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Food Cartology

RoamingBuffaloFood trucks have really taken hold in Buffalo, receiving a groundswell of public support despite complaints from traditional restaurant owners that mobile food vendors put them at a disadvantage.

But it looks many of those fears could be unfounded. A recent study of food carts and trucks in Portland, Oregon looked at how food carts can positively and negatively affect a neighborhood and its businesses.

It found:

1. Food carts have positive impacts on street vitality and
neighborhood life in lower density residential neighborhoods as
well as in the high density downtown area.
2. When a cluster of carts is located on a private site, the
heightened intensity of use can negatively impact the
surrounding community, primarily from the lack of trash cans.
3. A cart’s exterior appearance does not affect social interactions
or the public’s overall opinion of the carts; seating availability
is more important for promoting social interaction than the
appearance of the cart’s exterior.

4. The presence of food carts on a site does not appear to hinder its
5. Food carts represent beneficial employment opportunities because
they provide an improved quality of life and promote social
interactions between owners and customers.
6. Despite the beneficial opportunities that food carts can provide, there
are numerous challenges to owning a food cart.
7. While many food cart owners want to open a storefront business,
there is a financial leap from a food cart operation to opening a
8. Food cart owners do not frequently access small business
development resources available to them, such as bank loans and
other forms of assistance.

Do you think these findings could apply to Buffalo?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

No victory in swipe fee settlement

CCMerchants have been fighting credit card companies over swipe fees for years. As the battle drags on, you may have noticed more mom-and-pop retailers have instituted a minimum purchase amount for credit card purchases.

Thanks to a recent settlement, merchants will now be able to pass swipe fees on to consumers rather than incurring them themselves.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed about two dozen retailers, many of whom said they aren't sure whether they want to risk alienating their customers by passing the cost of swipe fees on to them:

Steven Resnick, a partner at the accounting firm Resnick Amsterdam Leshner in Blue Bell, Pa., which sued Visa and Mastercard, says he would "definitely not" impose a surcharge on clients because "it would be like we're nickel-and-diming them," he says.

SwipeAfter complaining about being nickel-and-dimed by the credit card companies, one would hope merchants wouldn't want to turn around and do the same to their own customers.

The swipe fee settlement is a messy victory for merchants. They are no longer required to pay the surcharge themselves, but they still have to figure out who pays it. The credit card companies still get their money, which amounts to about 1 percent to 3 percent per transaction. But it begs the question, especially in a society where one almost cannot function without plastic, what is so costly about the system that every swipe costs so much?

According to swipe fee reform group the Merchants Payments Coalition, the money brought in through swipe fees far exceed the cost of doing business. In fact, they bring in twice as much money as ATM fees and overdraft charges:

What started in the 1960s as a fee to cover the transaction costs of using plastic is now a cash-cow for the big banks that issue 90% plus of all MasterCard and Visa cards.  According to a consultant for the big banks, only 13% of the credit card interchange fee goes to processing credit card transactions; much of the rest goes to pay for billions of pieces of unsolicited junk mail annually among other dubious credit card marketing activities aimed at students or those with bad credit histories.

The more people you ask, the more it sounds like the recent settlement was a victory for no one but the banks, who get to keep the status quo.

Winery woes can make your dream a nightmare

LongCliffVineyardOwning a vineyard and winery sounds like a dream: working the fields, crushing the grapes, tasting the product.

But winemakers from the Niagara Wine Trail, brainstorming with U.S. Rep. Kathleen Hochul Monday, aired some of the concerns that make it a bit less romantic to operate in the industry. Things like marketing difficulties and sky-high duties that keep Canadian wine tasters from buying their wine.


The New York State Society of CPAs, in a back issue of its monthly newspaper The Trusted Professional, talked about how CPAs can cater to the winery community. In doing so, it sheds even more light on the difficulties vineyard owners face.

Perhaps the most unpredictable and potentially damaging event for a winery is a crop failure. John Savash wrote:

When vineyard owners . . . suffer subzero temperatures that unexpectedly injure their vines, CPAs have to step up to financial forecasting in an unpredictable, storm-ridden business climate.

There are plenty of other pitfalls as well:

HoneymoonSince vineyards and wineries are among the most important industries in New York state, many CPAs, especially those upstate or on Long Island, are faced with questions about crop failure, internal theft or inconsistent cash flow due to seasonal production. Even when they can’t predict the weather, CPAs must predict the numbers . . . .

“Since production occurs in the winter and peak season occurs in the summer, cash flow issues can be a problem for many wineries,” said Krista Niles, a Rochester CPA.

To cover production costs, these wineries will often take out working capital or short-term loans in the winter, which they will then pay off in the summer, when cash flow is highest, according to Niles.

Since tourism is an important part of the winery business, a good or bad tourist season can, like the weather, significantly affect the success of the winery.

As with most industries, theft can be a big problem when there’s desirable merchandise available for the taking.

Still want in?

