By JARED LANE
Published October 27, 2022
Thanks to the work of three UB urban planning students determined to apply their skills in the surrounding community, an immigrant-owned business on Buffalo’s East Side is getting a complete storefront makeover.
The $40,000 Storefront Revitalization Grant — the maximum award offered by the Erie County community development fund — will help Yasri Alabbadi, owner of Charlie’s Food Mart on Broadway, transform his deteriorating storefront into an historic brick façade with new signage, an awning and street-side amenities.
The effort began in fall 2021, when Fillmore Forward, a nonprofit organization in the Broadway–Fillmore neighborhood, approached Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, associate professor and interim chair of UB’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, for guidance on envisioning and securing resources for storefront revitalization in the economically distressed Broadway-Fillmore corridor.
Frimpong Boamah, who led a studio project on the East Side and is co-directing a major community research project in the area, engaged the Graduate Planning Student Association (GPSA) and the African American Students of Architecture and Planning (AASAP) to mobilize a volunteer effort. A number of students stepped up to the challenge during the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters, with three students — Andrea Harder, Silvi Patel and Shameeq Willis — working over the summer to develop the final grant proposal.
After assessing multiple business proposals, Charlie’s Food Mart rose to the top of the pile. Alabbadi was interested not only in improving his business, but contributing to the betterment of the entire neighborhood.
With just one month to turn the proposal around, Harder, Patel and Willis met with Alabbadi several times over the spring 2022 semester to understand his vision, while consulting with Frimpong Boamah and Fillmore Forward to assess neighborhood conditions and assemble their design ideas into a final proposal. The $40,000 award was announced by Erie County in August.
The resulting grant award will support replacement of the current façade with a brick veneer and add red-and-white signage, as well as an awning reflective of the historic character of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. The grant will also provide resources for street-side vegetation, a bike rack and a bench.
The student volunteers say the greatest reward is in supporting the aspirations of the community and its residents. “It’s essential to understand the needs of a community and how they visualize their neighborhood,” Patel says. “To get an opportunity to work for the community of Broadway–Fillmore, to do something valuable for the people, that’s what inspired me to get involved.”
Willis, a second-year MUP student, agrees: “What inspired me to be a part of this project was to give help where it’s needed and my love for designing. One of the takeaways of this project is how important it is to collaborate and embrace the ideas everyone gives. It makes the process more rewarding.”
Harder says the project helps address the effects of disinvestment in one of Buffalo’s most historically significant neighborhoods. “Broadway-Fillmore has a rich history and was once regarded as Buffalo’s second downtown,” she explains. “However, white flight and the decline of industry eventually resulted in the disinvestment of this community.”
She adds that supporting an immigrant-owned business contributes to a long history of diversity in the community. “Broadway-Fillmore was originally inhabited by German and Polish immigrants. To this day, immigrants play an essential role in contributing to revitalization efforts and making Broadway-Fillmore a diverse and resilient community.”
Such community-minded sensibilities define UB's urban and regional planning program, Frimpong-Boamah says.
“Buffalo is our home, and we take pride as a school and department when our students translate our theories about justice, placemaking and equity into real-world solutions that benefit members of our Buffalo home,” he says. “This project, like many others engaged in by our faculty and students over the years in the East Side of Buffalo, reflects our commitment to engaging thoughtfully and ethically with residents in the Broadway-Fillmore area.”
He notes that the community partners working behind the scenes every day lay the foundation for these educational experiences.
“This project adds to the community-driven process, led by Ms. Rita Gay and her board members of the Fillmore Forward Inc, to re-envision the Broadway-Fillmore commercial corridor as an economically vibrant, safe and pedestrian-friendly environment for historically marginalized communities of color and other residents in this neighborhood.”