West Side Bazaar helps refugees become entrepreneurs

Buffalo, NY – Buffalo's West Side is now home to a new business incubator that celebrates the neighborhood's diversity and hopes to spur economic development.

Immigrants and refugees from all over the world have brought an international flare and flavor to the West Side. People have resettled there from Somalia, Burma, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic to name only a few.

Now, some of them will have a way to begin making a good living. Cornelia Dohse-Peck is Executive Director for West Side Ministries, one of the organizers of the West Side Bazaar. Dohse-Peck said the business incubator provides support to refugees who want to become retailers.

"They all have their DBA's and they all have to pay sales tax and it's a full-fledged business that they're in already. It's just designed as a safe ground for them so they don't have the huge overhead and they don't have to fill maybe a huge space yet with a lot of inventory," said Dohse-Peck.

The West Side Bazaar opened last week with four part-time vendors as a small start-up in a temporary location on Grant Street. There is a manger who provides ongoing support to the vendors to help make them successful. Vendors also received advance training in everything from book keeping to marketing and importing. And they get assistance with overhead.

The Westminster Economic Development Initiative speaheded the project, with several other community organizations collaborating on the planning and helping to secure grant funding to launch the project.

Dohse-Peck said the idea is to spur economic development in the neighborhood by building on the strength of its diversity.

"Behind many of the vendors is a whole bnetwork of family and friends whom they buy from," said Dohse-Peck. "So, it's a big economic push for sometimes a whole group of people, not just the vendors themselves."

For now, the market is open Thursdays through Sundays with products from all over the world, including jewelry, crafts and exotic foods. Organizers said they hope to open the larger permanent location on West Ferry in about a year. It will house about 30 vendors.