This morning, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli — who controls one of the largest institutional investment funds in the world — toured Guercio’s, the third generation delicatessen that has been a mainstay in the Italian American community for four generations.
The Grant Avenue grocer has seen the neighborhood change from its heyday in the 1960s and 70s, when the neighborhood seemed to be bursting at the seams and overflowing with vibrancy.
In many ways, the family owned and operated company is a microcosm for the struggles and aspirations of a city that thirsts so much for comeback. The firm weathered through the decades of industrial collapse and free trade policies of the 1980s and 90s, during which the neighborhood’s largely Italian immigrant population fled to the suburbs in mass, as the Westside struggled through decades of disinvestment.
Still, the name “Guercio’s” is a beloved brand in Buffalo, known for its deli and imported cheeses.
The New York State Comptroller listened to Tommy Guercio, the patriarch of the family and second generation proprietor, and his son Vincent, discuss the business. They employ 20 people in the Grant Ferry neighborhood that is as full of aspiration and optimism for revival as it is pridefully clinging to its heritage and past.
The Comptroller discussed some of the State’s small business lending programs, administered through the state’s economic development arm, and about how the Comptroller’s Office can help small multi-generational family owned firms pursue new growth opportunities.
Could Guercio’s become the next Wegmans, but on its own scale and true to its niche brand?
Perhaps with private equity partners or structured loan programs that are available through the New York Pension Fund and various economic development programs, there are ways to fund new growth opportunities for family owned firms, DiNapoli suggests.
Joining him for the tour were Commissioner Joe Mascia, Mayor Byron Brown, State Senator Tim Kennedy, and City Comptroller Mark Schroeder. Each was eager to support the firm, and encouraged the family’s patriarch to reach out to their offices. Some political observers wonder why Marc Panepinto, who represents the district, did not join the Democrats for the tour. I’m told that internal politics in the Italian community are to blame.
Shoppers noted the stark contrast between the Governor and the Comptroller.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has become known for his highly staged press events and big announcements of major corporate projects, like Solar City and the IBM center at Fountain Plaza. DiNapoli, on the other hand, is searching out small family owned and operated businesses in neighborhoods that have had it rough, and is asking them how can he help.
Stylistic contrasts like that can divide the Democratic Party, which has operatives wondering if the Comptroller is considering a play for higher office. More and more, DiNapoli is looking like a Governor.