Morgan Genovese is optimistic about downtown Niagara Falls, and she’s one of the young entrepreneurs who have thrown themselves into the fray in hopes of rebuilding what was once a vibrant entertainment district in the Third Street corridor.
Genovese took a big step just before the end of 2021, opening Gold Bar, a high-end cocktail joint in the heart of Third Street.
Although Genovese’s move put her in front of some, she doesn’t mind.
“I looked at it and thought I could do this now, or I could kick myself in the butt in a few years for not doing it,” she said.
The future of the area appears to be a mix of residential and commercial properties, the latter with shops designed to cater to both families and traditional nightlife, and a client base that is made up of both tourists and residents.
“It’s interesting because it’s right in the tourist heart of downtown but also adjacent to residential areas,” said Christian Campos, president of TM Montante Development. “It’s very attractive because it can attract both local people and visitors.
“That gives it a year-round vibrancy, meaning 24/7, and creates a healthy dynamic for businesses.”
Campos sees Montante’s first project in the city, the TrEC building at 616 Niagara Street, as a model for what could happen just down the street on Third.
The building houses the Niagara Global Tourism Institute as well as living quarters. The living space is occupied and, according to Campos, has a waiting list.
Jason Zona is also making a big bet on Third Street, Zona co-owns Halligan’s Tavern on Lower Mountain Road in Lockport with Jeff Abbott and David Mangus and recently announced plans to open another tavern location on Third Street. The new Halligan’s replaces the Third Street Tap Room at 439 Third St.
In addition, Zona is planning another Third Street project. He said he almost struck a deal with a local brewmaster for a location across the street from what will soon be Halligan’s new home.
Both Zona and Genovese cited the street’s achievements in 2021 as an indication of the potential for the district, particularly the Thursday Day Three live music series, the brainchild of Billy Olesiuk, owner of The Craft. The normally affable Olesiuk was on a January break and was unavailable for comment.
“The Craft opened up when we got out of the pandemic lockdown and killed it,” Zona said, “and in 2021, Wine on Third also mostly destroyed it.”
“The impact of Covid on the business climate has been good and bad,” Genovese said. “Yes it has reduced tourist business, particularly from Canada. But it’s also kept people here on the US side, people who may have gone to Canada in the past and are now giving us a chance. Our goal must be to give them a reason to stay with us when the pandemic is over.”
Genovese, a native of Fredonia, now lives in the falls. She came to the area as a physical education student at Niagara University and eventually earned a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in strategic marketing.
For her venture at the Gold Bar, she relies heavily on social media and word of mouth to let people know what she’s up to.
“Before we even opened, there were over 900 friends on our Facebook page.”
One of the more traditional methods of attracting an audience to neighborhood business is to blend residential spaces directly with business districts.
Both Montante and Zona have several residential spaces that they plan to have available by spring, with additional commercial ventures, including the Brew Pub, as possibilities before year-end.
“I left politics,” said Zona, a former Niagara County legislator, “because I felt it was a better way to help the community and invest in revitalization.”