It is assumed, that if you own a building, you will take care of it. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, as we have seen time and time again in Buffalo. We have witness numerous accounts of buildings collapsing because of faulty brickwork, shoddy roof repairs, etc. What these building owners do not comprehend is that they are the stewards of this city’s glorious architecture, and just because they own the buildings, it shouldn’t be up to them whether they stand or fall. And if/when a brick facade crumbles, it should not be replaced with cinderblock (cheap and lazy substitute).
In June of 2019, Jennifer Bronstein and her daughter Kilby, owners of Half & Half Boutique, ran into a huge problem when the facade of their storefront collapsed. Unbeknown to them, the integrity of the building was compromised prior to ownership, and the Bronsteins were left “holding the bag.”
“We’re women, we’re strong, and we managed to recover,” said Jennifer, who mentioned that this is a story about devotion – devotion to a building, to the store’s brand, to the neighborhood, and to the legacy of Buffalo. “It ended up costing $360K to repair, and at this point insurance is only covering two-thirds. It was an overwhelming situation – it took a long time to process what had happened, but more than anything else we were thankful that no one was hurt. It was a hard, emotional awakening. It was very scary.”
In the end, the Bronsteins did what they felt was best for the iconic building. They put it back together, better than the day that is was built. “There are new steel beams everywhere, including 5 steel girders on the flat roof that brace and stabilize the building,” Jennifer told me. “This building is never going anywhere. Max Willig Architect designed it for the highest level of safety and longevity, and Chris Cullen (GC) made sure that the building materials stood toe-to-toe with the design – the facade is now made with fiberglass reinforced cement pieces that were molded using the building’s original designs (by Buffalo Plaster Architectural). If there is a lesson here, it’s how important it is to invest in preventative maintenance, or you will one day pay the price, because it will be much more costly in the end.”
“My dad always taught us the importance of making a win-win for all sides,” added Kilby. “That’s what we set out to do when we restored the building. It would have been much easier to tear the whole thing down – we could have just walked away. But this has become a labor of love for us. We saved the building for the community – it could have been a much more tragic loss. We could have lost the building, or someone could have gotten hurt. It’s the first time that I ever thought, ‘There must be some greater force that made sure no one was hurt…’ – a customer had just left the store when it happened.”
After the facade collapse, the Bronsteins were forced to close their business for a month. Parkways Haircutters (in the southern storefront) was also impacted by the collapse and the resulting months of repair work. “The community rallied behind us though,” said Jennifer. “And we were able to concentrate on improving our website, which we are very proud of. We are resilient, and so is the building. During those three months we continued to pay our staff… we just kept going. Now it’s beautiful on the inside and the outside. I finally feel as is we’re done, and we can start to enjoy it.”
Overall, the Bronsteins put at least $1.3 million into the Half & Half building, the Tipico Café development next door (a former mortuary), and the carriage house in back. Between the storefronts, the newly renovated apartments, and a new Airbnb, they consider their real estate investment portfolio as a sort of comforting “enclave.”
It’s hard to think about what all of these buildings would look like if the Bronsteins had not come to the rescue.
“We did everything by the Green Code,” Jennifer told me. “It might have been more expensive and time consuming, but these are our investments and we want to take care of them for future generations to enjoy. The facade collapse might have been unexpected, but when something like this happens, it’s important to step up and take care of it, which is what we naturally did.”