To all those expatriates returning to town this week, Buffalo has two things to say:
We missed you.
Buffalo Old Home Week -- a grass-roots promotional event designed to lure back former residents for good -- returns this week with a series of scheduled affairs to reacquaint the lost sons and daughters with the Queen City.
Kickoff is this morning at the Central Terminal. Throughout the week, visitors will tour the city's Elmwood and Parkside neighborhoods, experience a summer evening watching Shakespeare in the Park and take in a game at the downtown ballpark. A career fair with as many as 60 local companies will be Friday.
"If we get them here," said Marti Gorman, the event's co-coordinator, "we know they'll fall in love with Buffalo."
George Apfel will be here. He moved to Las Vegas when he was 10 but for the last five years has been considering moving back to the area.
"There's something about Western New York," said Apfel, 54.
John Straubinger is coming, too. He moved to Boston as a college freshman and didn't look back. But in recent years, he's grown more attached to the community he left in 1968.
"As I got older, I began to realize I get my sense of place from Buffalo," said Straubinger, 57. "It makes me feel better."
Anyone who lives in Buffalo -- once the eighth-largest city in America -- is all too familiar with the area's economic woes and the city's dramatic population loss over the last half-century. Its population peaked at 580,000 in 1950 but is now estimated at 276,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
So last year, a group of ambitious and passionate volunteers -- led by Gorman and local blogger Christopher Smith -- came up with the idea to persuade expatriates to move back to Buffalo.
The grass-roots group reprised Buffalo Old Home Week, an event originally held here in 1907.
While last year's event exceeded expectations, organizers hope to do even better this year.
People are being asked to register, so there's more accurate attendance and follow through with the expatriates.
With the help of sponsors, organizers advertised the event through word of mouth, blogs, local college alumni lists and even native son Tim Russert. Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," promoted Buffalo Old Home Week in a television spot that aired locally and on cable networks in a few other markets, Gorman said.
So far, Gorman said, more than 2,000 people have registered, which includes people from 26 states.
But the week isn't just for expatriates.
Buffalo ambassadors are needed to help promote the area, she said. It's also a chance for locals to remember what this area has going for it.
"It's a celebration of all that's great about Buffalo," said Gorman, a local publisher. "It's the American ideal. We just don't know it."
Since the 1980s, Straubinger has been keeping closer tabs on what's happening in his hometown. "For quite a while, I was watching all that was going on, and it really disturbed me," said Straubinger, an Amherst High School graduate. "I used to think I was the only person that really cared about Buffalo."
But now when Straubinger returns to visit family, and for the annual Garden Walk Buffalo, he can see changes in parts of the city.
One of the big differences he's noticed in the past couple years is the community spirit. Buffalo Old Home Week is a good example. "This is exactly what I like," Straubinger said. "You see individuals getting motivated to make the city better."
Apfel, meanwhile, had been away for more than 40 years, until he visited Buffalo in February.
He was saddened to find entire neighborhoods torn down on the city's East Side. But he was happy to see old haunts like the North Park Theater. The air and waterways seemed cleaner than he had remembered.
He was blown away by downtown's architecture.
"Maybe I've been tainted by living in a place that's pretty much all new build," Apfel said.
The two look forward to coming back for Buffalo Old Home Week, but would they stay for the long haul?
Straubinger, who is divorced, actually plans to move back in about 2 1/2 years when his youngest daughter graduates from high school.
A self-employed market research consultant, Straubinger thinks he'll have no problem making the transition.
"I can just as soon sit at a house in Parkside and do what I'm doing," Straubinger said, "and it will be a lot less expensive."
As for Apfel, an empty-nester, he's hoping by fall to make the move back to Buffalo, where he still has relatives.
A radio broadcasting engineer, Apfel also is optimistic about finding work in Buffalo. He was a disc jockey for 25 years, is knowledgeable in the information-technology field and also has carpentry skills.
Las Vegas, he said, has been a good place to live, but it's getting crowded and running out of water.
"I've thought about this for five years or more," Apfel said. "This is the right time for me, not only to come back to visit, but to come back to live."
Check out www.buffoldhome.com for a complete list of events scheduled for Buffalo Old Home Week.