By Griffin Jones
“When you’re at the bottom, you either die or pick yourself back up. And I think that’s what happened here.”
Of any metaphor you could use for Buffalo, Kevin Gardner’s is as apt as any. Last month, I wrote about the business side of Five Point Bakery, started by Kevin and his wife Melissa. But the Gardners are a good snapshot of the target “customer” for what Buffalo has to offer.
Kevin grew up on the west side. His parents moved to the suburbs. Businesses were closing. People didn’t feel safe anymore. “It was really depressing,” he said. This is the same man who opened a profitable bakery in the heart of that very neighborhood. What made Buffalo so unattractive to hundreds of thousands of people who left, is what meets the needs of people like the Gardners. “Because it got so bad, there was so much opportunity here.”
Kevin cited the extremely low cost of living, the house that he bought on the west side as the reason they were able to take a risk in pursuing their own venture. “If (Five Points) went under, we could pay our mortgage by working at Seven Eleven. When you have that kind of freedom, you can do things you could never do.”
The Gardners aren’t the only people taking advantage of this. There are more new restaurants, shops, and renovated houses on the west side every year. But like Buffalo as a whole, it’s still for the people who want to start something of their own, whether a business, a garden, or a home. That group is small, but it appears to be growing.
“Entrepreneurs and artists, and all of these really incredible people started coming here.Whether or not it continues is up to the people that are here.” At that moment a customer came in to the bakery who was thrilled to announce that he had just bought a house in the neighborhood. “You see that?” Kevin asked me. “He was excited that he bought property over here. No one would have been excited to move here five years ago!”
Kevin wasn’t always in this new target market. He mentioned he traveled aimlessly for six years, and even squatted in Buffalo. Finally, he told himself that he was part of the problem. “That attitude creates the very things you don’t want. I realized I could do something. You’ve got to take that risk.”
He’s right. It is 100% reasonable to want to fulfill your own dreams and ambitions. For many careers and life choices, that will lead you away from Buffalo. But for those select few to create something of their own, who want to make a personal commitment against the problem, there are examples to follow.
Every person who decides to be a part of the solution makes it easier for everyone else to be a part of it. Special thanks to Five Points Bakery for being among those who took the biggest risk. It paid off, for us.