The War on Pizza

Gentrification is a loaded term, especially in Buffalo.  As much as we complain about “sprawl without growth”, we play the same game with gentrification. The dictionary definition is: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. You know, like bourgeois white kids “discovering” Buffalo’s West Side or New York City’s outer boroughs. 

There’s nothing and everything wrong with gentrification, depending on who you are and to whom you’re talking, but in recent years it’s become an epithet, which isn’t altogether fair. Perhaps because in Buffalo, gentrification is not accompanied by any significant population growth

This article in the print edition of Artvoice hurls the “gentrification” epithet in a somewhat hypocritical way. It highlights the way in which the term has become a weapon, and how threatening any change might be. 

The College Street Gallery, a well-loved fixture of the Allentown art scene since 1997, is being evicted from the space it now occupies at the west end of Allen St. near Nietzsche’s. The reason is to give more room to the gallery’s next-door neighbor Crust Pizza, who wants to expand a full service bar in the gallery’s 500 sq. ft. space. Crust Pizza has been on Allen St. less than a year.

Photographer and College Street Gallery operator Michael Mulley said the changeover would occur this summer. He called it “Gentrification pure and simple,” and contrary to the social and commercial best interests of the neighborhood.

I don’t have any problem with – or any animus towards – either Crust or the gallery.  I think both businesses – and types of businesses – help make Allentown the unique and special neighborhood that it’s become in the last 30 years. But this smacks of an art community overreaction.

In most cases, when a landlord cuts a deal to expand one tenant and displace another, the displaced tenant looks for a new space. It doesn’t become a cause celebre. Have a “lost our lease” sale and start looking for a new space – it’s not a unique or unconscionable situation. 

This isn’t Manhattan’s SoHo becoming a parade of high-end chain storefronts, but it would seem as if Crust is the biggest criminal since Hitler invaded Poland. 

When we came here, to this end of Allen Street, there wasn’t much here,” he said. “Art makes other things happen. People go out to see art, then they say: ‘Let’s go get a piece of pizza, let’s get a beer.’ It’s not the other way around. That was the whole idea of Allentown originally, what made it work. Art first, commerce after. We brought energy to this corner. Now this whole end of Allen is going to be just bars.”

Look at that highlighted sentence – isn’t that gentrification? Renewal and rebuilding? What do you call it when you place an art gallery in an empty, underserved, or blighted neighborhood? Art definitely made Allentown what it is today, but it’s a misconception to suggest that people don’t do the exact opposite of what’s being suggested in Mr. Mulley’s statement – go out for pizza and a beer, and then go look at art. 

But by seeking to expand a legal business, Crust is now the enemy. The Infringement Festival had planned to host something there, but has instead decided to take its toys and go home. 

Infringement Festival music programmer Curt Rodderdam, who lives a few doors away, said the Crust plan “hurts the neighborhood.” He said the changeover “bothers me on a personal level and a social level—what it’s doing to the community. They’re taking the last piece of culture in the neighborhood and destroying it,” he said. Who wants to live on Chippewa?” he asked rhetorically.

Infringement Fest programmer for outside performances David Adamczyk said the planned changeover “didn’t represent what we [the Infringement Festival organizers] were all about.”

You would think Crust was selling crack or whores. 

Did Mark Goldman get this much pushback when he displaced a took over a spot most recently occupied by a hardware store? Hardware stores aren’t especially creative, but they are a dying breed, being replaced by Home Depots and Lowes. I figure no one wants to live on Chippewa, but Allen is known for its nightlife, too. Rather than flashy clubs, it has the upscale Allentown Hardware alongside gritty spots like the Pink, Mulligan’s, Nietzsche’s, and Duke’s Bohemian. Expanding a pizza place so that it can have a bar on a street that’s known for its nightlife isn’t going to destroy the neighborhood. It isn’t going to destroy the community. 

Crust, for the record, is a charming little quick-serve pizza place that makes really great “al taglio” Roman- style pizzas.  The crust is baked from scratch, and the toppings are added on demand throughout the day – you pick your toppings and get a great little personal pizza.  Their arancini are pretty great, too, and they serve craft beer already.  Crust’s push to build a bar is its own business, and it has an agreeable landlord. No one likes to see another business be displaced, but that’s business

The gallery is also fantastic. It’s a co-op of local artists, and their work rotates on a monthly basis. Wouldn’t the better way to handle this be to highlight what a great opportunity a move would be to help grow the concept? 

