building, as our patio, that we’re going to be finishing out. And I think that adds a nice layer of almost like an oasis in Lewiston. You’re on Center Street, but you’re off Center Street. So, you’re still around all the other amazing businesses and restaurants, but you’ve got your own little, private area to enjoy yourself – maybe a little bit more quietly and relaxed than being on the hustle and bustle of Center Street.”
Brewed and Bottled will be located on the “Brickyard side” of the building.
“On the front of the building, there’s a vestibule. You’ll enter through there,” Budde said. “Our front main entrance is a shared entrance with the upstairs units. So, you’ll walk up to the front of the building, take a left through some shared doors, and you’ll see our business in that vestibule. Or, you’ll be able to enter from the back beer garden area. And so that makes us – from facing the front of the building – we’re the left side on Center Street.”
Budde said customers are excited to return to his popular hangout.
“People are getting extremely antsy, including myself (laughs),” he said. “It’s great. I’ll be outside, you know, playing with my son in the front yard, or doing yard work, and neighbors – and also people I didn’t realize who live near me, who are customers – will pull their car over and ask about when we’re opening, or they’ll just give me a shout and say, ‘When you opening!’
“Everybody seems to be very excited. The biggest compliment that I’ve received is some of the folks saying that they’ve been saving up to help us out and spend money when we reopen. And also, a lot of people are telling us that, due to COVID, they haven’t really been going out, and they’re just waiting and waiting and waiting until we reopen to come to our place. And that’s very humbling, that we can offer that kind of comforting, comfortable, fun experience, that people are just wanting and needing it.”
Donna and Neil Garfinkel at their former Sgt. Peppers location.
•Like Brewed and Bottled, “We’re getting very close,” SGT. PEPPERS owner Neil Garfinkel said. “We have our drywall up and my drywall has all been spackled, so it’s all nice. … I just ordered some slatwall. I’m going to put up a beautiful wall of hot sauce with like a rustic slatwall and shelving. And I got a new sign design. …
“I should have stock coming in (this week). It’s coming to my house, because the store is not quite ready. But I want to be able to go in with a boom, not with just a little bit of stuff. We want to open with a bang.”
Garfinkel said, “It’s a better-looking store. It’s a little smaller, but we’re going to do things more compact with a larger selection. We’re going to actually go up higher on the walls than we did in the other place.
“We sold a lot of bacon. We have like 10 different flavors of bacon, which we sold at the summer market, the farmers markets. So, we’re going to really do a lot of that. And we’re going to get back into Wisconsin cheeses, and River Rat cheese, which is from New York. They’re out in 1000 Islands. And we’re also going to do cheese from the Cuba Cheese Shoppe.
“We’re gonna go big into the cheese again, and the bacon, and anything for the barbecue and cooking spices. And, of course, hot sauce. We’re not gonna have anything that grocery stores have, really, and lots of different jams and things, too. People cook with jams and mustards and we do a lot with that, too.”
In terms of location, “My front door looks at the Frontier House,” Garfinkel said.
He noted, “Looks like my store’s probably gonna be the first one to open. … I’m gonna probably get the keys in a week or so. It’ll be closer to May when we actually open.”
Garfinkel said, “I’m excited to be in Al Bax’s building. He’s a great landlord to work with, and making things easy for us.”
442-444 Center St.
•THE MAD HATTER TEA HOUSE is the lone holdover at this location, serving customers until the old building was essentially removed. Owner Barbara Gray said, “I am excited to reopen!”
She referenced past quotes that said, “The space will reopen as a combination of The Mad Hatter Tea House and Shawn’s Gate Art Studio. I will be offering bulk tea along with boxed sets of tea and wares. Shawn’s Gate will continue to offer art classes.”
This time around, Gray added, “I do have some new bulk teas and will be offering the spring line of Tea Forté teas.”
The Mad Hatter offered a pescatarian menu at its previous locations.
Here, it will be in the west corner.
•BATTLE FLAG TAVERN is “a brand-new endeavor. It’s something that my wife and I have been working on for quite some time, and kind of happened upon the right place at the right time, via the Baxs,” owner Phil Palmeri said.
He explained, “The concept right now, as it stands, is cocktails forward, with a bit of variety, a bit of a selection – kind of something for everybody, type of a deal. Cocktails upfront. Emphasis on local ingredients; quality, simple ideas; emphasis on the New York state producers; emphasis on local produce, herbs, vegetables, spices, whenever we can. Basically, the closer we can source things, the better.”
Palmeri said he and his wife, Tracey, “lived in Buffalo for a really long time. We’ve been back in Lewiston for about 10 years now. We moved back this way 10 years ago. She’s an English teacher at Wilson. I work in health care in Cambria. And we’re just trying to put time and effort into something that we are both collectively passionate about.”
He said the tavern will be a perfect complement to the other first-floor tenants.
“In fact, we’re pretty excited about being the center unit of the building,” Palmeri said. “It kind of gives us a chance to be literal and figurative centerpiece to tie everything together.
“I know Chris Budde from Brewed and Bottled, and I have been in regular communication on our plans and the things we’d like to achieve together. We’re kind of approaching the whole building as a collective, with lots of opportunity for collaboration. Sgt. Peppers, they carry a very good variety of product that we will be able to use in our finished product. Mad Hatter tea shop, same thing. You know, we can incorporate her teas into some of our cocktails and some of our lunch and brunch items.”
As for an opening date, “We’re aiming for the summer – and the earlier in the summer, the better. Ideally, June, but nothing is concrete,” Palmeri said.
What is ...
