Welcome to Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors
Known as the Queen City, the City of Lights and the City of No Illusions, Buffalo is no ordinary city in the Northeast. This land between the lakes is, in fact, the second-biggest city in the state, and while it may be 30 times smaller than NYC in skinny jeans, Buffalo has a heart the size of Niagara Falls.
This wing-frying, poutine-loving, practically Canadian frozen destination on the eastern shores of Lake Erie is, quite possibly, the warmest spot in western New York, thanks entirely to Buffalo’s stout-hearted residents who simply shrug off the cold. This may even be the attribute that earned the city one of its most popular monikers: the City of Good Neighbors.
While every city outside NYC is dwarfed by comparison, Buffalo is still a big place by New York state standards. Its 276,486 residents enjoy a low cost of living and diverse job opportunities in industries ranging from logistics to healthcare to manufacturing. Real estate in the city is very modestly priced, even compared to the national average, which is already a fraction of New York City’s. Tourism is also a driving force in the city’s economy, thanks to the area’s abundant natural wonders, from Niagara Falls to the Great Lakes and the beautiful state parks in between.
Buffalo is also an artsy place with a rich heritage, and its off-beat vibe, architectural treasures, and music scene along with its numerous galleries, museums and public murals make it a distinctive point on the country’s cultural map.
Cost of Living in Buffalo
There is almost no comparison between the cost of living in Buffalo and the cost of living in New York City. The two are so dissimilar, they might as well be in different countries altogether, and with Buffalo less than 30 miles from the Canadian border, they very nearly are!
First, let’s consider income levels. The median household income in Buffalo is just $42,186, comparable to upstate cities of a similar size, like Syracuse and Rochester, and even Albany, affectionately known as Smallbany. But there’s a stark difference between those numbers and the Big Apple. Buffalo’s median household income of $42,186 is $28,000 less than NYC’s and $33,000 less than the statewide median. A shocking 27.6% of Buffalo residents live in poverty — that’s nearly 2.5 times the national level and 10% higher than the rate in spendy NYC.
Housing costs in Buffalo are comparably low, though, but the rate of home ownership in the city is more than 20 points off the national average. The median home value in Buffalo is only $112,900 and the median gross rent doesn’t even hit the $1,100 mark. In New York City, homes average more than $660,000 and rent is close to $3,000 per month.
Buffalonians don’t have it easy when it comes to taxes. With an effective tax rate of 15.9%, New York State ranks at the very bottom of the Tax Foundation’s list when it comes to the combined state-local tax burden. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Buffalonians lose out in this equation.
New York State imposes a graduated personal income tax, ranging from 4-10.9%, so you’ll pay less if you earn less. And, when residents pay more in taxes, they can also reap more social benefits from the tax dollars they contribute. New York State’s average sales tax (combining local and state levies) is 8.52%, which is the tenth highest in the nation.
Please note: we are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.
Employment Opportunities in Buffalo
The Niagara River brings tourists by the barrel load to the Buffalo area and the riverways and Great Lakes make the city a prime point of connectivity in the region. The job market in Buffalo, naturally, is far less competitive than in New York City, where it’s difficult to even get a street vending permit these days.
Buffalo is the headquarters of several prominent corporations, including M&T Bank, Emedco, Kaleida Health and Rich Products, a food manufacturer. Area schools like the University at Buffalo — SUNY’s flagship campus — along with Buffalo State University, Canisius University and Bryant and Stratton College (an accredited, for-profit school) give area students a solid academic footing to jumpstart their careers.
Employment in the city has mostly kept pace with U.S. averages, and the unemployment rate in Buffalo stood at 3.4% in September. Buffalo has a civilian labor force of over 550,000 people who work in many diverse industries.
Thanks to its proximity to Canada and its position along the waterways, Buffalo’s single largest industry is trade, transportation and utilities, which employs more than 100,000 Buffalo area residents. Education and health services, the second-largest sector, employs nearly 93,000 individuals, followed by the government (85,000 employees) and professional and business services sectors (78,000 employees).
Leisure and hospitality has been on an upward swing of late, growing by nearly 10% over the past year, and the sector now employs more than 60,000 people. Similarly, Manufacturing, with its 54,000+ employees, has expanded by 2.2%, making it one of the area’s top five non-government industries.
Buffalo’s Public Transportations
Thanks to Buffalo’s public transportation system, getting around in the city doesn’t have to mean driving a car, but it’s still far easier to live here if you do. The average commute in Buffalo is under 20 minutes — far below the national average — so whichever way you travel, you won’t be spending nearly as much time in rush hour traffic as your counterparts elsewhere in the country.
The Niagara Falls Transit Authority, or NFTA-Metro serves Erie and Niagara Counties. It encompasses a one-line, four-mile-long, light rail/subway system and a broad network of buses. Standard fare is $2/ride, day passes cost $5, seven-day passes cost $25.00, and monthly passes cost $75.
