Remember the A-Team? When Hannibal would say,”I love it when a plan comes together!” Well, TV is one thing, real life is another. But occasionally a plan really does come together in reality, sometimes when you least expect it. Take, for example, the instance when Erik Hansen and Joshua Burch called me to talk about their new paintball course on the city’s East Side. Initially I handed them off to Buffalo Rising writer Claire Wanzer, who helped to document the inspiration behind the initiative. But as the plan started to solidify, Erik and Josh felt that they needed some added elements to fill out their mission. So I met with them, to discuss their broader visions. What I discovered was incredible – we were all on the same page about fulfilling another need for Buffalo that was not being addressed.
Remember back in October, when I published an article about street artist Vinny Alejandro, who has been looking to build a street art culture in Buffalo, similar to Rochester, Chicago, Cleveland, and just about any other city that you can imagine? Well, if you throw your dreams and aspirations out into the wind, eventually they will catch flight. And guess what? Rather than relying on the typical resources that you would think would be offered up by a city, sometimes the most unlikely circumstances can unfold that signal that you’ve been on the right path all along.
It turns out that Erik and Josh have been fortunate enough to be blessed with a few abandoned and decrepit buildings on their future paintball grounds. As happenstance would have it, they were hoping to be introduced to some local muralists (street artists) to create a colorful backdrop to their paintball venture. So I reached out to Vinny, who immediately understood the implications of the “partnership”, and a plan was soon hatched to create an adult paint playground, where paintballers and street artists would come together to create an East Side paint mecca (indoors and out). Vinny’s vision for the grounds is similar to Erik and Josh’s – to create a paint scene in Buffalo, with events and festivals, where people come from all over the country to participate in paint-friendly culture. The events would embrace street art, paintball, food trucks (painted by artists), DJs, B-boys and B-girls, and other colorful elements of urban street culture.
When introduced to the site, Vinny could not believe the assets at hand. “It’s like Chicago!” he said. “This is exactly the type of street art environment that will draw artists from all over the country to paint.”
The “Normel Paintball” site affords artists the opportunity to paint indoors and outdoors. The grounds are sprawling with opportunities, from paint festivals to street art competitions. Adding to the excitement, the Central Terminal can be seen in the background.
There are two paintball courses being laid out – one for the pros (with turf), and one for the “woods players”. There are concrete bunkers (looking for people to build statues on top), and there are walls upon walls to paint… so many walls that street artists will have a field day. For years, Vinny has been looking for a reason to invite renowned street artists to Buffalo, to no avail. Well, the time has come to turn this former scrapyard into a colorful, active, art-driven environment that will put Buffalo on the map as a place that embraces paintball and street artists, instead of shunning them.
Once open, the “Normel Paintball” site will become an epicenter of action packed activity. What was once a sleepy outpost will soon cater to artistic talents the likes of which Buffalo has never seen. Combined with the paintball community, we’re looking at a real infusion of life that will resound throughout the East Side. To that end, some members of the surrounding neighborhood are already anticipating the arrival of the paintball course, such as “Orlando” – a neighbor who lives directly across the street.
Orlando has voluntarily taken up the call of duty as “community watchdog” to ensure that everyone understands and respects the role of the new facility which is being constructed. As we walked around the site earlier today, Orlando expressed his excitement about the paintball compound that is being positioned across the street from his house. A couple of other neighbors that we ran across, including “Jimmy”, also voiced their enthusiasm for the enterprise. They are excited to see the action unfold, and are willing to help in any way that they can.
As we walked around the facility on the Howard Street side, Vinny pointed towards a corner bar that pretty much looked like a house. Erik and Josh said that it was an establishment called Twilight Grill (494 Howard Street – there was no sign on the building).
After walking the grounds, we all decided to pay a visit to the bar (cash only), whereupon we immediately found a “home away from home.” The owners were so gracious, as were the patrons. It was as if they had been awaiting our arrival. We ordered a few beers, and listened to Orlando’s stories about the neighborhood.
Erik and Josh chimed in, telling us about some of the things that they had learned about the block, including the whereabouts of another bar/eatery a few doors down on Howard Street called Darren’s Tavern. Apparently there were once 20 taverns in this neighborhood. Today there are only a couple left. Hopefully, a new infusion of life in the form of a paintball-street art campaign will benefit these two remaining establishments on Howard Street that have managed to hang on for all these years.
Before long, Vinny, Erik, Josh, and Orlando bade their farewells, which is when I struck up a conversation with Nikki Hedrick, whose parents, Dan and Sue, own Twilight Grill.
After downing a shot of tequila, I asked Nikki if she wanted to accompany me, down the street, to Darren’s Tavern (514 Howard Street), and she readily accepted. So we strolled down to the tavern, which turned out to be just as delightful as Twilight Grill, with the level of neighborhood charm that can only be mustered by being open for more than 100 years (yes, over 100 years – originally sponsored by Magnus Beck Brewing Company).
The owner “Renata” was as gracious as any host could be. We talked about the neighborhood, Iroquois beer, the paintball complex, and her life in the bar business.
You see, Renata basically lives at the bar – during the day she cooks the meals and works the bar, and then at night she tends the bar. Ever since her husband passed away, she has been maintaining the tavern to the best of her ability. And according to her customers, she’s one of the best barkeeps in town.
Renata has been an owner for 33 years, and apparently makes some of the best home cooked lunchtime meals in the region. I will let you know soon enough.
After a beer or two, I headed back on over to Twilight Grill to discuss an idea that we had pondered earlier on in the evening. Remember when I mentioned that there was no sign on the building? It turns out that the transformer on the original neon sign was caput. As funds have been tight, the decision was made to retire the sign. We discussed holding a cash mob to raise money to restore the sign. The event will be held the same day as the opening of the paintball facility, in early August (more to come – stay tuned). As we were discussing the fundraiser (earlier in the evening), Dan Hedrick walked out from the back room carrying the original (but broken) neon sign. We figured that it would take a couple of hundred bucks to get the sign back up and operational. Once again, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
When all is said and done, I have a feeling that opening day for Normel Paintball will be quite a celebration. We’re not just talking about a couple of kids opening a paintball court here – Erik and Josh own normeltech, an IT company that will soon be headquartered on Chandler Street (Rocco Termini project). That’s their day job. The paintball venture is more of a side venture, to bring something super cool to Buffalo’s East Side. And as much as this is going to be an extremely fun paintball facility, these guys aren’t playing around – they’re serious about making big changes on the East Side, by being good neighbors who care about their surroundings.
Opening Day Paint Festival
Saturday, August 4 & 5, 2018
Normel Paintball | 482 Howard Street | Buffalo, New York 14206
Find Normel Paintball on Facebook
Lead image (L-R): Orlando, Vinny, Erik, Jimmy, and Josh