While her customers ordered fish fries and roast pork with potato pancakes, Cheektowaga restaurant owner Susan Wozniak scanned a different kind of menu this summer.
The "specials" aren't roast beef or chicken and ribs, but awnings, shutters, window grilles, signs, lights and siding.
An old Cheektowaga neighborhood on Buffalo's doorstep is showing new life, and Mrs. Wozniak's Edge of Town Restaurant is on the cutting edge as the first business approved for a federal grant under the town's Genesee Street facade improvements program.
That means the front of the Edge of Town at 2310 Genesee will get a makeover, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development paying 70 percent of the bill, up to $14,000.
Mrs. Wozniak's two-story, 19th-century building with its trademark pitched roof is the furthest along in the process; she's working with an architect to come up with an affordable plan she likes.
But three other businesses just outside the city in Cheektowaga's shopworn Genesee-Pine Ridge Road business district aren't far behind, and a fourth has applied for the facade program, according to Jerome J. Gabryszak, the town's community development director.
He listed the three as the Borderline Pub at 2312 Genesee, Tri-Vision TV Service at 2294 Genesee and Wozniak's Photography & Video at 2290 Genesee, whose owner isn't related to the Edge of Town's proprietor. Kuhn's Monuments at 2398 Genesee has applied for a facade improvement grant, Gabryszak said.
"I want to be part of the revitalization of this neighborhood," Mrs. Wozniak said in a recent interview, while the help scurried about, getting ready for the lunch crowd.
The town's $140,000 HUD program has a number of rules, perhaps the most significant being that the building first has to meet building and fire codes.
"It doesn't make sense to improve the front while the rest of the building deteriorates," Gabryszak said.
If the owner of a building that needs a lot of work can't afford it, the town soon will unveil another new, federally funded program that offers low-interest commercial rehabilitation loans of up to $16,000, Gabryszak said.
Both programs aim to stabilize and improve the economic and social climate of the Genesee Street commercial corridor and the low- and moderate-income neighborhoods it serves, according to Jeff Swiatek, a Cheektowaga councilman.
"There are a lot of good things happening here," with the facade program just one of them, Swiatek said. On the commercial front, Eckerd Drugs is spearheading a major redevelopment venture that includes construction of a new drugstore and retail space, demolition of a neighborhood eyesore and a new bus turn-around.
Cheektowaga police have a substation in the neighborhood.
"You definitely have good patrol around here," Swiatek remarked.
On the residential front, programs help low- and moderate-income people not only fix up their homes, but buy them, too.
Cheektowaga has made 99 loans for closing assistance to first-time home buyers, a number of them in the Genesee-Pine Ridge area, Gabryszak said.