“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Howard Beale in ‘Network’
I still remember when David Cooper first moved back to Buffalo. It was about five or six years ago and when I first ran into him he told me that he had come home to open up a restaurant. That restaurant turned out to be The Wine Thief, a business that closed approximately one year ago. Ever since David returned, he’s been fired up about the process and dynamics of opening and expanding small businesses in the city. “I’m not even talking about my business,” he told me. “I’m talking about all of the entrepreneurs who continually get put through the wringer (the confusing system) just trying to invest and make a living in Buffalo.”
I sat down with David last week to discuss his mixed emotions that have led him to start his own business association/organization called Elmwood Strip Development Group. “It’s official,” he said. “I’ve filed the proper paperwork and I’m dedicating my time and energy to working with the entrepreneurs of this city to make sure that their experiences are painless when it comes to opening businesses and keeping them open. There is too much secrecy when it comes to what you need to know, and there is nobody there to help. I am here to help to educate businesses that have been having trouble navigating City Hall. From patio permits to music licenses… building codes, enforcement, regulations… why do some businesses get special treatment while others suffer? There are too many agencies… too many decision makers, too long of time lags, discrepancies between neighborhoods and even blocks. My organization is also here to make unreasonable landlords accountable so that small businesses don’t get the short end of the stick. This could mean policy changes. I’m going to fight for them since apparently nobody else is going to.”
I asked David if he felt his new organization could eventually become a city-wide initiative, helping businesses outside of the Elmwood District. “Of course,” he answered. “I’m interested in helping any business that feels like it is being hampered by the system. In the end, I would like to help streamline the way things work – we need to see more common sense and cooperation. God forbid that anyone expand a business in this city… or open one for that matter. There are enough rules and regulations – we should be using the ones that already exist and not creating more. It’s so simple if you think about it – we need to make it easier for people to do business in Buffalo. I’ve dealt with many of these issues first hand… this is not rocket science.”
After watching countless small businesses open (or not open) in the city, I feel that David’s on the right track. I have met with so many fledgling business owners over the past few years, many of whom describe the pains of playing the waiting game while they watch their money fly out the window. I’ve walked into small businesses to find owners sitting at empty tables looking for answers. I’ve talked to operators who have found themselves stymied by the process, with no officials answering repeated phone calls. I’ve literally seen it all. Sometimes it is the business owner’s fault that he or she gets into a pickle… I’ve seen that too. But in the end there’s only punishment and no relief. David told me that in many of these cases there are no blueprints either. Landlords and businesses should be given a checklist that they should follow along with a phone number in case an issue arises. Whether that is David’s phone number or a number to an official at City Hall, David is determined to get small business back on track in Buffalo.
As David is in the process of getting a business phone number and website, he is asking that calls be directing to an interim number (see below). We will be following the developments of Elmwood Strip Development Group in coming weeks. In the meantime, if you are aware of a business that is trying to get off the ground and is in need of help, give David a shout.
Elmwood Strip Development Group | David Cooper | 716.491-5298