City nominates West Side Bazaar for $300K grant

Mar 22, 2017

The organization that oversees a boutique and business incubator for immigrants and refugees has been nominated by the City of Buffalo for a cash grant that could help bring a desired expansion closer to reality.

Tuesday was the U.S. Conference of Mayors' National Day of Immigration Action. To mark the occasion, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown paid a visit to the West Side Bazaar. Before reading a proclamation declaring Immigration Action Day in Buffalo, Brown announced that the not-for-profit organization managing the bazaar, Westminster Economic Development Initiative, or WEDI, has been nominated by the city for a nationwide grant competition.

Buffalo mayor Byron Brown speaks Tuesday inside the West Side Bazaar, which along with its operator the Westminster Economic Development Initiative has been nominated for a grant program that could bring up to $300,000 to the venue for a desired expansion. Standing beside the mayor are, from left, WEDI executive director Ben Bissell, West Side Bazaar manager Michelle Holler and City of Buffalo Office of New Americans executive director Jessica Lazarin.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"The U.S. Conference of Mayors partnered with Wells Fargo and Wells Fargo Foundation to present funds," explained Jessica Lazarin, executive director of the City of Buffalo's Office of New Americans. "These funds were awarded annually to other not-for-profits in cities that focused on partnering with a not-for-profit that could present an opportunity for job creation, economic development and neighborhood revitalization."

The West Side Bazaar, located on Grant Street near the corner of West Ferry, currently houses numerous clothing and gift boutiques as well as small kitchens selling foods from various parts of the world. 

"Currently we have 17 vendors from eight or nine different countries who speak 13 different languages," said Michelle Holler, manager of the West Side Bazaar. "The West Side Bazaar is very much our own little Buffalo mini-United Nations, which is kind of a beautiful thing. It's an all-inclusive space."

But it's a limited space and the bazaar wants to get bigger. An expansion project is underway, although it's still in a very preliminary stage. While no blueprints are in place yet, one thing bazaar operators say they do know is that there's a demand to get involved.

"We have had a waiting list for a long time in terms of people who would love to be in this space," said Ben Bissell, executive director of WEDI. "Particularly in the food service area, the restaurant space."

The grant program will award a total of one million dollars to cities of various sizes. The West Side Bazaar is in contention for one of two possible grants, the top award of $300,000 or an Outstanding Achievement Award totaling $75,000.

The winners will be announced in June.