An organic art movement is underway in Ghost Town, in the historic Niagara Frontier Food Terminal (NFFT) complex. I was first aware of an art undertaking upon visiting Exchange Studios last November. It was shortly after that visit that artisan Brian Wilcox approached me, telling me that there was an even larger organic art advancement at hand. So I told him that I would swing by, but due to COVID-19, the visit just occurred.
It turns out that the wait was worth it, because there have been some recent occurrences that have changed the scope and the scape of the collective project.
My most recent visit to the NFFT started with a warm welcome by Wilcox, and an introduction to his business partner Jim Sikorski. The two occupy a massive space at Loading Bay #80. The business is called Wilcox Design and Fabrication. To say that these two guys were excited to show me their space is an understatement – Wilcox and Sikorski, great friends since childhood, are like two kids in a candy shop.
Not only do they have access to seemingly limitless amounts of space and fabrication equipment, they also have some pretty chill industrial assets left behind from the glory days of the food terminal. Take the giant walk-in freezers, for example, that are so well-insulated that they only need a little space heater to keep them warm in the winter. The freezers also make for perfect workshop settings, because they are separately contained from the rest of the workspaces and studios.
The rest of the first floor is pretty much wide open, yet loaded with equipment. This is where Wilcox and Sikorski “putter” to their hearts’ content. “There’s nothing that we can’t do here,” they told me.
Sikorski is a welder and builder by trade, and is also versed in engineering. Wilcox got his start building furniture, and has quite the portfolio of work under his tool belt. Between the two, they can make large scale custom lighting, laser etched tables, and everything in-between. They have worked on countless restaurants around town, building out bars, custom built-in furniture… they have even built outdoor kitchens, soup to nuts.
Another great asset of the space is the old train platform, where they have cookouts with friends, talk about lofty projects, and entertain Sikorski’s kids when they come for a visit. “The potential here is limitless,” said Wilcox. “Our goal is to get more artists over here, to do great things. There’s so much space, and it’s super affordable. The complex also has a flower business, a winery, a sausage maker, and a kombucheria might be moving in. We would love to see a brewery here, and a restaurant. Anyone that that has a creative vision is welcome. With lots of artists, it would be the perfect place for an art festival, and other events once COVID is behind us. We just want to get the word out there to more artists and artisans that there’s nothing like this place around.”
After exploring the first floor, we took the elevator down to the basement, which is just as sprawling. The basement is filled with all sorts of construction materials, side projects, bikes, graffiti – everywhere we turned we came across objects of interest, some for work, some for fun. “My kids have a lot of fun down here,” Sikorski told me. “They skate, paint… they love coming to the building because there’s always something going on. We’ve become sort of a family over here.”
Before venturing up to the second floor, to meet artist Ian de Beer, Wilcox told me how he and Sikorski wound up finding the Terminal. “We lost our space over on Chandler Street and we had to scramble.” It turned out that maker Jonathan Casey, who recently passed away, was the inspiration behind everything. He was a connector in Buffalo, always reaching out and bringing people together. Filling this terminal with artists was one of Casey’s ambitious dreams, which is currently being fulfilled by the creative souls that he brought together. One of those souls is de Beer.
de Beer’s space on the second floor is also seemingly never-ending. Like Wilcox and Sikorski, he shares his space with a couple of other artists, who all work in a communal setting, for the most part. de Beer told me that it was Jonathan Casey that initially drew him to the Terminal, although at the time, he wasn’t even really looking to get back into the art scene. But anyone that knew Jonathan, knows that he could be very persuasive.
“Jonathan was the glue for the place,” de Beer reflected. “He and Brian really pioneered the whole thing. We’re all pretty close now – I once did a mural on Brian’s old shop, and I’ve been teaching Jim’s kids how to paint. But it was Jonathan that was the glue for the space. When he passed away, we didn’t know what that would mean for the studios. We managed to make it work, because he would have wanted us to make it work – Jonathan universally accepted people… that’s something that we’re still doing over here. His spirit is still alive in the building.”
de Beer is excited by the prospects that the market terminal buildings behold. He’s also amped about developing ongoing relationships with his fellow artists.
“Nick Delfino asked Jonathan if he could occupy a space within his studio back in the Chandler days and Jonathan had always consistently supported Nick,” said de Beer. “Aside from that I’ve known Nick since high school- we both went to City Honors. Craig has been one of my closest friends and creative partners on many projects for over half my life at this point, but this is our first time actually sharing studio space.”
Along with de Beer, artist Craig Sheperd has staked out a space on the second floor, as has artist Nicholas Delfino. As de Beer talked about these two recognized Buffalo creatives, he mentioned something that made my head turn. “That’s Max Collins’ studio over there [pointing].” “What? Max Collins? He’s back in town? I asked.” Yes, the prolific WNY wheatpaster from back in the day has returned! de Beer told me that he’s excited to work with Collins once again, and that Collins has some new tricks up his sleeve. He believes that Collins will become another driving force at the Terminal.
I’m really excited about what I’m seeing over at the NFFT. It looks as if the artists and artisans have gained plenty of steam, and are now ready to take it to another level. I believe that’s going to happen, mostly because of the pure passion that everyone has for the space, as well as the evolutionary process that has delivered them all to the building… the complex. Not to mention the combined art power that they wield.
“We are looking for more artists,” Wilcox told me, as I started heading back down the steps to leave. “We want to work with more people. We want to work on jobs together and share resources. We’re looking to build an arts community over here that is different than anything else in Buffalo.”
Aside from the artists and artisans that occupy space in this building, there are other artists set up in other buildings throughout the complex… the place is enormous, and, once again, filled with limitless potential. This could really be the start of something that would be considered a game-changer for Ghost Town, near Kaisertown.
It happened before. It can happen again.
Get connected: the-nfft.com | 1500 Clinton Street, Buffalo, NY 14206
For further information, feel free to contact Brian Wilcox at 716-861-4656 or Bpwilcox1977@gmail.com.
- 12′ -16′ foot ceilings
- Truck docks in back and 10′ loading docks in front
- 24′ x 24′ column spacing and 24′ dock widths
- Many units are contiguous and can be combined
- 2,500 and 6,000 lb freight elevators servicing each unit on all 3 floors
- Food grade buildings with walk-in freezers and coolers
- Office space in some units
- Utilities not included in lease rate
- Fireproof buildings
- Night time security service
- On-demand maintenance and consistent snow removal
- Plenty of parking
- Only a few minutes to Interstate 190
- Less than 15 minutes to the Airport
- Less than 10 minutes to Peace Bridge Canada