For most people, we suspect, the Buffalo Billion has been about big-scale projects with the potential, on their own, to remake the Western New York economy. Chief among these is the SolarCity project at RiverBend, which will create the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the Western Hemisphere.
It’s economic development on a global scale, but, it turns out, the Buffalo Billion program instituted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo works in microcosm, too, including assisting a Main Street candy store.
Not just any candy store, mind you, but the Parkside Candy Shoppe in the city’s University Heights district. The business is nearly 100 years old, and its appearance shows the signs of age.
Its exterior in recent years gave no hint of the architectural and confectionery wonders inside. But with its designation on the state and national historic registers and the recognition by owners Philip and Ronald Buffamonte of the public’s continuing enchantment with the store, things began to change.
Now, it’s in line for a $125,000 matching grant from the Buffalo Billion. If the Buffamonte brothers can raise the other $125,000 – that seems certain – the investment will put some sparkle back on a historic and evocative shop, help to secure economic activity in an important city neighborhood and, with luck, prompt others to invest in the Main Street district. It’s a targeted and thoughtful investment.
That doesn’t mean that it raises no questions. It is at least peculiar for a high-wattage economic development program to focus on a single, private-sector business. Other candy stores must be envious.
It is also unusual – and generally nonproductive – to focus serious economic development efforts on the retail industry. There is more bang for the public’s buck in manufacturing, such as in the $959 million RiverBend project that stands to spark an entirely new and durable sector in the Western New York economy.
Still, this particular investment is targeted in a way that makes sense. Certainly, in the context of the Buffalo Billion, a $125,000 outlay is virtually insignificant, while requiring the owners to match that commitment with private-sector dollars.
And both the location of the store, at the corner of West Winspear Avenue, and the shop’s continuing hold on the public imagination suggest that this is a smart use for a limited pot of dollars.
The brothers evidently expect to produce their share of the money, since work is scheduled to begin in mid-August, with completion expected in October. The money will be used to install a new black-and-white tile floor, repair part of the domed ceiling, install new LED light fixtures and more.
It’s a good project that not only helps to recapture a charming era of Buffalo’s history, but could help to restore a lagging neighborhood. It’s worth the small outlay of public money.