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Unwrapping Buffalo: VBN introduces Canadian contest winners to Queen City boutiques

Hello, Canada: welcome to Buffalo.

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

It’s a warm Saturday night in North Buffalo and I’m at Empire Grill to chat up 10 Canadian women who I’ve never met in my life.

No worries for my wife, though—I am here at the invite of Karen Fashana, marketing manager for Visit Buffalo Niagara, in order to meet the winners of the organization’s Win A Buffalo Shopping Spree contest. Focused towards the increasingly valuable Canadian audience, the promotion aimed to get more north-of-the-border shoppers talking about retail opportunities in Buffalo by introducing them to experiences that can enhance their already-regular visits to the malls encircling the city.

“According to recent research that Visit Buffalo Niagara helped fund, Canadian shoppers spend more than $900 million per year in Erie and Niagara counties, and there are opportunities for even more growth,” Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen explained. “This shopping contest is part of a targeted marketing and public relations plan that Visit Buffalo Niagara is executing to encourage Canadians to continue visiting, stay longer and experience our region’s world-class attractions and restaurants.”

Contest participants were required to define their style using one of six “fashion dolls.” In 2011, Visit Buffalo Niagara conceived the fashion dolls as part of an effort to craft specific local shopping experiences based on personal style interests. Identify a fashion doll on the Visit Buffalo Niagara website and you’re given tips on places to shop, where to stay and things to do during a visit to Western New York.

Fashion Dolls

Contest winners were rewarded with a enviable prize package: three days and two nights at Embassy Suites or Hampton Inn and Suites in downtown Buffalo, two $100 gift cards to spend at one of 10 local boutiques, meals at The Chocolate Bar, Spot Coffee, Cecelia’s and Empire Grill, and another $100 to spend at the Walden Galleria Mall. The winners were also allowed to bring a guest (who received the same package) and all were chaperoned from experience to experience by limousine with Fashana and local fashion guru Erin Habes.

Meet the winners:

Abby Sears and Alexis Erlichman

Name: Abby Sears (pictured, left)
From: Toronto
Profession: Homemaker
Guest: Alexis Erlichman (daughter; pictured, right)
Fashion doll:: Classically Minimal
Defining her style: “It’s more of a tailored look.”
Pertinent boutiques: Leelee, Chic and Sweet
Familiar with Buffalo? Yes. “I’ve been coming to Buffalo for about 22 years,” Sears said. “My sister and I used to come once a year, at minimum, to shop. We would have an annual trip to Buffalo.” But not quite as familiar with the city itself: “It’s really nice to see other parts of (Buffalo),” she noted. “On Friday, we drove along Delaware when we first got here, and saw the beautiful homes, and it was very nice. And also, being introduced to other stores in Buffalo was nice. We’re tired of going to the chains—a lot of the chains are in Canada now that weren’t necessarily in Toronto 22 years ago when I started coming to Buffalo. So that was nice.”
Fun fact: Daughter Alexis Erlichman is a competitive athlete on the Canadian national figure skating scene.

Caroline Peterson and Vidya Sawh

Name: Vidya Sawh (pictured, right)
From: Toronto
Profession: Technical writer
Guest: Caroline Peterson (friend; pictured left)
Fashion doll: Modern Bohemian
Defining her style: “Clean, vintage, Gucci-inspired design. Clean, flowing, not haute couture, not fitted. Bright, colorful, fun. Artsy, edgy.”
Pertinent boutiques: Modern Nostalgia, Anna Grace
And she liked them: “Of the 10 stores we saw, I think I had the two best.”
Toronto as a shopping mecca? Not so much. “I have a seven-year-old and a full-time job. I don’t have time to shop. And when I do shop, I’m not going to waste time shopping in Toronto—unless it’s for necessities—because every three months, we’ll come down (to Western New York) and shop. We’re shopping every season, for some reason or another.”
On the trip: “I’ve been over the moon since February, planning it—who’s going to come with me? I’ve had like 10 people lined up.”
Why it’s nice to get inside Buffalo city limits: “When you’re driving in from Canada, you see the old houses, kind of ramshackle-looking places…they’re not the nice Colonials and modern homes you’re seeing in the Elmwood Village and Williamsville. That was a nice, refreshing change, right? When you’re driving in from Toronto, you’re getting this whole different image, which is not good. It can be a bit smokestack-y and gray…This changed my view.”

