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Paladino signs deal to buy site of Stereo Advantage on Main Contract's terms, plans for highly visible location yet to be disclosed

One of the area's most prominent consumer electronics retailers is selling its longtime location on the edge of Williamsville to a major local developer, but no one is saying yet what will become of the highly visible site.

Carl Paladino, chairman of Ellicott Development Co., said Wednesday that he signed a contract last week to buy the property at 5195 Main St. in Amherst from Stereo Advantage and The Advantage Co.

Neither he nor Advantage CEO Butch Kreuz would divulge the price or other terms, but they said the deal isn't expected to close until after Jan. 1.

That's because Stereo Advantage will stay in its current site through the Christmas holiday season before it relocates across the street and a block away to the Walker Center plaza, which its parent company owns.

"We're excited about building the new Stereo Advantage Business Center in the Walker Center," said Tony Ragusa, owner of The Advantage Co.

The purchase represents a coup for Paladino, who was bidding against rival developers Randy Benderson of Benderson Development Co., Robert Nuchereno of Arista Development and Paul Iskalo of Iskalo Development, who previously bought another property from Advantage. The bids were similar, and at one point, Ragusa said, Benderson, Nuchereno and Paladino were discussing a joint bid.

However, Ragusa said Iskalo was preoccupied with his pending purchase of the nearby Lord Amherst Hotel next to the Youngmann Expressway, while Benderson ultimately decided the Stereo Advantage site wasn't what he wanted.

Still, the competition shows the location is highly sought after. Although technically within Amherst's borders, the building is situated in a prime spot at the corner of South Forest Road, along the crowded stretch that includes the core business district of Williamsville.

"It's a great piece of property," said Ragusa, whose company had occupied the building since 1984. "We really had a lot of success. We enjoyed being here."

Paladino said Ellicott has not "formulated any particular use of the property yet," but he assumes it will likely be commercial. "We're working on that part of it," he said. "At the right time, we'll let people know what our intentions are."

But Ragusa said Paladino already "has some fantastic plans they're working on."

"Carl had more vision than I ever did for the property. His vision is spectacular. We're excited about what he's going to develop," Ragusa said.

With Stereo Advantage's move, the company's retail electronics businesses will join Ragusa's other retail businesses -- specializing in clothing, accessories and fitness -- that are already in the 67,000-square-foot Walker Center at 5110 Main. The company's design departments and its Smart Squad and Smart Office will also move to Walker.

"We're really excited about having all of our operations in the Walker Center and offering our customers a complete shopping experience," Kreuz said.

But the commercial division, as well as Smart Squad Install and Smart Car Install, will move to a facility at 1955 Wehrle Drive in Amherst, where Advantage's corporate offices and a few of its other commercial businesses are based. Officials also hope to eventually expand that 70,000-square-foot building with another 20,000 square feet.

For Ragusa, the sale and move is part of a larger centralization plan for the Walker plaza that envisions it becoming a one-stop center for his array of consumer, food and retail businesses. That strategy, based on the success of his Tony Walker & Co., entails gradually taking over the rest of the 17-year-old plaza as tenant leases expire.

"We want it to be an all-day destination for fashion, lifestyle and fine dining," he said. "Tony Walker's been such a success that we've been expanding."

Even such anchor tenants as Pizza Plant and Tim Hortons, which generates significant traffic, will ultimately be replaced by Tony Walker or related operations, he said.

"I can't wait to lose that traffic. That's not traffic we want," Ragusa said. "They run a nice business there, but it's not conducive to what we want."

Already, tax preparer H&R Block moved out of its space at Walker this summer, and the Subway sandwich shop and Blum's Swimwear store are leaving as well. The new Tony Walker men's store took up Block's former space, while a new Tony Walker outlet store will occupy the front corner.

The Sole restaurant also moved out of the plaza to a new site on Elmwood Avenue, and Ragusa's son, Anthony, and daughter, Gabriela, are opening a new Sicilian steakhouse and pizzeria called Giancarlo's in the fall.

Plans also call for a Walker University Store that will sell "prep" clothing, as well as a Tiny Walker store for kids' clothes in the Pizza Plant space. And the area now occupied by Tim Hortons and discount brokerage Scottrade will become Tony Walker Home Furnishings.

The only exception: Chez Ann, a beauty salon and day spa whose business model "fits in with what we're trying to develop there," Ragusa said.

"We're looking forward to developing that to its fullest potential," Ragusa said. "We want to focus on that, and at the same time, we want to make sure the community continues to grow."