There’s a fight going on in downtown Buffalo right now to save Brae Miller Market.
In the next few days, Buffalo’s Common Council will meet in the Council Chamber to decide the fate of downtown Bray Miller. Nine City Council Members Asked to Vote yes or no about whether Bray Miller (the only grocery store in downtown Buffalo) will receive the $500,000 (pandemic-related) federal funding previously allocated for small businesses in Buffalo. $1.2 million of this funding has already been distributed to all districts throughout the city. The program stopped allocating funds when there were no more eligible applicants.
With $500,000 remaining in the program, Brey Miller Markets owner Stuart Green requested financial assistance through an ARP (American Rescue Plan) request for proposal (RFP). This is what prompted him to apply for the aforementioned surplus funds.
According to Green, there are many things the Common Council should consider. Despite inaccurate reports that Brae Miller has received millions of dollars in public aid, the market has actually benefited from community investment fund loans (NYS), participation in ECIDA’s property tax pilot program, and excise tax relief on equipment purchases. Greene attributes the turmoil to the project’s developer, Chiminelli Real Estate, receiving funding to clean up the brownfields and build affordable housing complexes nearby. Before the market was built, this place was a flat parking lot.
It was Mayor Brown who fought for the project, which included parts of the grocery store. The timeline was pre-pandemic when Mr. Green began considering many market opportunities in Buffalo. The city contacted Ciminelli to put together the puzzle pieces for the 225 Ellicott Street project, and Chiminelli in turn contacted Greene. Although the city’s request for proposals received no response, Mr. Green happily accepted the challenge.
The contract was signed before the pandemic and construction began in December 2019. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic set in, Green said, resulting in increased construction costs, significant delays and supply chain issues. He was six months later than expected when Bray Miller opened, and the world was turned upside down. Green said he believes his financial projections would have been realized had these pandemic-related issues not occurred.
The $500,000 in question will be spent on operating costs such as personnel and capital expenditures, but Mr. Green has no problem justifying it. At this time, Downtown Braymiller employs his diverse group of 40 employees. 92% of employees are residents of the city.
Brae Miller’s daily business is growing steadily, with one-third of its business benefiting from SNAP. It has over 40 restaurants, as well as a wholesale component that serves numerous nonprofits and other food service customers (such as The Zoo and Explore). In a relatively short period of time, Braymiller has built a strong operating base in Buffalo, but is still dealing with early losses. Green said the downtown store is nearing profitability, but still has debt that has accrued over the past 18 months.
Buffalo, like many other cities, still suffers from a shortage of office workers in its downtown core. Brae Miller has undergone a radical overhaul to make up for the lack of labor that normally supports such amenities.
There is a plan submitted to the Common Council for continued direction towards sustainability. The funds will be used to initiate some of these plans, including subcontracting delivery services, efficient direct-to-consumer in-house delivery services to local homes and apartment complexes, a liquor license, and working with Euville College to launch an on-site training pharmacy (meal preparation program and essential prescriptions).
All this progress and change will be for naught if the city doesn’t step up and award $500,000 to Mr. Braymiller. There are no other funding plans at this time, and for me, this is a clear decision. 82 years ago he was born in WNY.You can’t imagine downtown without his market. Green has invested heavily in the city and is asking for a little help that can make a big difference.
“We got through the hardest part,” says Green. “We have learned a lot and made the necessary changes. It is important to get funding. If the city issues the funds, there will be a domino effect for Ciminelli and their financial commitment to the project. We are talking about 40 employees who count on us. We are considering talking to other organizations for the cause and have invested $9 million.That’s how hard I am working on this piece.I have not received pandemic relief.I am now asking the city to step up my commitment to this project.It is their turn to do something or we will be forced to close.”
Green believes the Common Council could vote as early as Tuesday. The future of Blaymiller Downtown is in their hands.