Amber Gallante and Cynthia Gallante

Name: Amber Gallante (pictured, left)
From: Mississauga
Profession: Forensics
Guest: Cynthia Gallante (mother; pictured, right)
Fashion doll: Flirty femme
Defining her style: “Flirty femme is more of a softer style, so I wear a lot of pastels and that sort of thing. A lot of cute, chic dresses. I find it sort of sophisticated—maybe a few more ruffles, things like that. I love that.”
Two sides to everyone: “But at the same time, I’ve always been the girl in the nice white sun dress who ends up picking up the frog and wipes the mud on herself by accident.”
Pertinent boutiques: Lotions and Potions, Atelier
Fun fact: Amber works for Friends of Pathology in Toronto. And what does Friends of Pathology do? “So basically, any homicide, suicide or complicated sudden death that occurs in all of Ontario, they come to us and we do the autopsies to see how they died.”
Another fun fact:“Our softball team is called CSI: Toronto.”
On Buffalo: “Honestly, I really like it. It’s got a very small-town feel. I love how everything is out and open and out into the streets. We have a few places that have that similar feel back at home, but not with the same shopping boutiques, which of course was quite exciting for the ladies. I really had a good time.”

Rayna and Lisa Schwartz

Name: Rayna Schwartz (pictured, right)
From: Toronto
Profession: Schoolteacher
Guest: Lisa Schwartz (sister; pictured, left)
Fashion doll: Vintage Betty
Defining her style: “I feel like vintage has a really personal touch to it. Everything has a story. Almost always, these things belonged to someone. I love the designs, and I really love the whole idea of refurbishing and reinventing pieces.”
Putting in work: “(I look for) things that were once really big, or have seen better days. Furniture pieces that you find in shops or even on the side of the road. I love to give them new life, repaint them, re-use them. I like that, and accessories. That’s what makes me vintage…I love the accessories and the furniture. Today, I bought a bunch of brooches—now, brooches aren’t really big anymore, but I turn them into earrings and necklaces. It’s just changing it up a bit.”
Pertinent boutiques: Second Chic, Moda Vintage
Discovering Buffalo: “I really had no idea what to expect. I thought maybe it was rundown and small, seen better days…(but) there are so many places that are so cute. The real estate, the homes—there are so many neighborhoods we went through that I thought were the cutest things ever. The strips that we have been to, like the Elmwood Village, are adorable. Just really sweet.”
Stateside second thoughts: “My boyfriend is from Europe and he’s only been living in Canada for a year and a half, and he’s always talking about how he wants to go to the States, wants to go to America. We’ve been over to the outlet malls, and I’d always said that I didn’t think we needed to go to Buffalo, there wasn’t much there. But now—I think, for a weekend getaway, there’s more here than I would have thought.”

Danielle and Jessica Katz

Name: Jessica Katz
From: Toronto
Profession: Student, University of Western Ontario
Guest: Danielle Katz (sister)
Fashion doll: Trendsetter
Pertinent boutiques: MS Eye Candy, room
Defining her style: “I like the latest and the greatest. I look to look at fashion blogs and magazines and see what’s new—what’s hot, what’s not, where to shop.”
Breezing past Buffalo: “I guess I always thought of it as a small town, not really as a big city where people lived, because we were Canadians coming (specifically) to shop. To me, Buffalo was the mall, the outlets and shopping. To me, it wasn’t these nice houses and beautiful neighborhoods and great architecture and bars and partying—that was never Buffalo. It was always in, out, shopping—maybe stay at a hotel—and that was it.”
Coming back again: “My sister and I were saying how much we loved the Elmwood Village and this (North Buffalo) neighborhood. We could come back again with my other sister and my mom…it’s just nice to make a day of it when the weather is nice, check out all the side shops and the ice cream shops. Especially if we’re going to be here for a couple days.”
Styles to look for this summer: “Denim vests. Socks with frills on top are totally coming back. Leopard print. I love leopard, it’s all the rage right now. Geometric shapes on jewelry are really big.”

Main photo from Facebook / Visit Buffalo Niagara.

TAGGED: canada, contests, empire grill, shopping, toronto, tourism, visit buffalo niagara

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