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McCrory's new downtown variety store racked up bigger sales than initial projections, a fact touted by some as proof that retail can succeed in the central business district.

The 15,000-square-foot store at 395 Main St. near Court Street is beginning its sixth month of operation. It occupies the first floor of a building that had been vacant since F.W. Woolworth's closed in 1997.

"Our store has been beating projections by at least 10 percent, probably closer to 20 percent," said manager Anthony LaBella. "We've been doing gangbuster business with our back-to-school items. The people downtown have been welcoming us in a big way."

He added that the strong sales trends at the Main Street store bode well for McCrory's long-term future in the Buffalo region. The New York City-based chain operates more than 150 stores nationwide and recently opened outlets at former Rite Aid stores at Fillmore and Utica and on Walden and Bailey. It also owns a G.C. Murphy Co. store in Central Park Plaza.

McCrory's also hopes to open two additional stores within the next several months -- one on the West Side and another in the southtowns.

The Main Street five-and-dime opened in April to long checkout lines, especially during lunch hours. But some wondered whether the curiosity factor had helped bolster sales in the early weeks, claiming the real litmus test would come in the summer and early fall.

But officials reported Friday that sales have exceeded relatively ambitious projections. The best-selling items have been plastic and paper products, health and beauty aids, candy and hosiery.

"I think the first five months have proven that we're catering to a large market that wants this kind of store downtown," said LaBella.

Joanne E. Loughry, the retail development coordinator for Buffalo Place Inc., said she's pleased but not surprised that McCrory's is doing well. She said the variety store's product mix of 8,000 items is servicing two distinct markets.

"You have remember that in addition to the 46,000 people who work downtown every day, there are thousands of others who live in close proximity on the near East Side and near West Side," Ms. Loughry said.

A survey of downtown employees released late last year found that the vast majority of respondents were very interested or moderately interested in seeing more shopping destinations in the central business district. For example, 86 percent expressed some level of interest in seeing a new department store, while 83 percent want to see a factory outlet open downtown.

"We're convinced that there's room for a lot of different retail downtown and we think that McCrory's is proving this in one of those sectors," said Ms. Loughry.

She added that the strong numbers being posted by downtown's only five-and-dime don't come as a shock to people who have studied the downtown market. Woolworth's, a five-and-dime with a 102-year history in the central business district, was a profitable venture even in its final years. It closed two years ago as part of a nationwide downsizing that saw Woolworth Corp. close 400 stores.

Ms. Loughry said officials at Buffalo Place will use the early trends at McCrory's to try to lure other retailers into the corridor.

"Success breeds success. When one business opens and does well, others tend to come in. Successful businesses are the best form of advertising for downtown," she said.

Not all recent downtown retail developments have been positive. Taylor's, located next to McCrory's, closed in June after its owners launched an unsuccessful eight-month experiment with upscale retail. Ms. Loughry said there has been significant interest expressed in the vacant space which underwent a $3 million face-lift prior to Taylor's opening, but there have no contracts signed.

LaBella said the one dilemma that McCrory's is attempting to address involves transportation and parking. Woolworth's had a back entrance that was used by customers to get onto Washington Street, much closer to a city-owned parking ramp and other parking.

McCrory's decision to use the back of the building for storage forced it close the Washington Street entrance.

"This makes it tough for people who buy large items and have parked behind the store. We're trying to deal with this issue now," he said.

LaBella added that if vehicular traffic is ever restored to Main Street along the pedestrian mall, the situation could improve as shoppers have greater access to the district.

The store employs 14 workers and Labella said he has had to keep three cash registers open virtually every day from 11 a.m. until at least 3:30 p.m. because of heavy customer volume.

"Business has been great, and as we move into Halloween and the Christmas seasons, we think the trends will only get better," he said.

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