The Market Arcade has long been one of downtown Buffalo's architectural gems, but its commercial success has not been as sterling.
The European-inspired 1892 building was shuttered during the late-1970s. Then the city came to the Market Arcade's rescue in 1985, buying and renovating the building. That kept the building from being demolished. But despite some long-time tenants, half the space remained empty in 2013.
Then developer Nick Sinatra came along and bought the building.
Sinatra replaced aging mechanicals and renovated and returned the interior to its earlier gold, black, tan and gray décor.
With a barbershop preparing to move in, all three levels of shops and offices under the Market Arcade's eye-catching skylight are now leased.
"Nick Sinatra has created a 21st century business, cultural and sports facility that is unparalleled in upstate New York, in a building over a century old that still fulfills its multi-tenant and community origins," said architect Clinton Brown, who for five years has occupied office space on the third floor.
Sinatra - who moved his real estate company's headquarters into 8,000 square feet in one of two adjoining buildings, above the new EXPO Market -- is pleased with how things have gone.
"The city did a good job taking the building back, renovating it and putting good tenants in the building, but it was just time for new ownership," Sinatra said.
The Market Arcade, which has long rented space to arts and cultural organizations, preservation groups and architects, also includes a gym, a social change organization, a city agency, a nursing association, a financial adviser and shops ranging from hand-crafted cards and pet treats to clothing stores and music lessons.
"It's a creative cultural mix," Sinatra said. "Part of the space's charm is that people who are there fit into the fabric and history of what's great about Buffalo."
Some tenants have been there a long time. They include CEPA Gallery, Muhammad School of Music, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and Queen City Gallery, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on March 3.
Owner Michael Mulley remembers walking by a boarded-up Market Arcade in the late 1980s.
"The city did a great job of caring for the building, and keeping it going," Mulley said.
He credits Sinatra with taking the Market Arcade to the next level.
"He has definitely breathed new life into it," he said. "It's also a little more of a destination with the EXPO next door."
The food court, which Sinatra also owns, helps bring people into the Market Arcade through a walkway between the buildings. The five eateries and a bar have succeeded where past bar and dining operations failed.
"The walkway helps at lunch time and evenings, and when there are special events going on," said Trend Up owner Giovanni Centurione.
Centurione has owned the clothing shop, which he describes as "urban contemporary slash street apparel," for a year. The brands he carries are new to Buffalo.
He said the return of cars on Main Street has injected a little more life to a downtown that used to shut down after 5 p.m.
"The foot traffic and the cars on Main Street are why we're here until 6 and sometimes 8 o'clock at night," Centurione said.
Cheryl Lamparelli, who co-owns Buffalo Barkery, said she's pleased with business and the foot traffic she sees.
She calls working in the Market Arcade a treat.
"I love coming in to work every day. It's beautiful," Lamparelli said. "People come in just to take pictures. They love the history."
Ekram Serdar, media arts curator for Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center, said the move to the Market Arcade two years ago proved to be the right decision.
"We have been more active than ever before since moving here, and I think we're getting a lot more attention," Serdar said. "It's wonderful to be here in this amazing space."
A display window the arts group uses on Main Street has been a bonus, he said.
"It's become a prime gallery space for us, and we specifically commission works for that space," Serdar said. "Plus, with the EXPO next door, there are hundreds of people seeing the artwork we put up."
Angel Rodriguez, who owns Saione, a clothing store, said business is steady.
"It's better than it was when we had a store on Elmwood," Rodriguez said.
Jessie Fisher, Preservation Buffalo Niagara's executive director, said an important lesson can be learned from the Market Arcade's turnaround.
"I think it's a real Buffalo success story in the sense that it was boarded up for awhile with an uncertain future," Fisher said. "The city took it upon itself to buy it, lease it and keep it preserved.
"This shows how leadership was forward-thinking at that time," she said. "Now downtown is turning around, the market forces are different and a private developer is really able to use it as a centerpiece of their portfolio."