By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Tom Robinson lives in Colden but he’s been hanging out in Larkin Square every Thursday evening for the last two months.
Meghan Schimmelpenninck lives in Lewiston, while Olivia Ebsary and Jen Wright have homes on the same block in Snyder. On Tuesday nights all summer, their favorite place in Western New York is Canalside, where they teach Zumba classes from 6 to 7 p.m., and often hang out at the Liberty Hound restaurant for awhile afterward.
“What people have told us is there’s nothing better than working out on the water with this backdrop,” Wright told me this week. When we started the classes a few years ago, people asked, ‘How do we get to the waterfront? Where is it?’ They didn’t even know how to get here.”
“Now, instead of people saying, ‘Let’s go to the waterfront, it’s ‘Let’s go to Canalside,’” Schimmelpenninck said.
Canalside has become the symbol of resurgent downtown Buffalo. As it has grown during the last three years, a growing number of suburbanites, once fearful of wandering into the city, are returning to the area where many of their parents and grandparents used to dine, shop and play.
That includes the fitness-minded among us.
This really struck me as I reported this weekend’s Refresh cover story on outdoor group fitness.
Robinson and members of the Buffalo Bicycling Club have spent one night a week since early May racing around the streets of Larkinville, where cops and volunteers have closed off the thoroughfares. Last Thursday, folks sat at the Larkin Square Grill – an outdoor bar – and at nearby tables and on Adirondack chairs, and watched bikers blaze by them at speeds up to 40 mph.
Meanwhile, Tuesday night Zumba classes at Canalside – sponsored by BlueCross BlueShield of WNY – have drawn as many as 400 people.
And that’s just a start of what Canalside has to offer outdoor group fitness-wise this summer. The slate also includes power yoga and barre classes, as well as run training. (See a list of outdoor group fitness options across the region here.) And those who want to go it alone or in small groups can take a kayak or other watercraft out of Buffalo Harbor Kayak.
Budding entrepreneurs are taking to the city waterfront, too, including the Outer Harbor, as well as other Buffalo neighborhoods. I’ve written about some of them since The Buffalo News launched Refresh in March 2013, and look to write about others in coming months. It’s been striking how many of these 20- and 30-somethings are suburban Western New York natives.
The excitement for folks like me in the newsroom is palpable. Many of us grew up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1960s and ‘70s. We had a taste of window shopping at Christmastime at AM&A’s and Hengerer’s and at Eastertime at the Broadway Market, as well as visiting our grandparents, many of whom lived and went to churches in the city.
But this new Buffalo is different, and in many ways more exciting.
The Buffalo I remember as a child of the ‘60s in South Cheektowaga never approached the diversity I witnessed on the downtown waterfront this week.
I never played in the sand as a kid along the Buffalo Harbor, like I saw kids doing Tuesday night at Canalside.
And harborfront restaurants were limited.
The bustle of the old Erie Canal days along the one-time western terminus of the waterway has begun to reemerge – this time with a much healthier twist.
“This is Buffalo’s best asset,” said Ebsary, one of the Zumba instructors, “and it’s great to see it really being developed and used.”