A giant hand that emerges from the stem of the letter “B” in the colorful West Side Bazaar sign above the storefront on Grant Street is clutching a green and blue globe.
It’s an apt reflection of the emerging ethnic melting pot that’s found both inside the building and increasingly on the West Side.
On Wednesday, vendors selling exotic and unusual clothing, perfumes, gifts and other wares from their native countries celebrated a grand opening that also marked the addition of an ethnic food court featuring Ethiopian, Burmese, Chinese and Peruvian eateries, as well as Burmese-prepared sushi, offering moderately priced vegetarian and meat dishes.
The project was made possible thanks to a $130,000 investment by the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, a project of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic development on the West Side. [Westminster Economic Development Initiative] has done an incredible job with this bazaar, bringing so many different culturals and countries together to pursue the American Dream,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown, on hand for the big day.
“Immigrants are literally transforming this part of the West Side,” he said.
There were a lot of smiles to go around, from the booth owners and the public alike.
“I love the food and the uniqueness,” said Janick Jenkins, who moved to Buffalo from Haiti and was waiting for her order from Pure Peru. “I came to get anything with rice and chicken, [a native dish], and they had it.”
“I love how all the different people are coming together in one place,” added her daughter, Saidhah.
Booths from Rwanda, Bhutan and Nepal, South Sudan, India, Burma and more reflected colorful native dress and arts and crafts that the owners hope will attract people from their native countries and others.
“I opened a Nepali store because a lot of our people need traditional clothes and I wanted to help them. I give them a reasonable price, and help uplift my community,” said Leela Ghimiray, owner of Nepali Clothing Accessories. The store’s motto is “Fashion has no boundaries.”
“I’m very proud of what I have. I want to show Buffalonians what Moroccans can offer. I have leather goods, woodcraft, jewelry and clothing – and everything is handmade,” said Nabil Boussag of the Moroccan Shop.
Faustine Nishimwa of Julienne Boutique showed off handmade wood crafts and cards made by an uncle living in Rwanda, along with peace baskets, clothing and jewelry.
William J. Cooper of Buffalo was excited about the bazaar, where he is selling 10 hot sauces that range from a spicy mustard for sausage and hot dogs to what he calls the “Turtle,” which is made with apples and is to be swiped on pork loin.
“It’s a good environment. We’ve got so many different diversities, and the people are having a great time,” Cooper said. “The aromas of the different cuisines is just beautiful. Today is a great day.”
The project has been led by Chris DelPrince, a consultant who grew up on the West Side and is a specialist in retail. He got the idea from a business incubator in Harlem that benefitted street vendors.
“I look at it like years ago, when the immigrants in my family came here,” DelPrince said. “They were not educated, and couldn’t speak much English, but they became merchants. That’s the same thing happening over here.
“The immigrants are making things happen in this neighborhood, and making it a better neighborhood to walk and shop,” he said.
DelPrince said there are now plans to hold a Burmese festival on Grant Street in July, something that is expected to be an annual event.