Metro offers express bus services to Buffalo Bills games, but they fill up fast. Metro also provides a free Parks Adventure Bus to select far-flung destinations throughout the year. In December, the bus makes a special trip to Santa Land at Chestnut Ridge Park, a reindeer’s favorite after-work hang-out.
Biking is popular in Buffalo in the warmer months, but only intrepid riders brave it out once the serious snows hit. GoBike Buffalo, a bikeshare and enthusiasts club, makes it easy to connect with other riders and find bike-minded friends in your new city.
Drivers will become quickly familiar with both the I-90 — the New York State Thruway, which runs east-west along Lake Erie — and the QEW, officially named for Queen Elizabeth, but appropriately acronymed to suggest the line of traffic you’ll be sitting in on the Peace Bridge, the closest crossing point from Buffalo to Canada. Farther north, there’s the Lewiston Bridge and also the Rainbow Bridge…don’t mention that one to your pets.
When you want to leave the area completely, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BNIA) can’t exactly take you to wherever you want to go, but it does offer non-stop service to 31 destinations, including Cancun. By the time February arrives in Buffalo, one tropical destination option will be all you need. Hello, sunny Mexico!
Finding Your New Home in the City of Good Neighbors
This lakeside city doesn’t disappoint when it comes to neighborhood charm. There are artsy, historic, stately and quirky enclaves to suit every sensibility. Not sure where to start looking for a place to live in Buffalo? Here are four districts to give you the scoop on the City of Good Neighbors.
Downtown Buffalo has recently gotten itself a serious urban facelift, and though we want to say we love it just the same as we always did, we have actually never loved this city more. You’ve never been able to appreciate the historic treasures and the cosmopolitan life like you can now. Just walk down Court Street and see Buffalo City Hall, an art deco masterwork, or the Guaranty Building on Pearl Street, with its gorgeous, art nouveau ornamentation — a remarkable early skyscraper designed by architects Adler & Sullivan. Downtown residents have easy access to the city’s biggest art museum, the zoo and other family-friendly destinations, like the Canalside waterfront district. Housing downtown runs the gamut — historic lofts, smart-but-practical condominiums and spacious single-family homes are all available in the greater downtown area. You might even score a view of the lake.
Of all of Buffalo’s districts, Allentown is the one that brings the funk. You’d be hard-pressed to find something boring in this artsy parish, where galleries bump up against quirky restaurants. Housing runs from edgy live-work spaces to classic Victorians, and nothing is short on style. One of Allentown’s favorite destinations is the gorgeous Asbury Delaware Methodist Church, which was saved from ruin by rocker Ani di Franco and her manager, Scot Fisher. The duo turned the 19th-century house of worship into a sanctum for the secular, which can now hold 1,200 concertgoers. Nearby Kleinhans Music Hall — a National Historic Landmark and an acoustical perfection — was designed by the famous Saarinens, and this special venue showcases big musical acts from around the country as well as large events for the Just Buffalo Literary Center.
Like Allentown, Elmwood Village also moves to its own beat, but we’d hardly say it marches. This laid-back land of the live-and-let-live is enlivened by public art and the perky smells of indie coffee shops and Bohemian restaurants. With 30,000+ albums from every age, Revolver Records has cornered the market on cool (and literally, the corner of the building it’s housed in). This vinyl Valhalla now has locations in Elmwood and north Buffalo. On Saturdays, residents can count on the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer’s Market to bring them the best in fresh produce and handmade goods. The seller is always the grower/producer at this market, so you’ll know exactly where that grapefruit and bergamot goat milk soap came from. Heck, you might even meet the goat. Stop by Talking Leaves on your way home — the city’s oldest (and best) independent bookstore, which, living up to its idiosyncratic mantra, doesn’t open until noon and is never open on Sundays.
If you haven’t gotten the idea that Buffalo is a historic place yet, the Michigan/Jefferson Avenue district on the city’s east side will certainly hammer that point home. Since the 1800s, this area has been a vital African American district, home to many notable sites like the Colored Musicians Club and Museum, founded in 1917, to relatively newer destinations like Zawadi Books, a Black-owned bookstore established in the mid-70s. The district’s Michigan Street Baptist Church — an important stop on the Underground Railroad — may occupy an unassuming red brick building, but it was salvation for those fleeing slavery and a critical site for abolitionists to organize.
Things to Do in Buffalo
Whether the city is frozen under a mountain of lake effect snow or blossoming in spring flowers, Buffalo is always a place to be outdoors. If you’re moving from Southern climes, it may take some time to adjust to things like robe-length parkas and wool long underwear, but once you do, you’ll be able to get in on all the action that makes this Western New York city so much fun.
Ice skating in Buffalo is like swimming in South Florida — everybody does it, and if you don’t do it right, you’ll drown. The first rule is never to skate on a lake that isn’t frozen. We mean really frozen. You can build up your ice legs at the Ice at Canalside, a popular downtown destination, where you can also test out your curling skills, give ice biking a roll or smash those winter blues in an ice bumper car. Afterwards, rent a toasty igloo for the family to warm up in. Canalside is equally fun in the summertime.
