Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Acropolis Business

Back on the horse.

Somebody, please, describe to me how this fuss over the Acropolis expansion makes any sense.  As is evident by their article today, the Buffalo News has finally caught wind of the story, and whether fair or not, seems only to add fuel to the flame.  The scary part is that it seems ever more apparent to me this conflict isn't just going to halt expansion plans for owner Paul Tsouflidis, but bring them crashing down around him.

But then again, what do I know? Well, nothing. I'm just a blogger.

Ok, that's not entirely true.  I do know Paul.  I met him through my patronage of the Acropolis and I know him through several mutual friends as well.  As a private citizen, I don't know him overly well, but Paul has always impressed me as a business owner.  Hang around an owner-type long enough, and they'll regale you with all of their plans to reinvigorate, remodel, and revolutionize their little corner of the food and beverage industry.  And the tales are interesting, creative, exciting even. "Yes!" you'll think as the lowly server, "Yes! that's exactly what you SHOULD do! and we'll be packed six nights a week and we'll all be making more money than we know how to spend! we might even have to splurge on another bus boy...let's DO this," and that's how you're meant to respond.  As company that is almost as cheaply bought as your labor, you're meant to be a yes-man.  But soon that beer buzz wears off, and with it, all of your owner's wonderful, exciting, and sure-to-be-moneymaking plans...and as weeks stretch into months, the talk never stretches into anything but more talk.

But Paul has never been that kind of owner.  By the time I was hearing about his plans to alter not just the look, but the feel of Acropolis, its very place in the community and amongst its fellow Elmwood avenue businesses, I was already jaded enough to expect the Great Big Nothing as far as follow up was concerned.  I got showed up, big time.  And I loved it.  What Paul was doing was what he said he was going to do -- a beautiful remodel on the interior, and extensive exterior refacing as well, all at what looked to be at great cost.  And whatever that cost, the expense has been out of his own modest pockets -- a far cry from some of the money coddled inheritors in this town that throw around their weight and wealth in less productive fashion.  The jump in the quality of food, without an extreme jump in pricing, was jaw dropping.  I was hesitant about the concept when i'd heard it -- healthy, traditional style Greek food, replacing my favorite diner-fare? Bollocks!  Yet the guy can cook, and since the menu change, I've never had a meal there I wasn't happy with.  When the big test rolled around, the ever elusive liquor license procurement test, I had, at that point, faith in Paul's tenacity, and even his willingness to submit to long suffering.

How does this matter?  Anyone who was at the Acropolis community meeting in the basement of Lafayette Presbyterian Church, read comments sections in online articles, or just generally paid attention to all the ballyhoo, has heard the cry of the detractors:  "The question here is not about Paul's character, or whether or not he runs a good business -- the issue at hand is how the intended changes will adversely affect the Elmwood Village residential community."

This is the complaint, put as succinctly as possible, and it is this complaint alone that needs addressing.

So, how does Paul's quality of character or quality of business relate to the question of how a "new" Acropolis will affect Elmwood Village living conditions?

DIRECTLY.  The negative response from "Elmwood Villagers" is  emotional, irrational, and just plain fearful if they are going to, as many of them do, concede the points that Paul is a) a man of character, integrity, and upstanding citizenship and b) that he runs a quality business.  My question is -- how does updating, renovating, increasing, or altering Acropolis's business imply that Paul will attend to the new aspects of this business with any less quality or integrity than he attends to it in its current form?  Will he be less conscientious?  Will he care for it less as it grows?  If Paul's a good guy, and he runs a good business, how will the expansion change the acceptable manner in which he's run his business to this point?  Unless this is just lip service, to ease the criticisms of Paul's business into people's ears.

Which it may very well be.  Complaints also include dealing with the drunken public -- doorway pissers, lawn pukers and the like -- as well as increased noise from late night events.  To address the noise complaint in any length is a waste of time.  It's silly, Acropolis has never been cited for illegal decibel levels, and has clearly tried to work to keep noise down.  Some people can't be satisfied, and cities are supposed to be noisy.  End of story.

The complaint of drunken rabble, carousing down Elmwood Avenue due to a DJ event hosted by Acropolis is patently ABSURD.  In the walkable three blocks of Elmwood on either side of West Ferry there are over a dozen establishments with liquor and late night hours.  To say that Acropolis featuring a DJ or serving liquor poses a singular threat to peace, quiet, and clean lawns in the Elmwood Village is ridiculous.  The Blue Monk churns out a college crowd hopped up on high octane beer...hipsters, twentysomethings, and thrill seekers rove the streets from Bullfeathers to Thirsty Buffalo to Faherty's and back again...even Cecelia's has played host to the occasional late night, out of control frat party.  Why is Acropolis being singled out?  The names of the owners of those other establishments don't come up in a discussion of the behavior of their piss-drunk patrons;  no one is giving them quite so much hell. 

It seems obvious, from the Buffalo News article, that when compared to other Elmwood establishments (Epic and Toro are mentioned specifically), Acropolis is being treated with "selective enforcement" of regulations, as Paul points out.  A commenter on the Buffalo News article (Frank Wyglondalski, Depew, NY) suggests this is due to the fact Paul hasn't been "greasing" the right people. I assume he means city employees, or even politicians.  We pretend like that's not the way things work in the world sometimes, just so we can all get along, but maybe Frank isn't so far off the mark.  Or maybe it's something else. 