Mulley said the gallery change “is bittersweet. Maybe we’ll come up with a bigger and better space ultimately.” But for the moment he has no place identified, much less negotiated. Mulley said he wants to stay in Allentown, preferably in another storefront–less preferably an off-the-street venue.

“There are a lot of great memories here,” Mulley said. “A lot of good things happened here. A lot of artists got to show here who might not have had another chance to show. And musical groups got to perform here.” He said the gypsy flavor jazz group Babik made its first public appearance on the street outside the gallery. “And I couldn’t name how many aspiring young writers read here for the first time.”

The College Street Gallery is a cooperative, supported by the forty or so artists who show new work there every month. Mulley said there was a waiting list of applicants wanting to become members, if there was room to show their work.

So, the gallery has effectively outgrown its location and it’s being forced (never a fun thing, admittedly) to go and find a bigger one. I’m unmoved by the “things happened here” flavor of “this place matters” nostalgia. How about working with the guy renovating this place

I don’t like it when people demonize a legitimate business that isn’t doing anything wrong except trying to continue doing its legitimate business. Crust isn’t the enemy, and it isn’t single-handedly destroying Allentown. 

To that end, we’ll have a cash mob show up for lunch next week at Crust. Perhaps someone will host a cash mob for the College Street Gallery, too, or you can donate to help fund its search for a new space. But let’s treat business like business, and not turn a pizza place, of all things, into the enemy. 

Everyone just relax. 


  • I always like it when Alan writes about pizza. Maybe Alan can talk to the people at Crust about trying out/marketing one of his outdoor grill pizza’s that he demonstrated last summer on his blog….

  • Change can be difficult, even suck sometimes. If you own your building, you don’t have to worry about it. If you have a landlord, change may be acomming.

  • If I remember correctly, the hardware store had closed before Mark developed the bar, so there was no displacement in that case.

    It’s probably wrong to blame Crust, so if there is a culprit here it’s most likely Ed Castine. A landlord is free (within the bounds of the law) to do what they want with their property, but one wonders how he dealt with Mulley in this instance. Did he get a chance to match the extra rent Crust was offering, had he paid his rent on time all these years, etc. The “Crust offered to let him hand art on the walls and he turned them down” comment from Castine was a bit of a slap I think.

    • You’re right about the hardware store, so I amended the post.

      Nevertheless, the underlying theme of past gentrifiers now being anti-gentrification remains true, and I think to a large degree who you know and who you are has a lot to do in Buffalo with how much “community” opposition one gets to a facially benign everyday business occurrence of commercial churn. Goldman is regarded as a friend to the arts community – bar notwithstanding – and so he pretty much has carte blanche to do whatever he wants with no one opposing him.

      Crust, OTOH, is in the pizza and beer business, and is not regarded as a friend of the arts community. Unfortunately, the arts community has transformed this business into its foe, and is now busily defaming it.

      I don’t know what was in the lease, but presumably the landlord was free to terminate the gallery’s tenancy and offer the space to a new, adjoining tenant. Unless there was some specific clause in there whereby the gallery got a right of first refusal, Castine did nothing wrong, either.

    • That should be more common. Of the small collection of original art I own most was seen by chance while at different coffee shops or coffee houses where they were featuring one or another artist displaying his works for sale.
      I was startled one day to find an oil of my house at night from the street. I bought it, contacted the artist. He was sitting in his car one night waiting for a buddy in another place to get home when he sketched out my place and finished it later.
      What a find.

  • Thank you, Alan. Living in Allentown, it is easy to get frustrated by hearing complaints about this kind of change. It turns out many supposedly edgy-chic “arts” people have mindsets just as stodgy and insular as the square parents they think they have surpassed. “This whole end of Allen is going to be just bars” is a profoundly idiotic statement, considering the caliber of musical performance that regularly occurs inside Nietzsche’s, Duke’s, and Pausa. Quick to label other’s perceived wrongs, quick to take offense at perceived slights, reluctant to admit their own need for adaptation; this is not my brand of progressive counter-culture.

