Braymiller needs to show City Hall a persuasive business plan

3 min read

News Editorial Board

The question facing Buffalo taxpayers on the precarious condition of downtown’s Braymiller Market is how far the public sector should go in supporting a struggling private business.

But, looking deeper, there are wrinkles. Even though the grocery industry is running on thin margins and even though the public is showing insufficient interest in this business, a downtown grocery store can be presumed to create value for Buffalo. And, even more critically, the reasons for Braymiller’s financial difficulties directly relate to a deadly and historic pandemic. Even with its worst days behind us, with more people working remotely, fewer food shoppers are readily available.

With all that in mind, then, the answer to the question “How far?” – at least in this case – is maybe a little way, depending on the plans of the owner.

It was never going to be easy for Stuart Green, who owns the market on Ellicott Street in Buffalo. The store is comparatively small and part of it was meant to benefit the restaurant trade, which has also suffered from the pandemic. Adjacent affording housing provided some potential customers.

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Nevertheless, the business looked good in the weeks and months after September 2021, when the market was settled into its new building at 225 Ellicott St., more than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic. But conditions changed. Downtown hosts fewer workers than it did pre-pandemic as businesses and employees perceived benefits in remote work. Restaurants were among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, and they have yet to return to pre-Covid levels.

It’s a perfect storm that battered this food market, a downtown entry long sought by advocates, including within City Hall. For that reason, municipal leaders should be open to finding a formula that recognizes those facts while acknowledging the inherent risks of capitalism.

That puts the ball in Green’s court. He is doing what he must by crafting a revised business plan in hopes of persuading city officials that public financial support for the market would be money well spent.

So far, he is keeping his ideas to himself, but he thinks the growing number of downtown residents will eventually help to restore business activity. Indeed, developers can hardly find enough old downtown buildings to rehabilitate into modern living spaces. And, as the 2020 census documented, Buffalo grew over the previous decade. There is cause of optimism.

“Over time, we have confidence that the residential values ​​of downtown will make up for the loss of commuters, and, quite frankly, I’d rather have resident customers then commuter customers,” Green said. “But that’s going to take some time to get there.”

It’s also theoretical, even if it’s likely. What city officials need to see now is a business plan showing that public dollars aren’t just postponing an inevitable end. They need evidence that supporting Braymiller now will lead to better days and a business that benefits downtown in the most fundamental of ways.

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