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Two businesses awarded grants

Lake Effect Ice Cream is growing fast. D'Vine Wine Bar is just starting out. And both businesses received grants from the City of Lockport on Thursday.

In the first awards in the city's new microenterprise assistance program, the board of the Greater Lockport Development Corp. voted $20,000 to D'Vine and $15,000 to Lake Effect.

R. Charles Bell, the city's director of planning and development, said both needed the money urgently, so the board decided to act even though the grant application deadline is March 6.

D'Vine, which opened this month in Ulrich City Centre on Main Street, offers a selection of dozens of wines along with entrees. It's open during dinner hours five days a week.

D'Vine's owner, Joseph McDougall, needs to build inventory. "They can't be cash-starved," Bell said.

As for Lake Effect, the ice cream business founded by two Lockport High School teachers less than four years ago is taking off.

Erik Bernardi said he and partner Jason Wulf are about to place their ice cream in five more Tops Markets. At present, it's sold in the Lockport and Lewiston stores.

"The Tops corporate chain actually came to us, because people were asking for our ice cream," Bernardi said. Tops chose the five new locations.

They are on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls; Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo; Niagara Falls Boulevard and Transit Road in Amherst; and South Park Avenue in Hamburg.

"For the five new locations, we are being given two shelves in a freezer right next to Ben and Jerry's. It's so cool," Bernardi said.

The Tops rollout, added to the other locations in Niagara and northern Erie counties that already carry Lake Effect, means sales could double this year, Bernardi said.

Bell said the grant funding was needed urgently. "It's a capacity issue," he said.

The ice cream is still made only by Bernardi and Wulf, whose headquarters is in a former pool hall on Lock Street. They wrap the pints in insulated blankets and use their own cars to make deliveries.

As a result of the grant, Bernardi and Wulf will be able to pay for two new ice cream machines they won in an auction. They're taking delivery near Allentown, Pa., this weekend.

"Without this grant, we would have been faced with having to seek out more debt. It's really nice when someone says, 'We believe in where you're headed,' " Bernardi said. "Chuck Bell has been a huge asset."

Bell said Thursday's grants in effect establish a ceiling of $15,000 for an existing business and $20,000 for a start-up.

"This [early] approval is in no way a reflection on the competitiveness of the other applications," he said.

Five other businesses have applied for grants, and eight more have expressed interest, Bell said.

Bell rounded up a $200,000 grant in October from the state Office of Community Renewal. The city kept $30,000 for administration.

It now has $135,000 left to distribute and 18 months in which to do so before the state reclaims any unspent money.