The human aspect needed to bring back a once vital commercial district is not unlike what is required to enter a burning building, put out a fire, rescue inhabitants, and prevent destruction from spreading. When Peter Scarcello, John Ott and Gino Gatti started Hook & Ladder development company, they were used to working together as firefighters. They had the necessary commitment, courage and vision of what could be, to bring to the task of rescuing buildings and preventing further decline in neighborhoods throughout Buffalo. With their offices in a building at 2111 Seneca Street that they renovated, they have become an integral part of the resurgence of Seneca Street, their South Buffalo neighborhood.
Their most recent Hook & Ladder project, at 2096 Seneca is in the same block as their offices. Built in 1922, the building has housed a barbershop since 1935. That’s when people would walk to the barber, visit with neighbors, get some exercise and a haircut as a routine event.
Neighborhood centered commerce and walkability started to decline in that area when the Seneca mall opened in 1969. Mom and pop stores could not compete, and vacant storefronts became prevalent. Despite strong family and community ties in South Buffalo, millennials moved to neighborhoods that provided the walkable lifestyle they were seeking.
That’s what inspired Hood & Ladder, along with organizations like the Coalition for a Vibrant Seneca Street to step in and bring back buildings, commerce and young residents to the neighborhood. Along with the barbershop owned by Dan Callihan whose connection to the business, Bob’s Barbershop can be traced back to the original owners, the 2096 Seneca Street building has four residences and a photography studio.
According to Callihan, “This shop started in 1935…I hope to continue the tradition it has always had and will always provide… It has always been about family… affordability… as we rebuild Seneca St it will always be Bob’s Barbershop keeping family and traditional values alive… This barbershop still has generations of father and sons and grandsons and great grandsons.”
The other commercial tenant, a photography studio is called The Studio on Seneca. Owners Erin Hayes Moran and Kari Vogel will specialize in maternity, newborns, toddlers and family sessions. Themes, holidays and special occasion packages will be offered throughout the year as well as basic photography classes for all ages.
The Studio will showcase local artists in their gallery and offer space sharing opportunities for artists, entrepreneurs and vendors to fine-tune their craft and wares. Perhaps a visit to the barbershop will be in order before getting that family photo taken.
Above the two commercial tenants, there will be four newly renovated apartments with hardwood floors, up-to-date appliances and granite counter tops. Residents will be able to appreciate the community garden being planted next door, the Hoppers Rush Inn (a staple for decades) as well as Grey Havens Tattoo and other business enlivening storefronts along Seneca.
When you take the good old bones and human capital of a district and add upgraded residences, services, safety, and affordability, you have a formula that makes those who can remember how it used to be as happy as those who have only heard the stories. The current resurgence is a result of both private and public investment. Key players are Hook & Ladder, the Frizlen Group, Schneider Development, Coalition For a Vibrant Seneca, Councilman Scanlon, Congressman Higgins, Senator Kennedy and Mayor Brown.
The Seneca Street initiative includes beautification projects, traffic calming and widened sidewalks. According to Peter Scarcello or Hook & Ladder, “the redesigned streetscape will give a desirable canvas for the corridor which should stimulate more private investment.”
To see Hook & Ladder’s latest project, visit the opening celebration Wednesday, July 18th at 11:30 a.m. at 2096 Seneca Street.