In an effort to revitalize commerce in Buffalo, N.Y., a partnership of nonprofits and dedicated individuals has launched a business incubator flea market on the economically depressed city’s West Side. Led by the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, the West Side Bazaar held a soft opening March 3 and will launch with a grand opening April 16 that will feature music and international foods.
The purpose of the market is to serve as a business incubator that helps low-income people learn entrepreneurial skills and start businesses. The bazaar has an international style, featuring crafted items and food from Peru, Liberia, Somalia, Nepal, and other countries. That reflects the backgrounds of the people who applied to be vendors, says WEDI economic development director Bonnie Smith. “Many of the people interested in starting businesses were refugees from all over the world, or immigrants,” she says.
The bazaar, located in a small storefront, is not a traditional flea market, although the City of Buffalo is regulating it as if it were, Smith adds. For one thing, the vendors have made long-term commitments. “Unlike a flea market, people don’t come and go,” says Smith. In addition, the booth rent is subsidized, and the bazaar is partially funded by donations and grants. The size of the rent subsidy will likely change as the market grows. Each vendor is assigned a mentor to help with advice and red tape. Most vendors participate in workshops and training sessions on starting a retail business. Vendors are screened to make sure they offer the right type of products, especially handcrafted items, some imported from overseas.
The market now holds eight vendors, and space is tight. However, the bazaar has ambitious expansion plans. “Next year we plan to develop room for up to 30 vendors, because we expect to move to a larger space in a year’s time, in a new place that’s going to be renovated for us,” says Smith.
Currently, the market has eight vendors, and those eight are forging close ties. “It has become a very nice small community,” she says. “In the three weeks we’ve been open, the vendors are starting to form relationships. We hope that these small businesses will grow, and some of them will be able to go out on their own.”
The neighboring area has been encouraging too. “We’ve had a great deal of community support,” says Smith, “There’s a lot of excitement. People really like the concept. It’s been very well received. We re looking for vendors.” For more information, visit the market’s Web site or call Bonnie Smith at (716) 870-6843.
Photo credits, with thanks: West Side Bazaar.