BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Each Monday, we introduce you to a City Shaper -- a business owner or community member who is doing something to make Western New York a better place.
This week, 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik sits down with a man who helped transform an old house in South Buffalo into a cornerstone of the community - Dog Ears Bookstore and Café.
Since 2008, 688 Abbott Road has been the home of Dog Ears Bookstore and Cafe.
"There's coffee shops out there. They're not our competition because here you're part of something, and you're part of our family, and we want you to be part of that," says Dog Ears Bookstore and Café Executive Director Tom McDonnell.
Inside, you'll find McDonnell among the crowds, either leading a reading program or chatting in the cafe with lifelong friends.
"What was your career path before, and how did you get into this?" asked Dudzik.
"I've been a bartender in South Buffalo for thirty years, but I have a Master’s in education, and I didn't want to be a teacher in a traditional classroom, so I created, along with some friends, that had, you know, a vision behind this, we sat down and created a bookstore, and later on, the cafe became a part of it, that funds reading and writing programs for kids," says McDonnell.
McDonnell spends countless hours applying for grants to help fund the programs at Dog Ears.
He shares his love of literature through story time sessions for preschoolers and their families, book clubs for adults, and off-site programming at local schools.
"On any given day, I can be working with two to 50, 60, 70 year olds," says McDonnell.
All the wonderful programs that happen at Dog Ears would not be possible without all the support McDonnell gets from the community.
"We partner with the Valley Community Association, where we do some off-site programming there. We partner with South Park High School," says McDonnell.
And the list goes on, from local politicians to business owners.
But equally important are all the volunteers and cafe employees who keep things running smoothly. Diane Clancy grew up with Tom and has been a volunteer from the beginning. Lara Martini moved here from New York City in 2010. Her first job in Buffalo was at the cafe.
"It's kind of almost like Cheers. Everyone knows your name. Everyone's happy to see you. Like, hey, how's it going, you know? How's the family? And everybody actually cares. They're not saying it just because it's something to say," says Martini.
"What I've loved the most is it's just opened us up to a whole different bunch of people in the community that we wouldn't have met otherwise," says Clancy.
Dog Ears survives through volunteers like Clancy. The bookstore is strictly staffed by volunteers.
Business at the cafe has grown every year to the point where it now helps fund the educational programs McDonnell is so passionate about.
"Everybody that works here, whether it's somebody in the cafe, a paid employee in the café, or a volunteer, they know our mission, and I want them to let everybody know that that cup of coffee just paid for programming for kids, or that book helped pay for programming for evening stuff for adults, poetry, book clubs, book discussion groups, so everything you do here kind of matters. It's not just a cup of coffee. It's an important cup of coffee," says McDonnell.
McDonnell’s favorite children's book is "Snowmen at Night."
If you have someone you'd like to nominate as a City Shaper, let Kelly know.