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Bike messenger rides into the past

Zooming down Buffalo's Main Street, Mike Rizzo's messenger bike sometimes becomes a time machine.

"I can easily imagine the streets filled," Rizzo says of those lonely off-hours when he has downtown all to himself. "I look at the many storefronts that still grace Main Street -- and I see them with neon signs, and at Christmas with holiday decorations. It must have been a wonderful time."

Rizzo, who bought an 1800s house on the Upper West Side several years ago, is committed to bringing those times back.

It wasn't just any Victorian home he moved into.

The previous owner was Lester Smith, former interim director of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

"After I moved in the house, I was interested in the age, began researching it and the previous owners. That led to the same for others, joining block clubs, co-founding another community organization and becoming more involved in the city," Rizzo recounts.
"With down time from my job as a bike messenger, I was able to spend time at the library, learned about different research areas at the county clerk's and library, and was able to put it all to good use researching and writing house histories, and working on several book projects. I've co-written a couple of landmark applications."

He began the West Side Neighborhood Partnership about four years ago and was recently busy helping to form the Grant-Ferry Association and planning to be its first president.

"I love Buffalo. I know my neighbors and just love being in the area," says Rizzo, who graduated in 1982 from John F. Kennedy High School in Sloan and in 1985 from Bryant & Stratton Business Institute, earning an associate's degree in computer programming.

He spent about 13 years in the computer field. "Until I had enough of the business I was in and wanted to be the boss," he recalls.

From the digital realm, he returned to the pedal-powered world in 2001.

"I've gone back in time," he admits. "With today's gas prices, it looks like it might have been a good move."

He does, however, use computers and cell phones in his Zippy Delivery Bicycle Messengers.

"As the business developed, I decided to focus on the legal field. I've 'processed' thousands of deliveries and court papers over the years," he said.

Now on his second bike, Rizzo, 42, points out that it was custom-built and cost about $1,700.

"I don't go to the gym. I've always been in decent shape, so it seemed like an easy move."

Rizzo also evokes a pre-"downsizing" time "when employees were valued, even the peons," -- a quote in his latest history, "Nine Nine Eight," taking its name from the old iconic Sattler's store on 998 Broadway, including pictures of Buffalo stores mobbed with shoppers.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail

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