  • “You know what I’ve noticed?”

  • People that complain about lower revenue businesses getting pushed off some of the in demand streets in Buffalo can’t complain about lack of development, or affordable housing. I’m a huge supporter of the city, but in the past few years have found myself becoming less and less interested in Elmwood, Allen, Hertel. Its like we think that’s the only areas that can be successful, there is an entire city that can use this same treatment. People who are complaining that they can’t live where they want in Buffalo (median home price is $69k), or that they are being priced out of the city might really just not be as creative or risk adverse as they think they are. There are more than 3 streets in this town, drive around a little. I think Allen can still support high end galleries, they can even cater to the Toronto out of town crowd we are trying to court. While the local “mom and pop” galleries can move to other areas. B.West Studios just opened a place on Clinton St. in Kaisertown, maybe these guys can join them. In the end if you have a business and don’t want this to happen to you…buy your building.

  • I guess this is why artists have always relied on patrons and such. Pizza pays the bills.

  • The thing that surprises me most about this post is that Alan, who is an aficionado, likes their pizza. We tried it once and found it to be meh.

    • It’s al taglio, which is not my favorite type of pizza. I generally do not like pizza that is baked in a pan, because it leads to a soggy and unsatisfying crust. Al taglio and Buffalo-style pizzas are made in this way.

      With that said, it’s a perfectly fine al taglio, and I enjoyed it when I tried it. Furthermore, I wish them well and don’t like to see Crust become the object of a concerted effort to drive them out of business because they’re supposedly being mean to a gallery.

  • Name which one of these businesses on that stretch of Allen that have
    been there less time than College St Gallery has been there: Rick’s
    Sports, Brick Bar, The Pink, Jim’s Steakout, Spirits of Allentown,
    Nietzsche’s , Antique Man…..

  • The most meaningful line in this article is “Who wants to live on Chippewa?”
    Chippewa is what Chippewa is because of the plethora of bars and clubs.
    Allentown is what Allentown is because of the art and specialties.
    Do neighborhoods have the right or the obligation to try and maintain some sort of identity? Some sort of ambiance? Chippewa did. The trendy section of Elmwood does it all the time via the Elmwood association…approving this, disapproving that. East Aurora is unique and preserves that uniqueness.
    To simply allow anything and everything based on how much rent an owner can squeeze out of a property (and you can bet your hat this particular owner would not be doing it unless more bucks were in the offing) surely will lead to one great monotonous sameness all over ( like a lot of Florida).
    By the way Allen, consider putting on some kind of pizza making clinic. I loved the grilled pizza you showed buy my skills and experience could sure use tweaked.

    • Tell ya what MacCallum (did I spell it right this time?)…if Alan does it I’ll meet you there and buy you a beer at their new bar!

    • This looks not at all true about businesses (or business types) if implying that “disapprove” means preventing from locating there:

      Chippewa did. The trendy section of Elmwood does it all the time via the Elmwood association…approving this, disapproving that.

      Niether “Chippewa” nor the Elmwood Village Association and Allentown equivalent have the legal power to prevent any business or business type. In fact, not even the city government has that power in general, as long as a business is legal and not against already-written zoning laws for a location. So it’s confusing what RH meant by that part of the comment.

      Isn’t the following exactly how it is everywhere? (again, unless a business type is illegal or forbidden by zoning – which clearly a pizza business isn’t on Allen St.):

      To simply allow anything and everything based on how much rent an owner can squeeze out of a property

      • Think Lewiston. McDonalds wanted to put a franchise there. Lewiston said no way to the traditional golden arch type place. Said it did not fit the area…so go there and see that McDonalds. They didn’t keep it out but they did require it was done in a way acceptable to all the existing people there.
        Any place could do that. Yes, they need to pass some restrictions.
        Allentown has bars but there can be no argument places like Nietzsche’s, and Duke’s Bohemian or the Hardware Café have certain Allentown uniqueness while also providing live entertainment.
        Me thinks maybe the pizza place just wants a bar and it will be just like any other pizza joint with a bar anywhere. Now, if Crust wants to do it Allentown style I thik they would have to paint the whole interior black so you couldn’t see a thing. That seems to be some kind of standard in Allentown.
        That’s another point. If a village or town has some bars are they obligated to allow the entire town to be bars if “bidness” wants to? Could (or should) East Aurora become a bar mecca like Chippewa?
        The “bidness” can do whatever they want ideology is not only false, it would be terrifying if we have come to that.

