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Williamsville seeking national retailers while making it safer for pedestrians

The boom in Buffalo is not going unnoticed in Williamsville. The village, under the guidance of Mayor Brian Kulpa, is looking for ways to expand Main Street’s popularity while maintaining and improving its focus on pedestrians. It’s the right strategy.

One of the most intriguing ideas – and if handled poorly, the most risky – is for the village to market itself to more national retailers. The idea, at least in part, is to put the village’s locally grown businesses in the faces of more shoppers by drawing people for whom the Main Street strip is not now an obvious choice. That could help to fill some of the vacancies that are also part of the Main Street tradition, adding vibrancy and bolstering the village, town and school district tax bases.

It’s a clever idea, as long as the ratio of national-to-local retailers continues to favor the small shops and restaurants that now populate the strip. That local flavor is what makes the village interesting; shoppers who want the big stores can drive a few miles in just about any direction and find those retailers in one of the area’s malls or shopping centers.

But there are some national retailers that aren’t always found in malls. Talbot’s, for example, is already a part of Main Street, in a plaza just west of Cayuga Street. It has a reputation and customer base of the sort that helps to bring shoppers to Williamsville. More of that could be a boon.

But the village’s strategy goes beyond attracting new stores. It is also planning a $6.7 million project to improve the street, making vehicle traffic less frenetic and improving the street’s attractiveness to pedestrians and businesses.

Among those improvements are plans to extend sidewalks at each intersection to improve pedestrian safety; install “refuge islands” in the street’s turning lanes for pedestrians to cross traffic; and lower the speed limit in some places.

More intriguingly, the village is pursuing a $3.3 million project to remake Spring Street, a back alley north of Main Street, as a vibrant village square, where people can gather for community events and celebrations – sort of a Larkinville North. As part of that project, the village is working with Sweet Jenny’s Ice Cream to redevelop the village’s historic water mill.

That’s the lesson Buffalo is offering to any area that’s paying attention. Create the right kind of attractions – the outdoor skating rink at Canalside is the latest in downtown Buffalo – and people will come. In Williamsville, that influx of humanity would provide more people to shop, dine and help support the tax base.

The Main Street strip in the village is already one of the interesting retail destinations in Erie County. Kulpa and the village seem to have a good plan to protect and expand upon those advantages.