What I've heard in the pipeline is that the two establishments flanking Acropolis, Elmwood Pet Supplies, owned by brothers John and Tom Higgins, and Mother Nature Plant Emporium, owned by Bob Petrik, have been the most vocal detractors of Paul's expansion.  I imagine that they learned, as I did, of Paul's plans from Paul himself while patronizing his restaurant.  I imagine that upstairs renovations came up, possibly a "Champagne Room" to retire to in the evening hours, the liquor license, revamping the diner into a culturally significant arts-and-music destination.  I imagine being of middle age and upwards -- and as their business hours don't allow them to benefit from the additional foot traffic it would provide -- these fellows didn't have much interest or excitement about such plans.  Sure, they enjoy the breakfasts, but this was not someplace they wanted to be for a late night cocktail.  (Which I think is really how you can easily draw the line between supporters and non-supporters -- people who like the sound of heading to Acropolis for a classy drink during  young-people-drinking-hours, and people who don't.)  When hours proved to be too late, and noise too noisy, I imagine these flanking business owners, who either reside or have tenants in their buildings, had something to say.  And I imagine if personal appeals failed, they would search out legal options.  But really, the only thing they've been able to trip Acropolis up on legally is the music license.  Big effing deal.  

The darker whispers I've heard imply tenants and residents have been encouraged (enticed?) by the business owners to vocalize their criticisms of the Acropolis expansion, but the worst indictment of Paul that they can manage to muster is his cold demeanor.  Can you blame him? It's more of a courtesy than I'd be able to extend in his situation, in which case saying little or nothing is peferable to the alternative of explosive verbal altercation.  Bob Petrik's "Acropolis Testimonial" at Lafayette Presbyterian was enlightening.  I've met Bob before too; his flower shop is top quality.  He's a nice guy.  A little too nice.  Nice in the same way laughter only metaphorically describes the sound a hyena makes.  Does it not seem antagonistic that he's decided to continue to patronize Acropolis on what sounds like an almost daily basis, when everyone in that restaurant knows he is one of the most vocal opponents of the expansion?  Is there not something a little bit sick about exploiting Paul's civility while flaunting the stranglehold he's helped to bring down on the man's business?  I'd never be so quick to eat at a restaurant owned by someone I've pissed off that badly, but that's just me. 

The Higginses? Some light internet stalking yielded a few hits of note (see comments by BuffaloByChoice), one in particular being this: a business profile, that, for whatever reason, lists political associations and even possible campaign contributions.  The amounts of "possible contributions" aren't really as significant as to whom they were made, one Congressman Brian Higgins.  Huh. Can't say for certain if there is any family relation -- the Congressman's bio does not include them amongst the listing of immediate family members.  Now, I haven't researched much further than that, and I honestly wouldn't know where to begin to discover whether or not these Higginseses...es are of any relation...but if they are?  Well.  Then there may be more behind LoCurto's "no" vote than we realize, and its pretty clear which way this is going to go.  This is, of course, complete speculation, and an indulgence of my penchant for conspiracy theories.  But by whatever logic LoCurto's using to equate an upstairs bar -- a service bar much the same as the one found on the first floor, mind you -- with a "Chippewa-style nightclub," is beyond me.  The implied fear, here, is with "hip hop DJ's," and a "Chippewa" atmosphere, we'll all soon be in danger of shootings, stabbings, and general menace from folks who don't look like they belong in a place that's supposed to be a "Village." There are several irrational jumps in logic here that are disturbing, which makes me wonder what force is at work in the decision making process...because it sure isn't a rational one. 

I find it sad and a touch ironic that of all the jackasses who've built successful businesses in the Elmwood area on back alley deals, insurance fraud, and the like, that the guy who's trying to be forthcoming and transparent about what he wants his business to be is the guy who's getting jerked around the most. 

It's mind boggling how blown out of proportion this has all become. 


  1. I have nothing but respect for Mike LoCurto. There's nothing in his past that makes me think he's susceptible to corruption or bribery. So I think there must be more to the story- and before we throw an intelligent, competent, hardworking Council member under the bus with assumptions and innuendo, I'd like to know what that story is.

  2. By virtue of being a politician, one earns my distrust. Sorry.

  3. Also, I might refer you to the most recent post (Feb23rd) from Mr. Tsouflidis's blog: http://paulysouffle.tumblr.com/

  4. Right, but Paul's got political aspirations too. And if and when he succeeds (he recently applied and interviewed for the at-large Board of Education seat in Buffalo), I'll give him the same benefit of the doubt once he's earned it as a public servant. I read that post on Paul's blog prior to making my first comment.

  5. At which point, if he succeeds in his political aspirations, he'll be subject to scrutiny and suspicion. Especially if he's treating citizens the way he is being treated.

  6. Of the members on the Common Council, Mike LoCurto stands out as someone who isn't a traditional transactional politician. His training in Urban Planning suggests he brings actual expertise to these questions, unlike his counterparts. He's not the kind of person you should be sliming based on no evidence whatsoever.

  7. That's approaches a fair criticism of me. But his credentials don't offer a sufficient explanation of why he's decided to be quite so unreasonable or hard-headed. Nor do they explain away the selective enforcement of regulations or pre-empting a business's expansion because it MIGHT do something somebody somewhere doesn't like, someday.

    I want an answer for that. If you have one, then i'd say you're in a position to defend someone.

  8. And I'm sure you have better things to do than imply consequences for my admittedly facetious accusations.

  9. I'd guess the answer is that reasonable people can look at the same question and come to different conclusions.

    Here's a speculative explanation for how his background might explain his stance. Maybe, as someone who has studied how cities work, he thinks that the kind of neighbor complaints that have gummed up the expansion plans are part of the process that moves business from established areas into less established areas. Maybe the change from "strip" to "village" means that some businesses will have a harder time operating there, enticing them to move and establish "strips" elsewhere.

    Or, maybe not. I don't know his thinking. But something like that seems like a plausible way of looking at the question.