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Parkside Candies melts hearts with $250K upgrade

The chocolate just seems to stand out better against the revived and redecorated Parkside Candy store in North Buffalo. Public officials turned out Tuesday for the ribbon-cutting on a $250,000 rehabilitation of the sweets mecca.

Parkside Candy has been an attraction in University Heights for 90 years and remains an anchor in the neighborhood. Phil Buffamonte has owned the landmark since 1981.

His store benefited from the Buffalo Billion, with Albany picking up half the cost of the project. That rehab included the inside of the store, three upstairs apartments, the landmark sign outside and the building's awnings.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"It was a task, that's for sure," said Buffamonte. "As a historic landmark, you have to get approval for everything that you're doing. So, if something didn't match exactly with what their expectations were, there were adjustments that would have to be made."

University District Community Development Association Executive Director Roseann Scibilia said the rehab is important in the city's northeast corner.

"We care, we're sincere and it's a great neighborhood with wonderful people," said Scibilia. "And when they see something like this that's facilitated by all the folks in the state and local government, when they see something like this actually transpire, come to fruition, it really helps restore a sense of pride in themselves and in their community."

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she did not have to be told where the store was. Hochul said she first ate there with her family as a child.

"When I was a child, my parents used to bring us up here and you could savor the ambiance of a time long past - and the way you captured the essence of that, Phil, and kept it here, for not just our generation but the future generations, it's really special and unique," Hochul said. "And I will make a couple of confessions right now. One is that I am a sponge candy fanatic."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

As other officials told their favorite story of Parkside Candies, there was plenty of sponge candy on display for sale. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said it is not just the candy, but the jobs.

"Phil employs at least 37 people and during holiday periods, that employment increases significantly," Brown said. "So, yes, this is a beautiful renovation of a historic building but this also means jobs for the residents of Buffalo and Erie County."

Buffamonte said he continues to see steady customers who come from the suburbs or out of town and an ever-changing crowd of University at Buffalo students from up the street. However, some things do change.

"Sugar-free chocolate is much more prevalent today than certainly when I started," he said. "Other changes I think over the duration of my time being here seeing a switch to a lot more dark chocolate as compared to milk chocolate. Truffles have become more popular. But, when I started here and today, it's still the main item is sponge candy and pecan turnovers."

And then there are the customers who come in for ice cream and desserts, he said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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