Lancaster’s old-timers remember the old red brick building with its stately turret that anchors the corner of West Main Street and Central Avenue as the Sugar Bowl, a candy and ice cream shop from the 1950s and ’60s.
Now home to a toy store on its first floor, a cafe and three upstairs apartments, the One West Main building that Betty Aquila has owned for 16 years is in line for about $70,000 in exterior restoration work. The peeling gray paint on the exterior will be stripped, and the brick will be cleaned and repointed.
“I love my building. I think it has charm,” Aquila said.
Across West Main is Performance Advantage Co., now undergoing a $125,000 face-lift.
And just down Central is the old Maute Hardware Store building – now home to the Hogan & Willig law firm – that is boasting $70,000 in improvements.
Work on the three buildings is sparked by the New York Main Street program, which aims to stimulate investment in properties to strengthen economic vitality in traditional Main Street areas and neighborhoods.
For the West Main/Central area of Lancaster, which has struggled for decades in rebirth, the coming improvements signal a ray of hope.
“This village has been trying to ‘come back’ for a very long time,” Aquila said. “Many good things have been happening, and we pray things continue to improve.”
The village has been working hard to try to transform itself into a walkable, more appealing destination, like East Aurora or Williamsville.
In addition to the facade improvements, the village is getting $200,000 from two grants for improvements to West Main’s streetscape by July 4, bringing antique street lighting, park benches, stamped decorative concrete sidewalks and new curbing to complement the 2003 Central Avenue streetscape redo.
“You want to mirror the beauty we have on Central Avenue,” Town Supervisor Johanna M. Coleman said. “It will be good to beautify the streetscape and entice businesses to the buildings that are already there.”
The nearly half-million dollars in investments in the heart of Lancaster’s struggling downtown may begin to help it redefine itself to boost the health of its retail and professional offices. “This will enhance the look of the Village of Lancaster,” Trustee William C. Schroeder said. “People compare us to East Aurora and Williamsville. They did their thing, and we’re doing ours. Having one-of-a-kind stores is what’s going to make it here.”
Furry Friends Holistic Pet Spa co-owner Dawn A. Pearce is optimistic that downtown Lancaster can define itself on its own terms.
“It’s a resurging area. I think it’s definitely coming back,” said Pearce, whose business just relocated to West Main from Broadway. “I think it’ll be a little East Aurora, but it’s going to take some time. I think it could be the new and upcoming Cutesyville.”
John L. Chmarney, president of the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce, acknowledges that Lancaster has struggled in its quest to reinvent itself.
Chmarney says the key may be to follow the path that Buffalo’s Canalside took in its transformation. “Start small,” he said, “build on that, and see who comes.”
Business improvements have not come easy in Lancaster. “We have waited to work on the building for a very long time,” Aquila said. “As with many things, it just isn’t affordable. With this help from funding, we are able to get the loan needed to do these repairs, and we are thankful.”
Downtown Lancaster has a long way to go to compete with popular nearby villages. Remaining at its center is the hulking former BOCES complex on West Main, which has failed to attract a developer and is on the verge of being listed for sale.
But the people who have set up shop in the village are optimistic.
Lancaster native Alex W. Severyn is an owner of Ambitious Enterprises, a local real estate firm interested in buying more properties on Central to develop apartments. He has had a hand in the facade project for 43 Central, a more than century-old red brick, 12,000-square-foot building that formerly housed Maute Hardware and another store and is now home to Hogan & Willig. It will house the real estate investment company and soon have one-bedroom apartments called The Lofts at 43 Central.
With the help of matching state grants, “this will be a good kick-start” to rebuild the area, Severyn said.
Alan R. Kurtzman, owner of the New York Store, is watching the progress unfold.
“The more that’s down here, the better it is for everyone,” Kurtzman said of the 87-year-old men’s and women’s clothing shop he runs at the other corner of West Main and Central.
Kurtzman believes in the village, but he also knows it will never be the bustling retail center it was 40 years ago. About a decade ago, he made substantial improvements to his store’s facade, removing it and restoring the front of the three-story 1894 building front to its natural look. “The world is different so you can’t expect it to be the same, but it can be nice,” he said.
Just down the block, Performance Advantage Co., or PAC, which manufactures and markets tool mounting brackets for fire apparatus, military and law enforcement, is getting a dramatic face-lift for a new look to its 50-year-old West Main facade.
“That’s going to have a big wow factor when it’s done,” said William G. Cansdale Jr., former mayor and a village grant administrator for the Main Street grant program that helped with the PAC project.
But the improvements shouldn’t be about becoming another East Aurora, said James A. Everett, president of Performance Advantage: “We want to be Lancaster. We want an improved area and welcoming downtown.”