James Karagiannis did not realize how large a city Buffalo was until he started to bike down every one of its streets this summer hauling his 400-pound cargo of frozen treats for children to enjoy regardless of their ability to pay.
"I want to be Buffalo’s ice cream guy, and there are places that I’ve never been and people who don't know I'm around," said Karagiannis, 39. “I just went to Kaisertown and Lovejoy for the first time. This city is so big when you start riding up and down every single street."
Karagiannis created an international buzz when he peddled through parts of Buffalo in 2016 dishing out free ice cream to children who could not afford to buy any. But Karagiannis put the children to "work," asking them trivia questions, or having them write thank you postcards that he would mail to people who had donated to his effort.
Last week, one boy who received free ice cream correctly answered how many ice cream sandwiches there are in a box of three dozen.
"They're way more engaged doing trivia or trying to make a three-point shot than having to write a card to a stranger," he noted before dropping the card concept.
Since 2016, he's collected $36,000 in donations from kindhearted people from Australia to the Virgin Islands who've heard about his effort. During late July and throughout August 2016, film crews flew to Buffalo from Germany and New York City to spend a day with Karagiannis at work. "NBC Nightly News" shadowed him for two days. Greek television and CNN interviewed Karagiannis on Skype.
Karagiannis grew up in sales. At age 4, he played store. He sold candy from his backpack and went door-to-door on Colton Street. He graduated from Bennett High School in 1999 and finished two years at Northeastern University in Boston, where he studied business administration. Karagiannis gave up his car five years ago and bought a Honda PCX scooter.
He started selling ice cream in 2007, but avoided some neighborhoods because the hills were so tough to navigate pedaling his three-wheel ice cream cart – areas like the Fruit Belt, Allentown, Broadway and Central Terminal. “One day I rode 30 miles, but when I colored in the map, it was so little. I didn’t realize how ambitious it was, but it’s not deterring me. I’m just trying to finish my map.”
Karagiannis values his street map, even though it lacks names. He found the one he wanted, thanks to Eric J. Birner, senior planning systems analyst with the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. “Just a map without all the clutter,” Karagiannis explained. “I didn’t want the parks or the highlights, just the lines of the streets – no names.”
When he first started his street quest, he recalled "a huge hole on the West Side. There’s a lot of dead ends. In the First Ward, there are 'no trespassing' signs. That's a judgment call,” he said. “But a lot of the streets are fenced off, old Ship Canal, Tifft Preserve, Outer Harbor.”
The rules are simple: Ride down every street in its entirety – whether residential, commercial or industrial – unless the road is impassable or in such poor condition that he could pop a tire, Karagiannis said. "I set my GPS, press start, open the map and compare it with the paper map to highlight every street I've done."
So far, he is two-thirds through the streets of the city – and members of the local biking community have taken notice.
"I saw him a little bit during the Allentown Art Festival," said Christian Frankino, 27, a sales associate at Campus Wheelworks on Elmwood Avenue. "It's pretty impressive, kind of wild."
Justin Booth, 41, executive director of GoBike, agreed.
“You can do a lot with a bicycle to have a positive impact on the city,” Booth said. “There are so many great places to ride, so many wonderful neighborhoods, but we have created barriers, and very high-speed, high-volume multiple lane roadways. Not every street is an easy street to ride a bike down. James is exploring every nook and cranny of this city and all the existing culture we have.
"It's like one of those really good win-win stories we have in Buffalo," said Booth.
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