Erich Krueger is tired of trudging through snow-clogged sidewalks, and he's taking his campaign against the property owners online.
Krueger, under the name "WatchfulResident," started a Facebook page about a month ago to publicly prod delinquent Amherst businesses into action.
He focuses on a busy commercial section of Maple Road, near where he works, posting photos of the offending properties and calling out the businesses by name.
"I would say it's being a good neighbor. That's my feel," said Krueger, president of a neighborhood group in the town.
The problem of sidewalks piled high with snow is not unique to the Maple Road corridor, or even to Amherst.
No matter where you are in Western New York, the hours and days after a punishing snowstorm can mean misery for walkers, joggers and anyone else using the sidewalk.
Property owners who fail to clear their sidewalks leave pedestrians slogging through deep piles of snow – or tempting fate by walking in the street.
The results can be fatal. Three teenagers walking in Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst were killed by a driver who lost control and plowed into them in January 2001. Almost 10 years later, a 29-year-old Cheektowaga man was struck and killed after snow in the sidewalk forced him to walk in the roadway of Transit Road in West Seneca.
Municipalities have rules requiring property owners to clear snow from their sidewalks, but enforcement often is spotty and typically relies on complaints.
"I guess I feel somebody needs to speak up, at some point, instead of just trudging through it," Krueger said.
Krueger's sidewalk crusade stems from the regular walks he takes as he tries to reach 10,000 steps a day.
That's not easy in the winter, and Krueger's frustration has only grown over the years.
Krueger, the president of the Willow Ridge Civic Association, finally got fed up enough to take his concerns public.
He said he focused on the section of Maple Road from Niagara Falls Boulevard east to Sweet Home Middle School because that's where he often walks on his lunch break, and because he believes businesses have a special responsibility to tend to their sidewalks.
"It is the town ordinance. They've got to clear it," Krueger said.
A reporter who joined Krueger on that stretch of Maple Road on a weekday morning in February, in the aftermath of a heavy snowstorm, found a mix of clear walking paths and sidewalks marked by deep bootprints in the snow.
Who did the best at clearing the snow? Tops Markets, Reeds/Jenss, Delta Sonic, the Boulevard Mall, Kyoto restaurant, Wegmans, Firestone, the former Joe's Crab Shack and Benchmark Group's Maple Office Park had cleared their sidewalks.
"The safety of our customers and those utilizing the sidewalks in and around our property is a priority," Kathy Romanowski, a spokeswoman for Tops, which leases the store, said in an email.
Krueger said Kyoto is one of the most conscientious property owners on the street.
"They'll hand shovel it," Krueger said as he stood on Maple, pointing out where he's seen pedestrians forced to walk in the roadway.
He also marveled at the diligence of the owner of the Joe's Crab Shack, which closed last August.
"It's funny, the business that isn't open is the one that's getting clear," Krueger said.
Other property owners aren't so diligent.
Krueger said he once called a local chain restaurant about snow on its sidewalks and was told, "It'll melt."
Joe Delaney, a Scotch N Sirloin co-owner, said he was surprised to learn the restaurant was on Krueger's naughty list. Delaney said his manager's husband snowblows the sidewalk, and the restaurant has made snow removal a priority since receiving some notices from the town years ago.
"We try to be diligent every year," said Delaney.
Krueger launched his "Shaming Amherst Commerical Properties" Facebook page in late January. Krueger posts photos of all-but-impassable sidewalks and namechecks the businesses at fault.
One post from Feb. 13 reads, "Denny's no effort to clear their sidewalks," with photographic evidence and a link to the restaurant chain's Facebook page.
Another, from Jan. 30, complains, "IHOP rarely clears their sidewalks. Most of the time their snow plow pushes the snow into the sidewalks."
Krueger said he's had success when he links directly to a company's Facebook page or when he calls the town about a specific property.
The Amherst town code requires property owners to clear their sidewalks of snow. Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said they must do so within 24 hours after the end of a snowstorm.
"Shame on you if you're not clearing your sidewalk in front of your business or your store," Kulpa said.
He said code enforcement officers give the property owner a notice of violation. Kulpa said many property owners eventually address the problem, but by then three or four days may have passed since the initial snowfall.
Some communities take on the task of clearing snow from special districts, but that doesn't absolve most property owners from maintaining their sidewalks.
Kulpa said the town generally is forced to rely on complaints to address problem properties.
"Our department can't be everywhere all at once," he said.