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Monday, June 17, 2024
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West Side Bazaar Celebrates Buffalo's Diversity

It only takes one drive down Grant Street on Buffalo's West Side to see how culturally and economically diverse this city is.

Signs in Italian, Spanish, and Chinese advertise different local businesses selling clothing, meat, and everything in between.

For years, there hasn't been a single business that united the spectrum of cultures.

The West Side Bazaar, a market that hopes to "Bring the World to Buffalo," opened its doors on March 3, becoming the city's first world marketplace. Comprised of seven vendors from the Middle East, South Africa, and Asia, the market brings together cultures from all corners of the world.

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, David Rivera, the Niagara District's Common Council member, reached out to local West Side community leaders to address issues troubling the area. Rivera brought together local community groups – including the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc. (WEDI), People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo), Jericho Road, Journey's End, and concerned citizens in the area – to come up with ways to unite and better the community.

After several meetings and debates, the idea for an international marketplace that showcases the diversity of the community was born. This marketplace could help refugees, immigrants, and other community members start small businesses in a safe and economically feasible location.

"The West Side is probably the most diverse area in Buffalo," said Bonnie Smith, economic development director of WEDI and the bazaar's lead organizer. "There are something like 30 languages spoken. Therefore, the bazaar, in a very small way, reflects the diversity of the neighborhood it is in."

The market is located in a small building on the corner of Grant and Lafayette Streets. Though it is a small presence in the community, the bazaar hopes to serve as a launchpad for local vendors, giving them a small start in hopes that they will move into their own storefronts in the future.

Julienne Nyiranjishi is an immigrant from Rwanda who sells hand-carved goods from her home country and is using the bazaar as a way to get involved in her new community. Martha Sosa is a trained chef from Peru who hopes to grow from the marketplace and open the first Peruvian restaurant in Buffalo.

Munir El Hairi came to Buffalo from Sudan through a refugee program and sells handmade baskets from Darfur refugee camps. He hopes to open his own storefront on the West Side, while helping others back in Sudan by sending 10 percent of his profits to refugee camps.

These vendors all hope to start a new life on the West Side and share their culture with the community.

"Ideally what'll happen [is] they'll outgrow that space [in the market] and we can have more storefronts that are occupying Grant-Ferry Street," said Kirk Laubenstein, legislative assistant to Rivera, who has been involved in the project from the start. "You've got power in numbers; more people want to come together. It's an incubator space where people can grow businesses and hopefully eventually move back out [into the community.]"

The location on Grant Street is intended to be only a temporary space for the bazaar. With the help of HEAL International, a nonprofit organization that provides health care, microfinance, and health-related education to resource-limited communities, the bazaar is currently working on renovating a larger location on West Ferry Street that could hold up to 30 vendors.

The market hopes to revitalize the area and bring citizens of the West Side, as well as people from other areas, together to celebrate the diversity of the community and provide goods from parts of the world that many would not normally have access to.

"[We want to] repopulate Grant Street with businesses, and if you have a really strong commercial district, it can change the neighborhood around it, kind of like Elmwood Avenue has done for the Elmwood Village," Laubenstein said. "We don't certainly want it where it's only affluent folks that move in; we want to create a diverse – both ethnically and economically – neighborhood, which is the great thing about the West Side. Hopefully the bazaar could do that for the area."

The West Side Bazaar is currently located at 242 Grant St. and is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the bazaar, visit www.westsidebazaar.com or contact Bonnie Smith at bsmith@wedibuffalo.org.

Email: news@ubspectrum.com


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