        • The “bidness” can do whatever they want ideology is not only false, it would be terrifying if we have come to that.

          Nobody in this discussion said “do whatever they want”, so that’s a straw man.

          If a village or town has some bars are they obligated to allow the entire town to be bars if “bidness” wants to?

          Of course not. Here’s my understanding of what zoning law can and can’t do: A municipal government can enact zoning that disallows bars (or restaurants) at some locations. However, at a location where it does allow them, the government can’t legally then suddenly forbid a new one due to a reason that it decides there’s already too many of that business type nearby. If that’s wrong, somebody can correct me.

          Yes, they need to pass some restrictions.

          The wisdom of hypothetical new restrictions for Allen would depend on the details – when or if the Common Council ever considers a change. If the Council ever does enact new design rules or zoning for Allen between say Delaware and Wadsworth, then I think the same rules would also have to apply to future businesses in other buildings that now contain eateries such as Allentown Pizza, Jim’s Steakout, and Towne Restaurant – none of which resemble Nietzsche’s, Duke’s, or the Hardware Café.

          Anyhow, it seems we agree the proposed Crust expansion doesn’t violate anything now in city law.

          Incidentally, just FWIW, the McDonald’s in an old building in Lewiston has been closed for almost a decade since 2004 according to this:

          The most recent tenant was a McDonald’s, the only McDonald’s in the country to be located in a building on the National Register of Historic Places. However they moved out in December 2004 and it has remained vacant since.

  • In memory of fallen businesses….

  • Are there no other locations within Allentown to accomodate the gallery? I doubt it. It’s unfortunate to see an arts venue displaced, but its not like the place is getting bulldozed for a Starbucks

  • The real problem with this scenario lies is how calmly people are accepting this as “not a big deal” and “business as usual.” I wont deny that Crust is a legitimate business trying to grow and expand, but is College Street Gallery not one as well? They’ve been in operation for 17 years now, so all signs would point to them operating a very successful business themselves and playing a part in Allentown’s growth and development. I don’t doubt that proper laws regarding the lease were followed in the eviction, but that does not mean that Crust is exempt from the anger directed at them. They are the ones who want to grow their business, which is great, but by getting your landlord to evict your neighbors because you want what they have is the definition of bullying, especially for a business that has only been in operation for less than a year. Then to offer wall space for gallery work after forcing them out of their former home is rubbing salt into the wound and just plain insulting.

    The arts community’s anger is not unjust or an overreaction in any way, shape, or form. Being an artist in Buffalo is not a cakewalk nor are we a bunch of uppity snobs who feel more entitled than anyone else. This is our work, this is our lives. The community is competitive enough as it is trying to get any exposure at all. Even with the number of galleries out there it’s a huge struggle trying to get your name even remotely noticed within the 10-or-so familiar artists’ names that dominate Buffalo’s art journalism. Galleries like College Street are vital for giving opportunities to artists and performers who might not have a chance elsewhere to showcase their work.

    So while this might be “just business!” to some people, it does not mean that we as a community have to accept this as being okay and be forced to stay quiet when it directly affects us.

    • Well put.

    • Very well put, Steve; my wife Val has exhibited and sold her photography at College Street. I’ve known Mike for 15-20 years and talked about local music, punk and heavy metal with him on many nights, and Val went to college with him and has known and worked with him longer. To make out Mike or College Street Gallery as some kind of artistic elite is nonsensical, and I hardly take his comments as so angry or out of place. He cared about his mission and Allentown.

