|By Emma Sapong, The Buffalo News, N.Y.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"If you want to start a business, you just start it," said
But in 2013 when Du, a Burmese refugee, tried to open a Thai eatery in
"It's difficult here; there are a lot of steps," he said. Unversed in the American business process, Du also couldn't speak English.
"I really didn't know how to do it," he admitted, speaking with the help of his teenage daughter.
"If it wasn't for
With its West Side Bazaar, one-on-one business training and micro-lending programs,
Still, Candeleria and her husband turned to
"It was like having a business consultant without a consultant's fees, which is huge when you're starting a business and you're pinching pennies," she said.
Business owners of varying stripes credit
In its seven years,
"There are so many businesses on
Refugees and immigrants comprise 75 percent of
As its clients have grown,
The recently-awarded nearly half-million dollars in grant money has meant a rebirth of the program. It won a
"It's a change in what we are capable of doing," said
Changes are happening quickly. Programs like the micro-lending initiative are being revamped. The loan program, now more structured, will become the area's only certified community development financial institution. CDFIs offer affordable lending to populations under-served by traditional banks.
In less than a year,
The program brought in
"It was Ben for everything I needed," Du said. "He did everything."
"It was the church that allowed all this to happen; It all started there, and we're grateful to them," Rivera said.
Its mission wasn't necessarily economic development, but whatever it took to revitalize the
In 2008, it became a nonprofit and in 2009 joined the newly formed West Side Stake Holders. That group, initiated by Rivera, is comprised of
The West Side Bazaar, a collection of vendors from around the globe, selling food, jewelry and clothing, opened in 2011.
"Rather than being a project-by-project kind of organization, we're now an organization that wants to have a sustainable impact in our community,"
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