BRO: What are your thoughts on Buffalo as a fishing Mecca?
Bob Rich: There is no question – I had a guest here for a charity event on the waterfront – Bill Dance, who has a popular Saturday morning fishing show – he said that hands down Buffalo has the best small mouth fishing in the world. Erie County sells more hunting and fishing licenses in the country than any other county in the US. The tournament that we host has been growing exponentially. Buffalo is a wonderful area for water sports. As for Lake Erie, there was once a great doctor by the name of Jack Lore, a world-renowned head, neck and throat guy – he could have lived anywhere he wanted, but he chose Buffalo because he was a
sailor and skier. He used to tell me [jokingly] that he could literally see his sailboat from on top of the ski hill. Talk about quality of life.
How do we build relations with Toronto?
Years and years ago I was spending a lot of time on the issue via a bi-national task force on trade. We announced our formation meeting and we were set to launch the task force on Sept 12, 2001 – the day after 9-11. We were just starting to look at opening free trade with Canada, tackling Peace Bridge issues, etc. Needless to say 9-11 set us back [understatement]. We’re now looking at changes in expediting shipping. Buffalo is still in a prime hub location.
We continually have Bison baseball fans asking about a possible future affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays. At this point we are beholden to The Mets, but the subject has been raised.
Who would you give a key to the city to?
Other than you [laughing]… Jordy Levy has fought a good fight for the waterfront. And Ralph Wilson has been loyal to this community. I’ll give Terry Pegula a key when he wins the cup. And lastly Bob Wilmers – never a stronger Buffalo advocate.
Have you had coffee at Sweet_ness 7 on Grant Street?
No, I’m addicted to another brand (couldn’t say), but I’ll be sure to stop in the next time I go by.
What industry should Buffalo be looking at?
We’re well-suited for back office industries. Geico is a good model for us. The Medical Campus could benefit from more consolidation. I’m chair of the Cleveland Clinic. The president of the clinic was a fraternity brother of mine in college. We raised 1.4 billion dollars for the clinic. Medical tourism is a big industry and one that continues to benefit Buffalo. Buffalo should be looking to attract any industry that is looking for human resources and proximity to water.
Buffalo’s biggest success that you were a part of?
Pilot Field was a very exciting time for us. It’s a perfect green space in a world of concrete. What a beautiful job… with inlaid marble – to this day I wouldn’t trade it for any other minor league stadium in the country. Now called Coca-Cola Field, it continues to hold its own.
Buffalo’s biggest disappointment?
Saint Lawrence Seaway. That started the downfall of any kind of milling, and the city’s problems really started then. None of the leadership could see the writing on the wall, though even if they could they were powerless to do anything about it. The repercussions have been impacting our community ever since. Fortunately it was not the death knell for the city, and we’ve been reinventing ourselves in recent years. We ended up kicking ourselves when Bethlehem Steel closed, but it was inevitable. It was beyond our control. We tend to beat ourselves up things that are beyond our control.
Niagara Street – it’s the city’s connection along the waterfront via
the Greenway Trail – have you ever talked to The City regarding
It’s a constant dialogue – I’ve enjoyed great dialogue with Mayors of
Buffalo – as we’ve [Rich Products] changed from manufacturing to office
jobs, we’ve had lots of discussions – progress is being made*. Niagara is
an anomaly because of its mixed use nature. With a changing demographic
we will start to see some major opportunities.
*Within close proximity of Niagara Street, Councilman Rivera has recently secured over 1 million dollars in public funding for the revitalization of Broderick Park. Bob Rich has spent many lunch breaks at the park talking to the fisherman and is excited to hear the news.
What’s your favorite park in Buffalo?
Delaware Park. I grew up in the area playing sports – I still remember the old days of canoeing on the lake.
How many Bisons games do you go to a year?
I’m going to several more this year through the wonders of TV and I attend about a dozen games live. There was a day when I went to all of the games, but I’m so busy with Rich’s growth in other countries that that is just impossible.
What’s your favorite Rich product?
I love everything, though I have a special place in my heart for the park barbecue. We serve them at the ballpark. It’s my downfall.
Is there a difference between angling and fishing?
It’s more of a nomenclature. It refers to the angle of the rod – keeping the right angle of the line to the fish is the most effective ratio so that your rod won’t break. Fishing rods were once bamboo and the lines were woven silk – back in the days you really needed to know how to hold the rod – that’s when it was known as angling. Today people just call it fishing.
What’s the most important advice that your father ever gave you?
Don’t drink martinis at lunch.
What’s your favorite building in Buffalo?
I still enjoy the Guaranty Building. I used to love to see the architecture students run their paper and pencil over the structure in order to capture the different textures.
What’s your favorite movie?
The Natural. I think the movie has played a special part in Buffalo as a city. It captured the Rock Pile and the Ellicott Square Building. I remember getting Robert Redford a place to stay. In the movie, Earl of Bud was slinging Budweiser while my son was slinging Pepsi. I think the city still takes great pride in the movie.
You brought sushi to Buffalo and we thank you for it. Thoughts?
Sake’s was an artistic success and financial disaster [jokingly]. We had to modify the menu for the meat and potato folks [laughs out loud]. Mayor Griffin would come in and order a steak with teryaki. Sake’s (located in the basement of the Guaranty Building) was club-like and had a zen following. People really enjoyed the place. I still remember when Kuni (original sushi chef) was trying to get a green card and back then it was a lottery system, so people could send as many applications as they wanted. We had 16000 people writing his postcards. Fortunately for Buffalo, Kuni was one of the winners in the lottery for the green card. Everybody wanted to support Kuni.
Is overfishing in our oceans a concern?
I think it absolutely is. We are seeing more and more species that are endangered these days. I’m involved with a movement to help protect certain fish – marlin for example. These days catching a 150 pound blue fin tuna is about all you get. There was a time when you could catch a 1000-pounder. We’re systematically ruining the species. It’s similar in the Great Lakes. The possibility of Asian Carp being introduced to our waters could have a devastating effect on fishing. There is an onus on us to protect the environment.
Zebra mussels – take ’em or leave ’em?
Take ’em. When they were first introduced we thought that they might hurt the fishing industry. Same with the gobies. It turns out that these invasive species are a great source of protein for the sport fish. Then we thought the gobies would be bad. The third potential threat, the Asian Carp, would be disastrous.
Being as successful as you are in the business world, why write books about fishing and Buffalo?
People should read for enjoyment. This is my fourth book – anybody who is interested in Buffalo sports will enjoy it. The controversies, naming rights for Rich Stadium, buying and selling The Sabres… if you’re into Buffalo and its sports teams, this is a behind the closed doors look at the deals, first hand. All proceeds from book sales go toward the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo – teaching sportsmanship and fair play is of utmost importance these days. I’ll be signing my book, The Right Angle, at Talking Leaves tomorrow (August 4th) on Elmwood at 7PM. I wanted to launch the book in Buffalo before going on the national media circuit. For anyone interested, it’s not just about fishing… I could have easily called it From Buffalo With Love.