Why people are returning to their Buffalo roots


Francesca Bond/The Record

The revitalization of downtown Buffalo is one of many reasons why more and more Buffalo expats are returning home.

Francesca Bond, Social Media Editor

Chances are, if you live in Buffalo, you’ve heard the adage before — “Everyone always comes back.”

What is it that brings people back to Buffalo? Is it family? Food? The fact that winter lasts about eight months?

For a city that has seen its fair share of hardships — from sports teams with losing streaks, to the economic strife of a rust belt city — Buffalo never seems to let itself get kicked down.

It is no secret that something is coming over Buffalo these days, and it seems that something is pride. Luckily, there are many Buffalonians committed to making this pride last.

Kevin Heffernan is the co-founder of Rise Collaborative, a local promotions agency focusing on small businesses, non-profits and artists, and No Boundaries, a semi-annual print publication and ongoing blog and video series that highlights positive stories and solutions coming out of under-reported areas. 

“It’s easier in this town to get something of your own started,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan lists many reasons people come back to Buffalo, but insists two of the biggest are the quality of life and that it’s easier to set oneself apart here.

“There is such a ‘We’re in this together’ mentality in Buffalo where a lot more people are willing to help each other out with their projects, lend a hand when they can,” Heffernan said. “As opposed to feeling as if you’re on your own and lost.”

One thing that makes Buffalo stand out, according to Heffernan, is the relatively low cost of living. According to the CNN cost of living calculator, a salary of $50,000 is comparable to $76,228 in Washington D.C. and a whopping $117,973 in New York City. Higher costs of living, according to Heffernan, can result in “[Finding out] that the richer parts of life can sometimes be lost in working multiple jobs to make your rent.”

Heffernan lists food, culture, celebrations, parades and character as a few more of Buffalo’s greatest assets.

“We’re very good at finding reasons to not just throw a small party, but making everything we do really big,” Heffernan said, referencing Buffalo’s famous St. Patrick’s Day and Dingus Day parades.

As far as advice for anyone thinking of coming back to Buffalo who does not know if they want to commit yet, Heffernan believes they should — if not just for themselves, for the community as a whole.

“If they’re thinking of coming back, instead of saying something that would convince them to, I would say we would welcome them back with open arms,” Heffernan said.

“We’ve been walking in circles as a regional community, trying to figure out solutions to our issues on our own, when often other cities have already figured out solutions to the same problems. It takes someone who’s lived elsewhere to come in and share that knowledge with us,” Heffernan said. “If everyone who’s left our city was considering coming back, I’d hope that every single one of them would, because what they’ve learned in other cities would pay dividends for us.”

The shifting change in attitude about Buffalo has been apparent through this renaissance. With an increase in business, events, restaurants and more, Buffalo’s morale seems to be increasing every year.

Heffernan related this attitude change to a scene in The Simpsons when Homer, the main character, “actually did something great once, and all three of his kids finally lifted up their heads and all their necks crack because they had been slumping in shame for so long.”

“We’re no longer a city of doubters,” Heffernan said.

Jeff Ware, owner of Resurgence Brewing, is another person who is committed to helping Buffalo come back to life. He is a Western New York native, raised in Orchard Park. After his college years at RIT, he moved around to different cities. Prior to opening Resurgence nearly three years ago, he lived in New York City with his wife, working in the craft beer industry and spending time at breweries.

“We’d hang out in these really cool beer venues and think, ‘How does Buffalo not have one?’” Ware said.  “Everyone in Buffalo loves beer.”

Taking inspiration from other cities he has lived in, Ware saw Buffalo’s emergence and decided to invest in its future in the form of a brewery.

“You could see the city coming back to life,” Ware said. “We thought, ‘Let’s bring our version of cool back to Buffalo and help this little momentum.’”

What would Ware say to anyone who has left Buffalo and is considering coming back?

“Do it. I think change is hard. People come back and there’s still the worry that it’s the same old Buffalo, but it’s different. Make the opportunities, make the jobs, create the jobs for someone else,” Ware said.

However, Ware’s favorite thing about Buffalo is not the food or culture. He believes the best part of Buffalo has been here all along — the people.

“I think its best quality is people. The people are just good, down to earth, solid people,” Ware said. “Friendly goes a long way in building a community because people are willing to help. Buffalonians are willing to help each other, and there’s a pride in community here.”

Alix Gilman and Scott Robinson, who have a blog called In a DC Minute, were born and raised in Medina, New York. They both moved away to Washington D.C. following different life paths, and several years later found themselves coming back to Buffalo, too.

“I don’t know if we necessarily agree with the adage [that everyone always comes back to Buffalo], but we do agree that Buffalo never leaves you. Even living across the world in another country, whenever anyone asked where I was from, I always said Buffalo even though I was technically from Medina,” Gilman said. “Everywhere we go, we always respond, ‘Buffalo’. We criticize and scoff “Buffalo” wings in D.C., and we yell across the street to connect with a Bills jersey during football season. Buffalo is innate, no matter where you live.”

“Our families both still reside in and around Medina, and we hit a point where we wanted to invest in a home, property, a life beyond apartment living. It was easy to compare markets and what we could afford back home, but it was the added opportunity of growing old with our families that truly prompted the move,” Gilman said.

Gilman has a few recommendations from a blogger’s standpoint for people who are thinking about returning to their Buffalo roots.

“If the reasons are sound and the opportunity awaits, do it. And more than that, take advantage of all that is truly Buffalo,” Gilman said. “Walk the city streets, attend local theater productions, saunter around the art galleries, tailgate at a Bills game, jog with your dog through Delaware Park — explore every inch of it.  Buffalo has a beautiful and powerful pulse, and it’s exciting to be back when we are young and eager enough to enjoy it.”

Gilman added one last thing: “Just don’t forget to splurge on a new winter wardrobe.”

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