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Broadway-Fillmore thrives with new immigrants

Thanks to new immigrants and confidence from private investors, the historic Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood is on the rebound.

BUFFALO, N.Y. - A little more than a year ago, Zamileur Rahman's family took a 7,400-square-foot former library building at 1086 Broadway and transformed it into a hardware store.

The modest, one-story building with brick exterior does not look flashy from the outside, but it has served the Rahmans well over the past 16 months.

Using a simple name — Broadway Hardware Store — the shop remains open for business Monday through Saturday, offering a walkable alternative to big box retailers like Home Depot.

Rahman, who moved to Buffalo in 2011 with several of his brothers, joins the hundreds of immigrants from Bangladesh living and working in the historic Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Along with an influx of Southeast Asian natives from countries like Burma and Vietnam, immigrant-owned small businesses have flourished inside this corridor, ranging from hardware stores to pizza parlors.

"A lot of people open grocery stores, clothing stores, shoe stores," Rahman said, enjoying a quiet Friday afternoon behind the counter of his store. "Our neighborhood is good. They are coming to our store, buying the stuff. They are happy. We are happy."

Across the street from the Broadway Hardware Store, thousands of visitors buzzed through the Broadway Market on this Good Friday, just as they do every week before Easter.

The yearly attention during holiday season is nice, Fillmore District Common Council Member David Franczyk said, but he urged visitors to take a look around the rest of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood this year.

"In addition to the Broadway Market, you are getting lots of new immigrants moving into the neighborhood, raising the property values of the houses around here — which were depressed for so long," Franczyk said as he gave 2 On Your Side a walking tour of Fillmore Avenue. "Probably the most optimistic I've been living in this neighborhood."

While property values have increased, crime rates have simultaneously dropped, mirroring citywide trends.

With that, private investment has now followed: Developers have started pouring resources into the neighborhood for the first time in years.

Two weeks ago, a team of unnamed developers informed Francyzk of their plans to spend $10 million on renovations to the Piotr Stadnitski Gardens on Beck Street. The developers want to rehabilitate each unit in the towers, in order to create affordable housing and residential space for seniors and people with disabilities.

More affordable housing could be coming to 330 Broadway, and 459 Broadway has a prospective buyer, according to Buffalo Rising. Franczyk also said the famous 998 Broadway site — once home to Sattler's department store and later a K-Mart — could soon see a mix of new businesses.

Broadway-Fillmore may have missed out on the new Central Terminal train station, but it seems other developers remain interested in the area, particularly to create new housing.

"You used to have 50,000 people living in this neighborhood, then over the decades it dropped. But you have people coming back because of affordable housing," Franczyk said.

The neighborhood could receive yet another economic boost if the Common Council approves a historic district designation for Broadway-Fillmore, which could make the area eligible for state and federal tax credits.

Larry Lamb, who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years, said he's noticed incremental changes lately, including the drop in crime. Still, he said he remains concerned about the lack of access to jobs, something that may hold back the younger people in the community.

The most recent poverty data for Broadway-Fillmore, published by the Partnership for The Public Good in March 2012, showed roughly half of the neighborhood's residents lived in poverty. Even if that number dropped slightly over the past six years, it would still remain well above average compared to the city of Buffalo as a whole.

"That'd be one of the biggest changes, if you can get some of these young people in here and work," Lamb said, "and they don't have to be standing on the corners and this and that."

For new immigrants, the neighborhood is still attractive because it's so cheap compared to other parts of the country. Zamileur Rahman said many of his Bangladeshi friends who've lived in New York City had to work two jobs just to pay the bills.

Here in Buffalo, though, most people in his circle can get by with one full-time job.

"Buffalo," he said, "has helped a lot of people."

And it would appear they are returning the favor to Broadway-Fillmore.

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