I’m a fan of Allentown for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost it’s the housing stock that is so impressive. I can spend hours walking up and down these city streets, gawking at all of the beautiful houses (and the porches!). The other day I learned about a gal by the name of Stephanie Bifano, who recently bought 40 Park Street (circa 1850s). I asked Stephanie if I could stop by and talk to her about her purchase. It turns out that she lived a couple of doors down in a worker’s cottage (built around the same time), and happened to be game for a chat.
Stephanie agreed to meet me on the porch of 40 Park Street (lead image), to discuss her latest real estate venture, and the Allentown neighborhood. Within minutes, I learned that we shared an interest in cleaning up litter. She told me that she had been following my This Week in Litter series, and she loved it. Like me, Stephanie spends a lot of time picking up litter in the neighborhood, mostly when she is out walking her dog. She’s also a fan of porches, which was one of the selling points when she bought 40 Park Street. That’s the second thing that we have in common. Stephanie is currently in the process of renting out three units in her new house (see below), and she told me that one of the stipulations when renting the lower front unit is that whoever lives there must let her guest host a band for Porchfest in case it rains. Stephanie’s own porch does not have a roof, you see. I’m still not sure how serious she was about this, but what I do know is that she is determined to take part in Porchfest in 2019 come hell or high water.
As if a hatred for litter and a love of porches was not enough, Stephanie told me that one of the other reasons that she bought 40 Park Street was so she could control the destiny of the house. In the past, she had helped the owner shovel in the winter, take care of the flowers in the summer, and clean up the yard. So she already had a bit of a vested interest, which is why she decided that she would be a worthy owner. So when the house came up for sale, she snapped it up. “I never thought that I would own two houses this old,” Stephanie told me. “But once you own one, you know what you’re in for. The foundation of my worker’s cottage failed a few years ago – if I could handle that, then I can handle this house. So far, I’ve been refreshing the rooms, and the exterior. I realized that this was a great opportunity to invest in my neighborhood. Most people are working hard and putting money into 401Ks at this stage of their lives. I decided that aside from a full time job, real estate was also a secure investment, for a lot of reasons.”
Listening to Stephanie talk about her two houses, I began to understand how one person could help to stabilize a street, or even change the direction of a street. Not that Park Street needs much help, but here was someone who was committed to purchasing and fixing up a house that was in need of some tender loving care. And by doing so, Stephanie has done more for the neighborhood than she ever realized might be the case. I spoke to one of her neighbors who told me that he was excited to see her purchase the home – he even noted that before Stephanie began to take care of the house, it was a thorn in his side because it was the only house on the street that never got shoveled in the wintertime. That alone is a reason to celebrate.
Stephanie told me that she moved back to Buffalo seven years ago because she missed the city (she grew up in Amherst). She said that a friend of hers lived on Park Street in a worker’s cottage, and there was a rental available in the carriage house in back. So she moved into the apartment, never realizing that one day the property would be hers. Apparently, her friend purchased a larger house around the corner, upon which time Stephanie realized that she had to make a move before someone else purchased it. It was the best decision that she ever made, and set the wheels in motion for her to become a stalwart Allentowner. “I moved back to Buffalo at the perfect time,” she said. “It seems that right after I moved back, everything began to happen – the city was just starting to pop. Before that, I lived in Cincinnati for 14 years, and watched that city start to rebound, just before Buffalo did. I never knew that I would one day own a house in Allentown, and be the steward for another a couple doors down.
Not only is Park Street a wonderful Allentown Street, the back side of 140 Park Street butts up to a romantic dead end brick alley called De Rutte Alley. I went down this alley once a while back when I was covering the purchase of The Coit House, which, it just so happens, is on the market again. The back alley is another reason that the houses along this section of Park Street are so special – the secluded brick drive lends itself to a warm welcome whenever arriving back home. There aren’t a lot of houses in the city that have access to their own brick alley – pretty cool!
Stephanie is in the final stages of preparing the last apartment for rental – there are three total at 140 Park Street, featured here on Craigslist – they are all dog friendly, with off street parking, and within short walking distance to the Metro Rail! To me, half the reason to live in a rental is to know that there is a trusted landlord that has your back. Another reason is to live in a neighborhood that evokes a sense of place. Park Street is dripping with historic character – the houses are some of the best that the city has to offer. I love hearing stories of people investing in their neighborhoods for the right reasons. From cleaning up litter, to addressing three fixer-upper apartments that were in need of a helping hand, Stephanie gets a couple of gold stars. Now, hopefully she can land three gold star tenants!
This article is a precursor to a new Buffalo Rising series, where we highlight everyday people investing in real estate in Buffalo.