Ten years ago, you might have thought these stories told over cocktails by two local entrepreneurs were about a different city.
There was the friend from Long Island who came here for college, moved to New York after graduation, only to return seven years later after deciding the future was in Buffalo.
There was the guy they just met who moved from Portland, Ore., to work on a new civic initiative in Buffalo.
And then there was the time in New York City when they met a documentary filmmaker from Denmark who gushed about Buffalo.
“For a long time, you could tell people, ‘I live in Buffalo,’ and they were like, ‘Oh,’ ” Brandon Davis said. “They would not know what to say, but this woman who we met, she said, ‘Oh, my god, that’s awesome. I’ve heard so many good things about Buffalo lately.’ ”
If you weren’t convinced yet that Buffalo is having a moment, just talk to Davis, 30, and his partner, Patrick Finan, 27. Young, smart and brimming with excitement for Buffalo, they’re exactly the kind of entrepreneurs you picture moving to a place like Austin or Portland.
They might have left, too, if it wasn’t for the fact that Buffalo turned out to be exactly the right place for them to start a business, buy the perfect house in Allentown and create a life together.
Seven years ago, along with another friend, Ben Siegel, they launched Block Club. Back at the start, it was a magazine published on a credit-card budget. Today, the company has grown into a branding and marketing agency with eight employees in its bright Main Street offices and a spinoff business, City Dining Cards, now in 18 cities.
“I have this outlook on life that if you want something and you’re willing to work hard at it, Buffalo’s a place where you can make it happen,” said Davis, the creative side of the pair. “Buffalo is a city that allowed us to start something at a young age when we didn’t really have much to lose, and from there, the community totally embraced us.”
It was no surprise to Davis and Finan last week when a new report by the think tank City Observatory noted a spike in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-old college grads living in the Buffalo Niagara metro area between 2000 and 2012, especially in the core of Buffalo. They’ve been living it.
Back in April, The Buffalo News detailed the same trend: After years of losing young people, millennials were moving back.
At the Franklin Street restaurant Buffalo Proper, where we met up last week to talk about why Davis and Finan stayed in Buffalo, the answer was obvious. Young people aren’t just moving back. They’re putting their stamp on the city. At the bar, Jon Karel was mixing his signature cocktails. Behind him, a mirror framed in reclaimed lathe from old Buffalo houses was the handiwork of another young Buffalo entrepreneur, Sean Wrafter.
“We’re not naive to the problems that Buffalo faces,” Finan said. “But I think our generation, the Millennial Generation, is embracing Buffalo and its flaws with open arms, and is excited about fixing them, because there’s a hope that things are going to get better.”
As we talked, there was a phrase Finan used to describe the opportunities, challenges and excitement that Buffalo presents to its young residents: “Make your own life.” Buffalo, in other words, is what you make of it.