Reading the BRO piece about Niagara Falls looking to Buffalo (Elmwood Avenue) for inspiration
got me thinking about our city's commercial districts and what makes them work... an not work. Seeing that I had just spent some time this past Friday attending Hertel Avenue's monthly Shop, Rock n Stroll event (Facebook
), I was reminded of the days when we were doing similar things on Elmwood in order to get the ball rolling (many years ago).
I was particularly impressed with Hertel's event (see photos) because of the variety of performers enlisted by each market or boutique, etc. The event concept started off with just a few businesses coming together to create a scene (much like Elmwood back in the day), and has expanded to additional blocks that have noticed the great response from neighbors and visitors to the district. Blue Hill Kitchen and Parker Pharmacy are two of the most recent businesses to join in on the festivities. While not every business gets involved, they all benefit from the 'instigators'.
A visit to the Shop, Rock n Stroll event is an excellent way to learn about the diversity of Hertel's businesses - tattoo shops, clothing boutiques, markets, cafes, etc. The extended hours and the various promotion strategies give residents a chance to explore the businesses that they might not normally get to support during normal business hours, as well as experience a lively visual and sound showcase of local talent. It also tends to attract others who are interested in opening businesses - there's something about camaraderie that makes these districts appealing. This is not rocket science.
If Niagara Falls wants to glean ideas from a business district, I would take a grassroots approach similar to what we are seeing on Elmwood (Peddler Market
), Allentown (First Fridays
), and even Amherst Street (activists
) and the 500 Block of Main Street (see Chalkfest
) and its amazing grassroots successes. You will see that it is the the businesses that are making it happen.
City Hall is also an integral component in that the permitting process is of utmost importance. The easier The City makes it for businesses to be creative, the better it is for everyone. Buffalo must allow for an organic approach to manifest. During the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts, there were satellite sellers stationed at various corners of Elmwood Avenue that didn't appear to get hassled. I thought that that was pretty cool. In fact, it enhanced the overall commercial vibe of the street. Shops put merchandise out on the sidewalks, and residents hosted garage sales. There were even a few entrepreneurial go-getters, such as Celebrate Buffalo
(see below), that set up on residential front lawns. Any unfamiliar visitor to the Elmwood Village would have left feeling invigorated with all of the action.
It's a combined effort between residents and businesses that makes for a vibrant commercial district. The City has an important role as well - to not impede progress and to figure out how to help make these types of initiatives easier and less expensive (permitting once again). Don't mess with success, right? That means don't allow your parking officers to ticket cars of people that are enjoying a good time... like at the Shop, Rock n Stroll event when right in the middle of the event a parking officer arrived and started ticketing cars while everyone looked on and/or began running to their cars. That was at around 7pm. I couldn't believe my eyes. The parking officer was obviously taking advantage of people who were not double parked or creating any sort of a nuisance - it was more like he had just come upon a bunch of unsuspecting sitting ducks who weren't paying attention to all of the parking signs because it was after normal business hours and a lively event was talking place.
There are plenty of examples of what to do and what not to do when it comes to reinvigorating a commercial district. A lot of it is common sense. Don't go for the money grabs if you're City Hall - let the businesses do what they do best... business. If you have to loosen up a bit in order to make it happen, that's OK. A thriving business district that has been allowed to grow organically is always better than one that was ruled with an iron fist.