Dollar store dilemma


Dollar stores have a problematic image--low rent, tacky, maybe even dangerous.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Vermont's struggle to keep such stores out of the state. Though Vermont has fought valiantly to thwart big box stores from becoming ubiquitous, it's facing a new "threat" from dollar stores. Where Walmart has just four stores in the state, various national dollar chains have 12.

A recent New York Times story shows just how much of a threat Vermonters feel dollar stores to be to the essence of their communities, and outlines their battle to keep them out. Because of dollar stores' small footprint, they're not as easy to block as giant big box stores that can be zoned out for size.

Here is Abby Goodnough writing for the Times:

Chester, with 3,000 residents, has a number of homegrown businesses, many located in Victorian houses along Main Street. But there is little in the way of generic commercial architecture here — a selling point that drew residents like Mr. Veliz and Mr. Cunningham, who moved his family here from Baltimore in 2004.


“Most of the people in Chester now are people who have come from someplace else,” Mr. Cunningham said. “It’s like a lot of Vermont. Why come to a place like this only to have it turn into the kind of place you were trying to leave?”

Nodding to that concern, the Development Review Board is requiring Dollar General to use certain materials — the wood clapboard siding, for example, instead of a vinyl alternative that the company wanted. Dollar General on its own proposed a building with a peaked roof, as well as a cupola and a faux hayloft door.

In their decision approving the project, board members noted that a retail store was an “allowed use” in the part of town where Dollar General wants to open. They also said that, by using wood siding, the store would meet a zoning requirement that new buildings “adhere harmoniously to the overall New England architectural appearance” of the town.


Tawn Earnest, a spokeswoman for Dollar General, said the company had a long history in small towns and rural communities, often serving customers who have few retail options. Opposition to Dollar General, which is based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., is “a rare exception,” Ms. Earnest said, adding, “We have been very thoughtful in the placement and design of the store to benefit Chester.”

Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, said opposition to dollar stores has sprung up in at least four other towns in the state. Mr. Bruhn’s group, which seeks to protect what it calls “the essential character of Vermont,” has been tracking the spread of dollar stores since 2010; it provides grant money to citizens’ groups that oppose them, including Mr. Cunningham’s.


“The dollar stores have proliferated in a way that seems a little extreme,” Mr. Bruhn said. “One of the things I think is crucial for Vermont, in terms of maintaining this very special brand that we have, is we don’t want to look like Anywhere, U.S.A. And homegrown businesses are a crucial piece of that.”

The spread of dollar stores has come during a period of decline of the general store, a Vermont institution that in many towns served as a meeting place and all-purpose emporium. This week, the Barnard General Store, not far from Chester, closed after 180 years. Its owners cited the twin blows of Tropical Storm Irene, which badly flooded parts of the state last summer, and a nearly snowless winter that kept skiers away.


Lonnie Lisai, whose family owns Lisai’s Market, said he was already strategizing about how to survive if the Dollar General store opens. A lunchtime salad bar, a selection of fancy cheeses and lower-cost alternatives to popular brands are in the offing, he said.

“If you pay a buck over at Dollar General and you’re going to pay a buck eighty-nine here, it’s, boy, what do you tell the customer?” Mr. Lisai said. “I can’t compete. And hopefully they’ll understand that.”


State hanging "open for business" sign


Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's $50 million advertising campaign to attract businesses to New York State is set to launch next week. The money will pay for ads around the country letting business owners know that New York is "open for business."

There is debate over whether that is money well spent.

The Manhattan-based agency that landed the contract to handle the campaign, BBDO, is certainly happy about the launch, as are many economic development agencies and other groups.

But not everyone is singing the project's praises.

"If Governor Cuomo really wanted to make New York "open for business," he could do it without spending a dime," writes the Suffolk County Liberal Report. "Just focus on cutting the three New York State business killers--taxes, regulations and eco insanity."

Cuomo has also vowed to pump $1 billion directly into the Buffalo economy in the form of incentives offered to companies willing to build or expand here. In his keynote address at The Buffalo News' Prospectus launch, M&T Bank CEO John R. Koelmel said the money presents the opportunity of a lifetime.

"We as a region need to get behind and help--and be part of what will be and must be a real success. We finally have a road map for sustainable success, and we just need to get after it," he said.

 What do you think? Is this influx of money a good investment in Buffalo and New York State?

Embrace our Canadian visitors.

From Business Today:


 Retailers in Western New York know what a boon Canadian shoppers are to their bottom line, but businesses in other industries apparently don't, according to new market research. Visiting Canadians spent $933 million here last year, but just 13 percent of it was spent on sightseeing and recreation. That's an untapped audience with huge potential and spending clout. Executives from Visit Buffalo Niagara and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. shared ideas for how local businesses could better take advantage of the opportunity at two seminars Monday.


A public authority oversight agency has determined that, according to current laws, a company that eliminated workers here committed no job piracy. After taking 15 years of tax breaks from the ECIDA, VWR Education eliminated 41 jobs at its warehouse in the Town of Tonawanda. At the same time, it added seven jobs at its facility near Rochester, and received tax breaks from the Monroe County IDA for doing so. Politicians and activists filed a complaint, saying the company was shifting jobs around New York State at taxpayer expense, but the New York State Authorities Budget Office disagreed, according to a report resulting from its investigation.