And what will be. Customers can expect a whole new Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen experience later this spring. (Gallo rendering courtesy of Fittante Architecture PC)
Last March, right after Michael Hibbard opened his second Center Street restaurant – Gather American Eatery – New York state closed indoor dining.
“We originally had opened, and we were only about two weeks in and we had to close because of the pandemic,” he said. “We were on to a good first couple of weeks. The response was overwhelming. But then it came to a screeching halt once COVID hit. So we were closed down for about three months in total. And we had to kind of just figure out what to do, next steps, and luckily the nice weather came and kind of changed things for us, so we were able to do the outdoor seating.”
Fortunately, Hibbard’s theory – that patrons were looking for something more affordable and family-friendly in this space – proved correct.
“All in all, it’s been a success, and the reception of the people, they really love the concept,” he said. “Just the freshen up of the place, I think, helped a lot, in just changing the menu around; and great food, affordable prices and a great bar atmosphere.”
At the time of the “PAUSE” order, Hibbard also had begun construction on a new, larger Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen restaurant at the corner of Center and North Fourth streets. Progress was halted with the temporary shuttering of all things nonessential, not to mention a nationwide demand on materials and shortage of available labor.
“A lot of people, they have addressed that to me, ‘What is taking so long?’ And, really, people have to realize that our project, in general, we were closed down for three months of construction,” Hibbard said. “What happened with that is it backlogged all the contractors, too. So, we’re technically about six to eight months behind schedule of opening that location.
“But we have a really solid team, my construction adviser, which is Waterbourne Properties, Jim Carminati, he’s been a driving force in that project. If he wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be this far.”
When the new site does open, “We have the Gallo Coal Fire concept on the first floor, banquet facility on the second floor, and we actually are putting in a Gallo Pronto, which is our café concept – coffees, espressos, and quick-serve to-go sandwiches, parfaits, stuff like that,” Hibbard said. “It looks like, just with timelines, construction schedules, we’re looking at mid- to late-May to be opened. I think that’s pretty ambitious – and I think we can make it happen.”
The courtyard will feature local art projects.
“What we anticipate doing is just partnering with local (artists), which we’ve already been in talks with Castellani Art Museum, Artpark, and just the Lewiston community in general, to try to not only create a restaurant space, but an event space, a community space, and an art space there,” Hibbard said. “We have some really good ideas and some people helping me out with that.
“It’s one step at a time, but that’s really our ultimate goal.”
Gather by Gallo
When speaking with patrons, Hibbard noted, “The feedback is overwhelming and everybody says the same thing. It took this long for somebody to realize that that project, and that corner, had so much potential; it’s just no one ever – I don’t know if they just didn’t see a vision there, or just weren’t sure how to tackle it. But I think we’re able to achieve that. We, obviously, have some experience under our belt, too.”
Meanwhile, the original Gallo “has still been good,” he noted. “We have our regular clientele there. It’s funny, when I come into these places, I see the same people at both of them. We’re hoping that when we open up our other locations that same thing will transfer over. You know, Monday’s are a big night for us because we do the pizza deal. So, I see those customers on Mondays. And they come into Gather during the week, too. I always joke around that it’s my extended family, all of customers (laughs). I see them more than I do my actual family!”
Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch said, “2020 was a long and unpredictable year. No one could imagine the spread of a pandemic and the devastation it would cause. Everyone suffered the effects of it – from families, schools, churches, businesses, organizations, events and every walk of life. But through it all, we saw people coming together, helping each other through this tough time. The residents checked on their neighbors, supported the local businesses and adapted to this new way of life, of health and safety restrictions. Without their support, our village would look a lot different coming out of this pandemic.
“All our businesses had to adjust to the NYS restrictions and requirements, and reinvent their way of doing business. They all survived and some have even flourished. Construction of the new businesses, Fourth and Center, 444 Center, and Eighth and Center were delayed, but have resumed and more new businesses have opened in the village in spite of COVID. Everyone went the extra step and this says a lot about our village.
“I am saddened by the loss of loved ones and the families affected by this pandemic, but I am looking forward to a brighter future this year.”
Welcome to Lewiston
Christina Venditti recently opened Transform Wellness Studio. (Image courtesy of Christina Venditti)
•After being in private practice and renting space in medical offices for 15 years, Christina Venditti opened TRANSFORM WELLNESS STUDIO at 779 Cayuga St., Suite 2 (mini-plaza), last June.
“Through the studio, I offer massage therapy, yoga and workshops,” she said. “The front studio space is available to other wellness service providers to share their knowledge and skills with the community as well. As we begin to slowly reopen, I would like to invite others to be able to use that space.”
Transform Wellness Studio is offering a four-week workshop called “Movement & Meditation” that begins April 11 and will be offered both in-studio and online.
“With so many people suffering from pandemic fatigue, anxiety and restlessness, I feel that this offering comes at an ideal time,” Venditti said.
For more information, visit https://www.transformwellnessstudio.com/.
•MOBILE TESTING WNY recently announced that, with the help of Lewiston Fire Co. No. 1, “We are bringing the accuracy, safety and convenience of rapid response COVID-19 testing to the community of Lewiston. We provide immediate results, because your family might not have the option of waiting days for an answer. You will know now if the test is negative, so you can go on with your day, or if it’s positive, so you can take the proper steps to protect family and friends going forward.”
Located in the social hall at 145 N. Sixth St., Mobile Testing WNY offers same-day appointments via www.MobileTestingWNY.com/Lewiston.
Lewiston Love offers all things Lewiston.
•Newly opened JUST DESSERTS BY AIMEE (retail location) and LEWISTON LOVE were camera-shy for this article, but will be featured in a future edition.
Learn more about The Plant Shack, and owner Rachel Stepien, in this feature article.