Seneca Street in South Buffalo is quickly regaining some serious mojo. So much so that within a few years this historic avenue could reclaim its role as one of the city’s prime commercial corridors. While the activity on Seneca Street has been relatively overshadowed by other hotspots around the city such as Hertel Avenue and Niagara Street, a handful of developers and businesses are hard at work laying a foundation for the street’s future.
Regular BRO readers will no doubt recall the recent write ups on Seneca Street’s headline projects such as Schneider Development’s rehab of the iconic Shea’s Seneca building and the Frizlen Group’s adaptive reuse of St. Teresa’s School at Seneca and Mineral Springs. The South Buffalo natives behind Hook & Ladder Development are also tackling a handful of neighborhood commercial properties on Seneca Street. Much less talked about, but equally as impressive, is the roster of new businesses who are capitalizing on the upswing in development by moving into the neighborhood or reinvesting in existing establishments.
“The demand is there,” says James Rayburg, co-owner of Public Espresso and a South Buffalo native. Rayburg and his Public Espresso partner, Sam Scarcello, also a South Buffalo native, have been serving their pour over coffee for four years now at the South Buffalo Farmer’s Market that takes place every Sunday over the summer in Cazenovia Park. The sizeable neighborhood following they have built up as a result made opening up a storefront on Seneca Street a no brainer.
“The outpouring of excitement and enthusiasm we have received since we announced our plans to open a location at Shea’s Seneca has been stunning,” says Rayburg.
“People tend to overlook how large, dense, and established the neighborhood is in addition to its strong Southtown’s connections,” says Mark Pasquale, long-time South Buffalo resident and President of the Coalition for a Vibrant Seneca Street, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rebirth of the corridor. “There is a pent-up demand for new and exciting businesses, which people can walk to instead of having to trek across the city. The market area really extends from Seneca to South Park, up to Larkinville, and draws heavily from the Southtowns as well.”
A quick look at a demographic analysis from Pyramid Brokerage supports Pasquale’s argument and yields some surprising insights, especially for business owners looking to locate in a densely populated and affluent neighborhood.
There are an estimated 22,084 people within a one-mile radius of the Seneca and Cazenovia intersection. At the comparable North Buffalo intersection of Hertel and Colvin Avenue, there are an estimated total of 24,561 people within a one-mile radius, a mere 2,477 person difference despite all of the growth that North Buffalo has seen over the past few years.
From an average household income standpoint, the one-mile and three-mile radius surrounding Seneca and Cazenovia stands at $52,128 and $51,626. At Elmwood Avenue and West Ferry Street, the heart of Western New York’s leading 14222 zip code for high-end housing, the one-mile and three-mile average household income stands at a very comparable $60,180 and $51,772.
Despite the similar demographics, however, commercial rents on Seneca Street are significantly lower than what retail business owners will pay in other parts of the city, especially the Elmwood Village. For retail businesses looking to open up somewhere that they can have financial room to breathe, but still be in proximity to a high number of customers with money to spend, Seneca Street clearly presents an opportunity.
The Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub, a long-running institution on Seneca Street, knows all about the advantages of the location. After 40 years of being in business, the establishment recently completed a substantial make-over, which includes new outdoor patio space, a large yard for lawn games, and live music on the weekend (below).
“The Blackthorn is thrilled to be part of Seneca Street’s amazing progress,” says owner Pat Lalley. Just as important, Lalley see the efforts behind The Blackthorn as just another way “to preserve the history, heritage, and great community that we are proud to be a part of.”
The redevelopment of Shea’s Seneca is bringing new life and new businesses to Seneca Street. There will be a 130-seat performance art theatre for Second Generation Theatre Company, a new banquet and special event space run by Classic Events, the team behind events at the Hotel Lafayette and the Foundry, and the aforementioned Public Espresso + Coffee. There is still a 2,100 square foot storefront space available for lease.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the strong interest in our retail space at Shea’s Seneca,” reports Matt Hartrich, VP of Development at Schneider Development. “We’ve talked with a lot of different businesses about opening up at Shea’s and we are confident its just a matter of time before we find the right tenant to round out our mix of retail businesses.”
A short walk down the street from Shea’s a new shop aimed at the craft beer crowd is coming to 2114 Seneca Street (above), one of several buildings that Hook & Ladder Development is in the process of bringing back to life. Bottle Rocket is billed by owners Nate Manna and Billy Lewis as a “a one-stop bottle shop for purchasing, tasting, and exploring craft beer.”
Manna, a physician’s assistant who resides on nearby McKinley Avenue, says, “We have a passion for great beer and we want to share our appreciation with our customers. Craft beer is exploding across the country, and we believe South Buffalo is lacking a beer lover’s haven.”
After Bottle Rocket opens, South Buffalo residents will have a similar craft beer resource as East Aurora residents have with Aurora Brew Works and Clarence residents have with Murphy Brown’s Craft Beer Emporium.
“We jumped at the opportunity to open up shop on Seneca Street,” co-owner Lewis explains. “Not only do we see incredible potential in this market, but we also have deep roots in the neighborhood. Growing up right around the corner, I have seen the bare sections of the street go untouched for years.”
“Seneca Street is on the rise,” Lewis insists. “There is a demand for quality amenities and we look forward to being apart of its rejuvenation.”
To top it all off, a new streetscape makeover by the City is slated for in front of Shea’s Seneca right at the intersection of Cazenovia Street that will add to the already walkable character of the neighborhood.
And last but not least, New York State’s $750 million investment in Solar City is barely two miles up the road at RiverBend. If the project is any type of success, the ripple effect will surely radiate down Seneca Street. Whether that means new spin-off businesses that gradually make their way down the South Buffalo corridors or an increase in neighborhood home values would just be speculation at this point. But having an economic engine humming along just north of you is a proven recipe of success similar to Buffalo State College and Elmwood Avenue.
Schneider Development – 716.923.7000
Hook & Ladder Development – 716.768.3624
Frizlen Group – 716.881.0046