    • College St Gallery is as much a legitimate business as Crust, there is no doubt. But let’s add another wrinkle to the story that someone emailed to me, confidentially:

      Walter Matt, of the Utica Club family of brewers, now dead, bought 244 Allen Street at the City Auction in 1996 for around $30,000, a steal – seven apartments, six or seven storefronts, a number of existing tenants…

      …Walter, a wealthy and generous person, though unpretentious, incubated a number of businesses at 244 Allen – Mulley’s gallery, a fried chicken restaurant/takeout, Allentown Music and there were a few others, I believe. He charged them no rent and they paid the utilities. This worked well for Mulley and Joe’s music store, now in one of the former Hans Mobius buildings on Elmwood

      Walter died in, if I recall correctly, 2003. His wife Linda sold the buildings he owned to the guy who also bought Fat Bob’s barbecue place. I think the Allen Street tenants started paying rent at that time.

      I’m not sure what this has to do with gentrification, a thorny subject at best, but Mulley was subsidized by the landlord for a number of years, with I have to say good results. He runs a good gallery and a worthy local cultural nexus. Like you, I understand churn is a given in a commercial district and particularly a healthy, growing one, so while it’s disruptive, it’s normal and proper.

      So, at least part of College St Gallery’s success was due to the fact that it started out with a sweetheart no-rent deal.

      One problem I see is the allegation that Crust is somehow strong-arming the landlord to evict the gallery (there’s no evidence of that), combined with the borderline defamatory whispers and rumors that Crust is struggling and needs the bar to survive.

      You say it’s “great” that Crust wants to expand, but you say it’s unseemly for them to expand at the expense of a gallery whose lease allows for its tenancy to be terminated in this way, and that it’s insulting for Crust to offer what Goldman offers at Hardware. I think Crust is trying to navigate a typical Buffalo minefield whereby its benign arms-length business transaction is being turned into a personal slight and arts community cause celebre.

      I think that the “arts community’s” anger is a feeling – this is pure, raw emotion getting in the way of business and opportunity – for Crust and for the gallery. You indicate that being an artist in Buffalo is not a cakewalk – being anything in Buffalo is not a cakewalk, and being an artist anywhere is not a cakewalk. Opening and operating a non-traditional pizzeria in Buffalo is not a cakewalk, and by all accounts Crust is a good corporate citizen.

      College Street, being important to struggling artists, now has an opportunity to find a new – perhaps bigger and better – space. Perhaps it can do for another neighborhood (Amherst St? Grant St?) what it did for Allen Street. This is a big deal because a small handful of people have decided to make it a big deal, and while I don’t begrudge artists for being angry, I think blacklisting Crust and helping to hasten its demise is some fucking bullshit.

      Mulley could be marshalling public opinion to help him find a new place with minimum disruption to his business. Instead, he’s calling for people to bring out the pitchforks and torches against a pizza place. I would have helped him with the former, I can’t tolerate the latter.

      • For the record, I’m not advocating blacklisting a local business either. My point is that the idea to expand and make a bar could not have come from the landlord, that had to have come from Crust (although if by some minuscule chance it did then that opens up another discussion entirely). So the whole idea that Crust is immune from any and all criticism even if their decisions directly affect another business’ ability to stay in operation is not okay. If the roles were reversed then College Street Gallery should also receive the same backlash and rightfully so. Like I said in my earlier post, I have no doubt everything was done legally and all laws were followed. I am well aware that these things happen, but displacement should never viewed as something that’s “not a big deal” when it deeply affects businesses and people alike.

        On a side note, there’s been a growing trend where the arts community has been basically told to shut their mouth and that their opinions don’t matter from people on the outside even when just expressing disapproval of situations that affect it. This is not okay.

        • Well, it’s the blacklisting that’s outrageous.

          You suggest that the only two ways for there to have been a decision lawfully to terminate the gallery’s tenancy would be for either the landlord to come up with the idea, or for Crust to have demanded it. There’s at least one other likely scenario, which is that Crust informed the landlord that it was either going to move or discontinue its business. This would likely be where the “it’s failing” meme is coming from, no?

          In this scenario, the landlord could have offered up the adjoining gallery space to keep this tenant and, presumably, charge more rent. I don’t know, and chances are you (and most of the people quoted) don’t either, because the dealings between Crust and its landlord are not anyone else’s business.

          That would seem to be not only a typical business situation, but also one where the pizza shop is merely trying to stay afloat.

          Fie! Let out the mob!

