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Store kept the faith; city should too

It is no way for the city to say “thanks.” Just about everybody else abandoned the block. Scherer & Sons stayed. Other businesses closed or fled to the suburbs. Scherers & Sons hunkered down.

They kept the faith while others faltered. Now, with the neighborhood reviving, they deserve better than a 30-day ultimatum to fix a pillar-of-perseverance building.

For 115 years, one Scherer or another has sold quality furniture near the corner of Oak and Genesee streets. Word of mouth draws customers, from the city to distant towns. They come to the four-story, 1860s brick building filled with maple, cherry and oak tables, chairs and bedroom sets, mostly American made.

“My grandfather started here in 1897,” said Fred Scherer III. “We've weathered a lot of storms.”

We spoke on a recent morning. At 78, trim with iron-gray hair, Scherer still helps to unload the trucks. His two sons, Jim and Kevin, work with him. A block from the Niagara Mohawk tower, the place hides in plain sight. Last month, a building inspector found it.

Catholic Health is building a new headquarters just across Oak Street. Everybody has to pretty up for the new neighbor. Which means city inspectors last month blitzed nearby buildings – Scherer & Sons among them.

The inspector handed Scherer a $70,000 project list of window-sealing, brickwork and painting. Scherer is a stand-up guy who will do what needs doing. But a 30-day deadline is a heavy load for a business just digging out from under the recession.

“It's only in the past six months,” Scherer told me, “that we're making money again.”

The building is a wood-framed glory, steam-heated and tin-ceilinged. Scherer dropped $60,000 on window and brickwork repair in recent years. Now this.

The city needs to cut Scherer some slack. Buffalo's landscape is littered with dying, vacant, neighborhood-killing structures that the city does nothing about. Housing Court is an often-toothless affair where absentee landlords skip merrily away with hand-slaps. Just around the corner from Scherer's is a run of mostly empty, rotting buildings owned by a New Jersey businessman. He and his kind should be the prime crackdown targets.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in taking care of property and in fix-or-sell ultimatums for bad owners of broken buildings. It is the way to save city neighborhoods and end the plague of demolition by neglect.

But a family business that stayed true to a long-suffering downtown isn't the real problem. Particularly when the staying-put owner just wants more time.

There may be a happy ending. Lou Petrucci of Permits and Inspections said the city will work with Scherer.

“Especially with a longtime business,” Petrucci told me, “we routinely give them the time they need.”

It is good to hear. Over the years, many storefronts went dark. At Scherer & Sons, the light never dimmed.