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Old bank to find new life, continuing East Aurora's vision of reuse

A former Moog executive who now invests in real estate has acquired a nearly-century old bank in East Aurora.

Jay Hennig doesn't yet have plans for the former Bank of East Aurora, which later became a branch of HSBC Bank USA.

Hennig said he and his wife "would prefer to lease the building but would consider selling it to the right buyer." He noted that the first floor of the two story building is ideal for a high-end restaurant or retailer, while the second floor would make "a really cool loft apartment."

It's another example of East Aurora's commitment to preserving its historic buildings.

The Southtowns village is beloved for its small town charm and fiercely protects its distinctive look.

The popular Elm Street Bakery at 72 Elm was once home to a store that sold small appliances. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"A lot of people have told me it's like a slice of Americana," said East Aurora Mayor Allan A. Kasprzak.

The village requires any plans to tear down a building more than 50 years old to be reviewed by its historic preservation commission first.

In the past, East Aurora has fought its school district over a digital sign erected on the Middle School campus and only reluctantly allowed Mighty Taco to open a drive-thru in the village. Village trustees thwarted plans to demolish the home of Fisher-Price founder Irving Price on Main Street to make way for a parking lot.

At the same time, the village's older buildings have found new life as restaurants and shops.

  • An old ice house at 33 Elm Street became a bar and now is home to a sushi restaurant, a coffeehouse and soon an indoor cycling studio.
  • 42 North Brewing Company at 25 Pine Street is housed in an old warehouse that more recently was an archery center and an aquarium supply store.
  • The Griffin Gastropub at 634 Main Street is in an old factory with a grain elevator.
  • The popular Elm Street Bakery at 72 Elm Street was once a small appliance store.
  • Rick's on Main, a restaurant at 687 E. Main Street, is located in a renovated house.

Rick's on Main is located in a renovated house. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Kasprzak pointed to tensions in Elmwood Village over new buildings that have been erected or are being planned. "I know a lot of people who say it just does not fit in. It's like taking a round peg and putting it in square hole," he said. "We try to make sure here, with the help of the board and the historic preservation commission, that the projects fit in."

Hennig, through Hennig Development LLC, paid $535,000 to KeyBank to buy the shuttered branch at 649 Main St. and 643 Millard Fillmore Place. Built in 1925, the old bank features a brick facade, columned entry and rooftop balcony, as well as a full basement.

"It's an iconic building in East Aurora and, unlike many others, it's stand-alone and has ample parking," Hennig said. "So we decided to buy it, then figure out what to do with it."

Hennig added that he has the original building plans, "so restoration would be relatively easy."

The Griffon Gastropub at 634 Main is located in the ld Griggs & Ball factory that includes a grain elevator. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The branch has always been occupied as a bank, and in recent years it had been owned and operated by HSBC, before the company sold it to Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group along with its entire upstate New York branch network. First Niagara was later acquired by KeyCorp of Cleveland.

Hennig, managing partner of the development firm, is a former group president at East Aurora-based Moog, where he worked from May 1982 until November 2014, when he retired.

Both he and his wife are "lifelong residents" of East Aurora, so they opted to stay and reinvest in the community after retiring, he said. With their help, their daughter bought Aurora Liquor, a 60-year-old local business that she has now operated for two years. The couple are also partners in East Aurora-based 42 North Brewing Co. and renovated an old building off Main Street.

While it's not clear what the branch will become, Kasprzak said the village is in talks with Hennig to buy the 16 parking spots on the property to help nearby businesses.

"What we hear from businesses is that parking is at a premium so we're working with the future owner," Kasprzak said.

42 North Brewery at 25 Pine St. is housed in an old warehouse that more recently was an archery center and an aquarium supply store. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

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