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Downtown: Wilson Farms in the Alling and Cory

By Lorne Opler
As work progresses on redevelopment of the Alling and Cory building into student housing, the decision by Wilson Farms to lease space on the ground floor is worthy of discussion.   I appreciate and endorse all the valid criticisms levied at WF for building intown stores that look like suburban boxes and disregard the efforts to promote pedestrian oriented streetscapes.  One only need to look at their two locations on Elmwood, to see how the WF, with their asphalt parking lots, not only ruin the continuity of storefronts built to the sidewalk, but with its car oriented access, contributes to pollution, greenhouse gas production and just plain ugliness.     
While this is a classic example of how not to build, the downtown WF will not repeat its mistakes of the past.  The ground level store, will albeit by default, be built to the sidewalk, which obviously means access from the street. Wilson Farms will also incorporate the existing concrete columns of the building into its interior space. It not seem like a big deal, but again, I assume the presence of these columns, will create a different type of ambiance inside the store compared to their suburban nightmares.  Yes, I recognize even with the presence of these century old columns, one will not mistake the inside of this WF to the lobby of Shea’s.  But it does show WF’s respect for the building’s past.  And while I understand that some (even many) may scoff at the notion that WF’s downtown presence is a big deal, in my opinion it is. For several reasons.
First and foremost, it’s retail. No, it’s not high retail like Sephora, or an Apple Store, or Crate and Barrel. And no, it’s not an upscale grocery like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  And while it does rank on the same level as a Rite Aid, in this case it’s a notch above the drug store chain.  First, the store will be open longer than any downtown pharmacy – that means more business and more outdoor foot traffic.   
I know what you’re thinking: “Are you serious?   Do you really believe what you’re writing?    More business of what kind?  It’s just a place to buy Beef Jerky and Cheetos after CVS closes for the night!  How does that add to the viability and attractiveness of downtown?” And what foot traffic are you talking about?  There are no feet in that part of the city!”  Fair enough.  The questions are both understandable, and under current conditions, valid.   
Put aside the immediacy of the present state in this part of the downtown, and the WF is a start.  It’s retail, however base, on a street utterly devoid of a retail cash register (the snack bar in the NFTA bus station does not count).  Students will use the store, hence the increased foot traffic in an area heretofore empty of moving legs.
Still skeptical?  Are you concerned that other than students, the store by nature of its low end merchandise, will attract the wrong kind of people to the area? Think beyond this. Sure, it sells junk, but it also sells the staples that our pantry and fridge really need…eggs, juices, bread, coffee…in short, your breakfast foods for the next morning too.   
As I see it, this WF can become  a place where downtown dwellers will visit when the Washington Market is closed, or when you don’t feel like trekking all the way to the Top’s on Niagara Street. Sure, it may not be your first choice to buy real food, but it will serve in a pinch. Again, more foot traffic.  
Another point of significance – WF signed on even before the building was completed.  The building owners did not need to put “for lease” signs on its store front windows. How many other recently opened places in downtown that were built with at grade storefronts, have had a retail business sign on before the ribbon cutting?  Fair enough,  a WF is not the type of retail that buildings like the Granite Works is seeking for its storefronts.  The imagery, in fact, is downright comical.  On the flip side, the downtown dorm was not in the market for a Godiva’s Chocolate store. Equally inappropriate. The dorm requires a store that meets the needs of its students. And the area requires a convenient place to meet the needs of busy downtown residents.  Wilson Farms fills both needs.  The store will, therefore, always be busy.  That’s simply a good thing for downtown.  
The imminent opening of WF’s new store is not a cause for a new state holiday, but I compare it the pending national health care legislation. It’s not the end…again, it’s just the beginning.        

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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