Chamber Blog

The Batavia Mall

Call Me Crazy, I See An Opportunity

By: Steven Falitico

The biggest mistake they made was naming the mall a mall.

It is more a co-op of local businesses.

Cheap space, ownership, central location, renovation possibilities, snow removal and foot traffic.

Call me crazy, but I see an opportunity for new business.

The Mall

The Genesee Country Mall: a point of constant retribution, usually directed at the City of Batavia and the decisions of developers and urban renewal agencies that occurred in 1976.

Located at the center of the seat of Genesee County, the mall was intended to be a welcomed re-brand of the central section of the City of Batavia.

With 195,000 square feet, twenty-five spaces and room for 800 vehicles to be parked, this mall was going to be a real needle mover for Batavia and its tax base- until it wasn’t.

In recent years, it has really become the arguing point for the “Batavia is failing” crowd.

Believe me, I’m not naïve. I’ve walked through the place.

However, I am here to share with you a viewpoint that may be in the minority. And one I wish more would take-up.

The Inspiration:

I work for the Genesee County Chamber and one of the perks of the job is getting to participate in ribbon cutting celebrations.

One such event took place this Fall… inside the mall.

This was my first ribbon cutting inside The Batavia City Centre in my four year tenure at The Chamber.

A new agency, The McGowan Group, had been opened up by Batavia alum, John McGowan Jr.

I give John a lot of credit for taking the risk of opening a new business and especially for opening one up inside the mall.

I had to know why….

“Yeah, this is where the people are. This place provides good visibility for me,” he said.

I thought, “Really?”

Apparently, John had done his homework and researched the area for a spot for his office. He had looked on Main St and other places in town, but ultimately decided on the mall due to the affordability and the ability to own his parcel.

The new space he had purchased was under his ownership and he was allowed to make the changes he wanted.

He said the place was incredibly affordable, although it did need significant work. There had been some prior damage to the roof, and he had to put in new drywall and new flooring.

The positives were the 726 sq ft parcel had affordable taxes and supplied him with a constant supply of foot traffic from the other visitors of the City Centre.

Along with this came an ease of maintenance: no snow removal, plenty of parking, no landscaping.

He was happy to be located in the BID and he had access to all major routes of the GLOW region.

His office was handicap accessible and easy on seniors with bad knees.

It was in the heart of the city, and made it easier for people who have to walk.

John’s positivity and viewpoint of the mall was refreshing.

Further Research:

This stirred something in me, and I wanted to know more.

Was this place actually an opportunity for entrepreneurs in Genesee County?

Cheap space, good location, built-in traffic. I mean those are three significant check marks.

Right next door to John’s space is Le Beau Salon, which is owned by local, Erika Siverling.

I asked her about John and she actually echoed his statements.

“I’ve been here for 15 years and I love it.”  

She liked the central location, the ease of parking and snow removal.

She is close to the Main Entrance and also has her own private entrance that she utilizes.

Similarly, she renovated her space and she owns her parcel.

I mean her place is beautiful. Large windows, a comfortable atmosphere, quaint decor- and it smells nice too. 

When you hear “dead mall” you certainly don’t think of a place like this.

Had my pre-conceived notions of failure and hopelessness been wrong?

Was the mall actually a place for an entrepreneur to find an opportunity?

Call me crazy, but I was beginning to see it that way.

Re-Use and Re-Purpose

The mall provides an ability to re-use and re-purpose space, another major benefit for a new business.

One example of this is when two young entrepreneurs, Cait and Kourtney Kunichika, took a chance on what was formerly Larry’s Steakhouse on Main St Batavia, now transformed into Islands Hawaiian Grill.

Their creation was a completely unique mix of barbeque and Hawaiian flavors inspired by Kourtney’s culture and upbringing, and it was something that Batavia had never seen before.

The space was already ready for a restaurant. Kourtney and Cait had to take the reigns and make it their own. 

Their prior experience and connection in the restaurant industry made it possible.

Now over two years later- They are going strong and have become a new staple of cuisine in the Downtown Batavia scene.

Major props to these two young women that saw an opportunity in an area that others may not.

The Effect of Revitalization

For those that may not know, the mall is part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative funded by NYS.

New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), is part of the State’s economic development program, meant to transform downtown neighborhoods into vibrant centers of growth.

The 1 million dollar award was set to “transform the City Centre into an indoor market and performance space, by upgrading the concourse and entrances to accommodate an indoor marketplace with micro-retail kiosks and public performance space to hold community events. Improvements will include flooring, lighting, entrance structures, wall color, and roof upgrade.”

So, for the arguments against the condition of the mall… they are making improvements.

It started with the roof and those famous buckets of water. Along with improvements to the concourse and structures of the mall.

Funding was also awarded to the former Harvester 56 Theatre, now adeptly named Main St. 56 Theater.

Pat Burke and his troupe of creatives have taken the leap into a new space at the mall- renovating 14,000 sq ft into a performing arts and educational center.

In this described “total gut job”, comes a new investment in a space that has sat far too long without investment and care.

The new theatre is intended to bring people into the facility and have them take advantage of the other downtown businesses located close-by.

The Batavia players, families and audiences will bring much needed traffic to the restaurants and retail locations that surround it. I mean who could have thought, dinner and a show in Downtown Batavia?

A Co-Op of Local Businesses In Downtown Batavia

My take-away from all this is that the biggest mistake they made was naming the mall a mall.

Even in its infancy it has always been a co-op of businesses sharing an indoor concourse, which actually makes sense in WNY.

A mall is usually owned by one entity and rents and leases the space. The businesses in the mall from the beginning have always owned their own space and paid a “mall fee”.

Back in the day when local retailers like Scott and Bean, Charles Men Shop, Disalvo Shoes, and Roxy’s Music Store occupied the spaces, they operated under their own business umbrellas.

I think it is time we embrace this space as less of a traditional mall and more a co-op of local businesses.

Let the space fill with anything unique, timely, or traditional- like theatres, insurance, or hair salons.

Let brave new business owners find a place to make it work and bring something new to Batavia.

Similar to my love for The Harvester Center, I have grown to become an advocate for entrepreneurial advancement at the Batavia Mall.

Cheap space, ownership, central location, renovation possibilities, snow removal and foot traffic.

Let the entrepreneurial spirit thrive in Downtown Batavia!