Profits were up during the first quarter at a Buffalo-based information technology staffing and services company. Computer Task Group saw an 18.8 percent increase in profits. It reported net income of $3.36 million, or 20 cents per share, up from 42.83 million, or 17 cents per share, compared to the same period a year ago. The increase is attributed to higher revenues, especially from electronic medical records and other health care technology solutions.


After being ordered by state regulators to check their insurance records against federal death data, life insurance companies found that hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance policy claims have gone unpaid. More than 30,000 policies and $262.2 million in benefits went unpaid because insurers failed to check whether their policyholders had died. In New York State, 7,525 policyholders have received $95.9 million in unpaid benefits. The results came after an investigation was launched by the state Department of Financial Services. To search for a lost policy, click here.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Looks like another lovely spring day:


Making it in Buffalo

From Business Today:


Gary Hydock is taking another shot at the radiant heat business. He has acquired an East Side building, on Northampton Street near Genesee Street, and brought in some investors. Modular Radiant Technologies will market the panels to businesses, which Hydock believes are ready to drastically cut their heating costs. Hydock bet on radiant heat in the past with GCS Radiant, but that company folded in 2009 when customers began cutting back home-improvement spending.


A vacant former food plant in Wilson has a new owner. The former Pfeiffer Foods plant on Lake Street has been sold to Lawta Properties LLC for $419,000. Lawta owns and leases several parcels in Wilson, on most of which it grows corn. It did not respond for comment as to what the new site would be used for. Pfeiffer Foods was Wilson's largest private employer, employing 150 people to make salad dressing. Those jobs were consolidated to another facility in 2009 and the building has sat empty for three years. 


Businesses in Cheektowaga may be eligible for a low-rate loan from the Cheektowaga Economic Development Corp. The agency is offering five-year loans with a 0.5 percent interest rate to manufacturing, warehousing and wholesale distribution companies in the town to help them create jobs. Retail and service trade companies might also be considered. According to the job creation requirements, at least half of the jobs must go to workers who currently have low to moderate incomes. For more information, call 897-7200, Ext. 6, or visit 

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

The weather forecast calls for a high of 57 degrees and mostly sun:


Business confidence increasing

From Business Today:


After 18 months of major renovations, the Genesee Gateway building is officially open with its first tenants. Two investment firms that spun off from the now defunct, 80-year-old Harold C. Brown & Co. investment firm have moved in: Winthrop Financial and Pratt Collard Advisory Partners. Other tenants include the U.S. Passport Office, the Department of State and NBT Solutions. The rehabbed complex is located in a very visible spot at the corner of Genesee and Oak Streets.


M&T Bank Corp. has released its Economic Outlook Survey, in which it posits that the U.S. economic recovery may now be more sustainable. Business confidence is increasing in upstate New York, jobs have grown and there has been an increased output of goods and services, the survey concludes. Among nearly 600 companies that M&T does business with in 7 states, about one-third plan to hire more workers within the next six months.


Check out what real estate sold in Erie and Niagara County for the week ending Feb. 17.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:


Want to send text messages for free? Learn how in today's MoneySmart cover story.

Happy Monday!


A delay at the new Niagara Falls train station?

From Business Today:


A social justice group is calling for more minority and women hires on a Niagara Falls project supported by a $16.5 million federal grant. The Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope wants a study conducted to be sure hiring goals on the third phase of the International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center reflect the demographics of Niagara Falls. The $25 million project will include a new Amtrak station.


Protectan, a drug designed for patients in the advanced stages of cancer, has started an advanced clinical trial. The drug was developed by Buffalo biotechnology company Cleveland BioLabs. The drug is meant to treat radiation sickness, but the company says it has also been successful treating cancerous tumors in animals.


Best Buy's Geek Squad has announced a change in its top brass, but that won't affect a local company that relies on the Geek Squad for a lot of its business. Installs Inc. has handled Best Buy's installation work for 15 years and recently signed another two-year contract. The company employs about 325 people in the Buffalo area.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

It sure is foggy downtown this morning:


Small business loans getting federal boost

From Business Today:


Loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration make it easier for banks to extend loans to small businesses, and that is helping small companies thrive. Lenders in the Buffalo and Rochester areas have loaned a total of $34.9 million in 221 loans over the last five months.



Two of the fastest-growing credit unions in the country are based right here in Western New York. Western New York Federal Credit Union in West Seneca ranked 31st for growth in a recent ranking, while St. Joseph's Parish Federal Credit Union in Buffalo ranked 50th. The ranking was put together by Washington, D.C.-based industry research firm Callahan & Associates and compiled to create the 2012 Credit Union Directory: The Cooperative State of Mind.


Check out the real estate listings for Erie and Niagara Counties for the week ending Feb. 3. The median sale price in Erie County during that period was $101,350. The median price for Niagara County was $83,500.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Sure feels like spring out there:


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