New Program Boosts Buffalo's Kensington-Bailey Business District
Participants in the inaugural Allstate Entrepreneur Support program discuss communication issues during a class at Gerard Place in Buffalo. (Photos: Tom Wolf)
It's a Wednesday morning in May and a group of small-business owners are gathered around a table at Gerard Place in Buffalo. They represent a wide variety of industries: hair salons, a restaurant, a furniture store and more. The facilitator leads a discussion about communication issues, such as how to handle feedback and criticism.
This was just one meeting of the inaugural Allstate Entrepreneur Support program, which brought together nine business owners on select Wednesdays from March through July to help transform Buffalo's Kensington-Bailey business district. The program is made possible thanks to a $75,000 grant from The Allstate Foundation and a partnership between the School of Management's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), the Bailey Avenue Business Association and UB's Office of Government and Community Relations.
The grant provides discounted tuition for participants, and graduates receive financial support to make improvements to their business locations.
The pilot program was modeled after the successful Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs (MWEE) program, a joint venture with the CEL and UB's Center for Urban Studies. CEL has run the MWEE program since 2004, and The Allstate Foundation has funded it since 2005. But, unlike the MWEE program, the Allstate Entrepreneur Program takes place right in the community so the entrepreneurs can easily get back to business.
"It's a very interesting group of nine people," says Paul Diamond, who co-owns Bailey's Furniture with his wife Linda. "What originally attracted me was the idea of putting money toward our business. But now we look forward to the meetings and getting together."
Darrell Shepherd, owner of Shepherd's Liquor, says the program has helped him to focus on his business's goals and objectives, both in the long and short term.
"I just joined a gym and, when you first start there, they give you an hour with a personal trainer," says Shepherd. "This class is like having a personal trainer for an entrepreneur."
Shepherd and the other entrepreneurs in the program benefit from seminars, networking, mentoring and additional resources to help grow their businesses. It's not only an advantage for the individual business owners, but it's also helping to create a support network between the neighboring businesses to make a larger impact in the area.
Damone Henderson, owner of Barber Business, in his barbershop on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo.
Two of the businesses actually are neighbors: Damone Henderson's Barber Business is right next door to Civic Davis' New Style Records and Movies on Bailey Avenue. Henderson says he's been cutting hair for 24 years but didn't go into business for himself until 2012.
"Hair will never stop growing and you can't put it in a machine," Henderson says about why he decided to open his shop. "I enjoy the customer service and interacting with people, and the program has helped me to become a better listener to know what my customer wants."
Next door, Davis opened New Style in 1994. As a 20-year veteran of the music industry, he has seen the shift in the behavior of music buyers brought on by the Internet's digital revolution.
"A record store used to be able to have exclusive songs," Davis says. "Now everyone on the Internet can have that song in an instant. Today you have to find a niche and make yourself different from the rest."
The Kensington-Bailey business district includes more than 150 businesses spanning from the intersection at Bailey and Winspear avenues and continuing to Genesee Street. Any individual with a business along this corridor is welcome to become a member of the Bailey Avenue Business Association.
Civic Davis, owner of New Style Records and Movies, in his store on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo.
Tom Ulbrich, assistant dean and executive director of the CEL, says the program will continue to add businesses in the Kensington-Bailey district, and will explore options for future expansion in other city districts.
"Supporting local entrepreneurs is a critical component of economic development that often gets ignored," says Ulbrich. "We sometimes have to remind people of the huge impact these independent businesses have on the local economy—as these businesses grow, the community prospers; as the community prospers, business grows."
The Allstate Foundation, a charitable organization funded by subsidiaries of Allstate Insurance Corp., provides philanthropic grants to nonprofit organizations. With a focus on teen safe driving and building financial independence for domestic violence survivors, The Allstate Foundation also promotes safe and vital communities; tolerance, inclusion, and diversity; and economic empowerment.
For more information or to enroll in the program, contact Alex Cleary, senior program coordinator, at 716-885-5715 or at email@example.com.
- Kevin Manne
Inaugural Allstate Entrepreneur Support Program Participants
- Sheila Clency, owner of Crowns of Glory
- Civic Davis, owner of New Style Records and Movies
- Paul Diamond, owner of Bailey's Furniture
- Pearl Hammond, owner of West African International
- Damone Henderson, owner of Barber Business
- Brian Lewis, owner of Zion's Beauties
- Hyacinth Patterson, owner of Caribbean Experience
- Darrell Shepherd, owner of Shepherd's Liquor
- Annette Watts, owner of Ann Rhod's Tailoring