Guercio & Sons, the little Italian market on Grant near Lafayette in Buffalo is one of the city’s greatest architectural treasures. The market which is actually a cobbled together collection of 100 or so year old commercial structures is one of my favorite buildings, not because it is the high art of a great master architect, but rather because it is exactly the kind of indigenous urban place that makes cities great places to be. The store’s web site explains how the parents of the current owners opened it in 1961 after immigrating a few years earlier from Italy. It goes on to explain how they moved into wholesaling to local restaurants to counter neighborhood demographic changes and the rise of giant super market chains. Smart business moves like this allowed the store to flourish even as the neighborhood went through a drastic decline in fortune. What the web site fails to make mention of is that their success is also because of their savvy use of urban space to make a unique shopping experience.
Guercio’s has become a west side institution and a regional attraction because of their high quality product, personal service, and their smart use of the public right of way to display their goods. Guercio’s packs the sidewalk in front of the store with an amazing and tantalizing array of food under a low wide awning. They do this in a way that was once common but which is quite rare in most American cities and pretty much unique in Buffalo now. When you walk along this little stretch of Grant Street you can almost imagine being in Italy. The delicious smells of the store engulf you while the colors and textures of fruits and other foods on display form walls on each side that create a wonderful friendly space and real sense of place. The activity of store workers and shoppers make this one of the best urban experiences anywhere and it is no small reason why people keep coming back week after week. It is not beautiful perfectly proportioned architecture of the highest academic standards but it does everything great urban architecture is supposed to do and rarely does any more. I will stack Guercio’s up against any star-chitect monument. Give me 5 blocks of Guercio’s over a Seattle Library or Zaha Hadid monstrosity. Don’t get me wrong. Monuments have their place and I would be excited if Buffalo was to get a truly great new modern masterpiece. But, the real living in great cities is done in the Guercios of the world. To me it seems like a no brainer to replicate this store over and over for any number of other retail and restaurant offerings. But for some reason this remains rare. My understanding is that the city does not make it easy to use the sidewalk in this manner. If I were king mayor the city I would mandate intensive use of the sidewalk in the Guercio’s way instead of the restrictive laws currently in place that tend to sterilize the city streets into blandness. There should be a 1000 stores like this in Buffalo!
Images: Google Maps