A grassroots organization on Buffalo’s East Side is bringing together business owners and community members to revitalize two historic, yet often neglected neighborhoods.
Fillmore Forward started in 2011 when residents and entrepreneurs in the city’s Broadway-Fillmore and Martin Luther King districts began discussing where they could combine efforts to improve the quality of life, restore economic vitality, and increase inclusiveness and wealth in the area.
“We saw that this person was doing this and that person was doing that and thought ‘why can’t we do these things together?’” Fillmore Forward Board President Rita Gay says. “From there we decided to focus on one thing, which was the redevelopment of the business districts in both communities.”
Gay says the organization began with a mindset similar to associations in neighborhoods like the Elmwood Village and is propelled by the work of volunteers, fundraisers, and donations from local businesses and foundations.
“We’re here for the community, and it’s not just another organization founded to say that we’re a nonprofit for the sake of being one – that’s not what we’re about,” she adds. “We want to be recognized as an organization that wants everybody at the table so we as a community can redevelop our business districts.”
Currently, Fillmore Forward is working on its Open Storefront Makeover Program, which works with college design students, architects, developers, and business owners along Fillmore Avenue to design floor plans, then turn those designs into reality with light facade improvements and interior decorating.
In the next few weeks, the organization plans to see this collaborative effort materialize for a woman who hopes to open a consignment shop on Fillmore. Interior design students from Buffalo State College have been on site to develop four to five concepts for the owner to choose from, and were so impressed with the building, they began brainstorming ideas for redesigning other spaces within it.