Beautiful and awe-inspiring, Niagara Falls gives you a true taste of the sublime. Though the paths will be crawling with hundreds of poncho-wearing tourists, it is worth every accidental elbow bump and hour in line to take in these vistas. Barrels not recommended. State parks around the falls — like DeVeaux Woods and Devil’s Hole — are great for hiking in the warmer months and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the cold ones, and boy are there are a lot of cold ones.
Buffalo’s unique climate can be challenging for gardeners, but the pros make it look easy. Get some inspiration for your new home at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, where they offer tours of the beautiful grounds and classes for every level of botany enthusiast.
The pinnacle of home gardens, though, is at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House. This spectacular private residence is now a National Historic Landmark, and the immaculate furnishings and architectural details inside are equally matched by the incomparable grounds without. Designed as an integrated collection of outdoor rooms, elements from the exterior make their way into the interior elements, as well, like the wisteria vines depicted in the glass mosaic around the central fireplace.
For a city of less than 300,000, Buffalo has an outsize assortment of historic sites, museums and other cultural venues. Shea’s Performing Arts Center is the heart of Buffalo’s Theatre District. The venue has three separate stages, including one for large, touring productions, like Broadway shows, and a black box theatre that often features local productions.
Another of Buffalo’s grandest establishments is the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). Perched on the perimeter of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park, the AKG’s history dates back to 1862, and it’s known for its postwar collection of American and European works.
Buffalo also has museums designed specifically for the smaller set. The Buffalo Museum of Science always delights, whether you’re making eyes at Stanley, the museum’s resident Albertosaurus, or peering into the depths of Lake Eerie through the eye of a submarine.
Western New York is a place that really loves its festivals, and Buffalo is the unofficial capital of them. There’s the Festival of Lights, Juneteenth of Buffalo, the Taste of Buffalo, the Buffalo Blues & Roots Festival, the MassiveLAN gaming festival — looking at you, fellow gaming nerds — and the Autumn Stamp Festival, for WNY’s avid philatelists.
The Allentown Arts Festival will make its 67th appearance in 2024. This popular event started in 1958 and draws huge crowds to the creative event showcasing locally made ceramics, paintings and jewelry with live performances. The Borderland Music & Arts Festival is one the area’s most impressive annual showcases, and each year the three-day event at Knox Farm State Park brings throngs of visitors for good food, fun and great music.
Then, there’s Dyngus Day. Many communities across the U.S. observe this fete of Polish heritage, but none do so quite like Buffalo. Indeed, Easter Monday comes in with a roar in Western New York, when crowds gather for parades, pierogis, polka and plenty of Polish vodka.
Could the Super Bowl even exist without Buffalo wings? All we know is that it didn’t. The Anchor Bar’s Teressa Bellissimo gave us the beauty of the Buffalo wing in 1964, and American Football didn’t have its first national championship until 1967. Arguments could be made to turn that pigskin on the Vince Lombardi Trophy into a chicken wing. Maybe when the Bills finally score a championship win. And where better to debut this poultry-based homage than at the National Buffalo Wing Festival?
This annual event turns Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium into the saucy, blowout affair of all your crispy chicken fantasies. 50,000 fans fill the field for wing-eating contests, sauce-offs and bobbing for wings. You won’t regret bringing a whole roll of paper towels to this event.
Buffalo is famous for more than just wings, though. If you’ve heard the rumors about this rare breed of pizza that combines a chonky, Detroit-style crust with an NYC attitude to achieve a cheesy, tomatoey, cup-and-char-pepperoni-y, OMG-give-some-to-me slice, then you’ll want to head straight to Santora’s in West Seneca, which was established in 1927. Forget the sophisticated spareness of the trendy Neapolitan and experience the unadulterated joy of Buffalo’s crust that is plush enough to nap in. It’s what Pizza Hut’s pan pies always wanted to be.
You’ll never have to look far for a restaurant in Buffalo with good, stick-to-your ribs dishes, but Buffalo also has innovative chefs building creative menus that deliver the unexpected. The Grange Community Kitchen is one of those chef-driven establishments. Working with local purveyors, Grange’s menu features unusual small plates like caramelized onion donuts with ricotta and honey and grilled, sprouting cauliflower with anchovy vinaigrette. Their large plates are similarly impressive, especially the whole dorade — a mild, Mediterranean fish — which is served with a dill gremolata.
Buffalo is a card-carrying NFL town, and while there are other things to do during the fall, you’ll find most of the town is busy on game nights, especially if the Buffalo Bills are playing at home at Highmark Stadium. The Bills are unfortunately famous for their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances — and losses — between 1991 and 1994, when they were trounced by the Giants, then Washington and then twice by the Cowboys. Maybe 2024 will be their year.
Ice Hockey provides nearly year-round entertainment, and Buffalo’s NHL team has twice been in the running for the coveted Stanley Cup. The KeyBank Center holds 19,000 screaming Sabres fans who generate enough crowd energy to compete with Niagara Falls for a sustainable power supply.
Tips for Relocating to Buffalo, New York
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