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WEST 49 OPENING FIRST U.S. OUTLET IN BOULEVARD MALL

A large Canadian skateboard, snowboard and surf specialty shop is opening its first U.S. location in the Boulevard Mall.

West 49 will open its doors Saturday at the former location of Natural Wonders, near center court by Kaufmann's. The store sells both skateboarding and snowboarding equipment along with clothes and accessories for those sports and surfing.

The 44-store chain was started five years ago by Niagara Falls native Sam Baio, who now lives in St. Catharines, Ont. He chose the Boulevard Mall rather than the larger Walden Galleria to get a true feel for how his stores would do in the United States.

"I thought the Galleria was a little too regional. A lot of the Galleria's success is based on Canadians," he said. "The Boulevard was a better test for us because there's a lot less Canadians that have a tendency to skew the results."

Baio said West 49's core customers are between 8 and 18 years old.

West 49 is opening a store in the Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 8 and another store in the Lakeside Mall in the Detroit area Nov. 15.

"I like the rust belt. I think they've been under retailed," Baio said. "In the next three to four years, I want to expand from Rochester to Chicago and as far south as Cincinnati. We're hoping to have the same success in the U.S. as we did in Canada."

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com

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