          You suggest that College St Gallery would be subject to the same criticism if it was the other way around, but you and I both know this isn’t true. Every single thing said/written in the print piece about this blacklisting is all about how an expanding pizzeria is tantamount to a cultural holocaust for Allentown specifically and Buffalo in general. If there was an expansion of a gallery space to replace a pizzeria, it would take place with nary a peep from anyone, mostly because there is something called an “arts community”, but nothing at all called a “pizzeria community”.

          displacement should never viewed as something that’s “not a big deal” when it deeply affects businesses and people alike.

          Everything – every business decision of any sort – deeply affects businesses and people. Chances are that it’s only a big deal to the people directly involved.

          As I said already, the attacks on Crust (and, pointedly, not the landlord), are unseemly and ugly. They smack of tinpot McCarthyist blacklisting, whereby Crust has been haled in front of an arts HUAC, presumed guilty with no ability to prove innocence, and effectively shunned. I don’t like it one bit, and the gallery isn’t being run out of business, but merely being forced to move somewhere else in a city with ridiculously low rents and unbelievably high rates of vacancy.

          The arts community, whatever that is on any given day, has every right to voice its opinion whenever it wants, and it certainly has the political clout to do it repeatedly, and loudly. But when it crosses the line from opinion voicing to blacklisting, that, to me, exceeds whatever slight or offense is being complained about.

  • The knock on Crust is nothing but an extension of the attitudes of the Allentown and Elmwood Associations ad nauseam.

    • Huh? It’s a former Allentown Association President who is evicting the gallery in favor of Crust. Assuming, as seems reasonable, that the president’s values are at least somewhat aligned with those of the organizations then I’d say the Allentown Association is more likely than not to favor the expansion of a new business.

  • People who like their neighborhoods don’t like to see their neighborhoods change. We stay their, among other reasons, because of familiarity.

    I don’t see this as a big deal. There are other vacant storefronts on Allen. If this gallery is important to the community, move to a new location and make it even better.

    Adapt and improve.

    • I understand why Mulley’s upset, but I tend to agree. In driving through that area, I found four other potential locations for him within a block of where he is now — all bigger and better. For all the hype, I’ve worked and lived in the Allentown area long enough to know that there are always lots of vacancies on the street. The article mentioned that he had a waiting list for members — perhaps a larger space would allow him to clear the waiting list. I’m sure it won’t be easy initially, but this could wind up being the best thing that ever happened to his gallery. I hope so. I genuinely think there’s room for everything in Allentown: restaurants, galleries, bars, shops, salons, offices and housing. I know that losing your space is tough. I think of the poor owner of Pizza Plant, who lost both of his locations in a year’s time. But: he bought a much nicer space on Transit, with more seating, a patio, a better waiting area, a dedicated bar area and a lot more presence than he had being crammed into a plaza. It worked out for the best. I hope this move does, too.

  • Has anyone actually spoken to the landlord, or is that too much to ask from Artvoice? Does the journalistic level of this publication actually require two sides? For the record, I am not a fan of the pizza from Crust, but the attack on that business seem petty and misguided at best. My guess: College St Gallery was failing to pay rent on time, and the landlord asked the pizza place to take over. I could be wrong, but the journalistic integrity of Artvoice keeps me guessing.

    • There are two sides. The gallery and the Pizzeria. This is a commentary defending the pizzeria against blacklisting from the gallery and its supporters. You’re asking for a third side.

  • Thanks for the article Alan, I agree with you completely. I live on College Street and I like the Gallery, and Crust, and Hardware. Before that I liked the Hardware store and Allentown Music (as well as Sample). I’m not a super fan of the infringement festival but when they started up some years back I knew that, as a resident of Allentown, one has to expect such things. (Sorry, I’m more of a garden walk person, i.e. I’m old: You kids get off my lawn!). I hope the Gallery finds a home nearby but I have to admit I laughed when I read that it’s art that brings people to my neighborhood. It is, and has been, the bars of Allen that have driven the local economy. The art community is a local treasure but it’s not the reason the streets of Allentown are packed in the evening. The festivals parachute in for a bit, (mostly) clean up after themselves and then they are gone. The fact that they would think of taking action against folks who are trying to make a living (in Buffalo!) 365 days a year is foolish.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.