#29. Brad Hahn
For those of us that grew up in Buffalo, we tend to think that we know pretty much everything that there is to know about the city, the buildings, the neighborhoods and businesses. Well, from doing this project, and from interviewing people like Brad Hahn from Explore Buffalo, we realize that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. There is so much to learn about this place that we call home, so much that we take for granted, so much that we simply pass by on a daily basis without even a momentary thought of “what is that place all about”, or “where did that come from and what’s inside of there?”. When you think about it, this is what this blog is all about. It’s about discovering the people, places and things that we want to know more about, and finding out what the story is behind it all. It’s why we do this. On a daily basis, Brad is teaching people about Buffalo, it’s history, it’s people and it’s buildings.
We encourage you to Explore Buffalo. You never know what you might discover.
Let’s meet Brad
“I was at UB, had taken some of the tours around Buffalo. I saw that a touring docent program was being offered to officially become a docent and give tours of Buffalo. I had unofficially been giving tours of Buffalo to people I met at college who didn’t know anything about this place and thought the best thing here was Mighty Taco. So whenever we had to go on a Mighty run, I’d take a little detour and show them something else. So I saw this program and thought that it would be perfect for me. So I did it. I became a volunteer docent and started giving tours of the city. That was through the preservation group here in Buffalo. As I was graduating from UB, they had an opening for their Tour Coordinator position. I didn’t have anything else going on that summer so I said, “oh, sure!”. After that summer, a group of docents got together, thinking that there was a lot more potential here to expand the tours. They wanted to put it together and hire me to put tours together. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing. It was perfect for me. We started on January 20, 2014. We had about 300 show up to our launch party here at First Presbyterian Church. A lot of them were friends and family members who came out to support us. We had a lot of other people who heard about it too.”
How did the tours get started?
What motivates you?
“For me, we’re making the city a better place. I remember one year when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, the thing that I wanted the most for Christmas was the Buffalo architecture guidebook. My dad drove me around to the different places in the book. I attribute a lot of that to my school and my parents. In second grade, my teacher brought us downtown and we walked around. One of the things that I remember most vividly was that there was still a McDonalds in the theater district, across from Shea’s. I don’t know why that’s stuck up there, but it is. She also took us on Miss Buffalo. She just believed so strongly about getting her kids into the city. I actually ran into her in 2013. I was sitting on the train at University Station, heading into town to go to work. I was waiting for the train to leave and all of a sudden I hear all of these kids come pouring into the train. I think, oh shoot, there goes my peaceful commute. I look over and they’re all wearing these funny hats that say “Syracuse is art”, or something like that. I think to myself, what is going on here? Then, on walks my second grade teacher, Mrs. Syracuse, taking her kids downtown to give them a tour. She would actually have the kids give the tour to each other. She would have each kid research a building or one part of a building and once the get there, that kid would give that part of the tour. So, that really got me going on this. In 4th grade, I had a teacher that was very into history. That year was the centennial of the Pan Am. I remember going to the history museum, and all of the Pan Am displays.”
“My personal goal is that I would like all local kids to be able to have that same experience that I had. I know that there are thousands of them who don’t and they’re not going to be able to appreciate everything that we have here like I do. Most of the kids that we get are charter schools, private school and suburban school. We really do not get many city schools to take these tours. Down the road, hopefully we will get some funding, or even be able to do the tours ourselves at no cost. But now, it’s not so much the money that’s the issue, but it’s the time in the school calendar to be able to take those school field trips. We actually just got funding through the Community Foundation to do workbooks for the kids who do our city tours. A lot of times it’s the end of the year school field trip, but now we’ll be able to give them this workbook that they can take home and do activities. Hopefully that will get them and their parents more interested in coming back.”
What does a usual day look like for you?
“Certain things are scheduled. Many things are not. I’m usually working 6 or 7 days a week in the summer. Partly out of necessity, but mostly by choice because it’s fun! I’ll go along and assist on tours, like kayak tours. I like being out there in the community, going out into different areas to try to tie other areas into our existing tours. We’re always exploring ourselves. We know about a lot of things in this city, but we’re always finding something new. I like giving tours myself. I do more of the strange request tours. We get requests for private tours from people out of town where I basically drive them around and show them the sights of Buffalo. I show them all of the best that we have and that usually works.”
Do you have any predictions?
“I’m usually just trying to get through one day, or week at a time. We’re growing very quickly. For the first year, it was just me on staff here. We had about 50 or 60 volunteers last year. We offered a docent training program over the winter and were hoping to get about 10 new docents. We ended up with about 30. We’ve been so busy that we need them. We now have two more staff here. We also moved to a bigger office (at First Presbyterian Church). We really got lucky with different people and places that wanted to help us out initially. The church had some empty space and gave us office space that was really affordable. Knowing that the rent that we were paying was going to maintain such a historic building was nice. We also connected with The Wellness Institute. We signed on as an affiliate of theirs and got instant 501C3 status under their umbrella. So we didn’t have to spend months filing that paperwork. They take care of all of our admin stuff, like payroll and insurance so that we can concentrate on giving tours. All of that has really helped us to grow and focus on giving great tours. From last year, to this year we’re going to at least double in the number of people taking tours. I don’t think it will double every year, but it will certainly continue to grow. We just need to focus and make sure that while we’re growing, that everything is still very high quality and that the tours that we are offering are diversified. We’ve added lots of bus tours, bike tours, kayak tours. We need to make sure that everything is all fitting together. We actually made a conscious decision to not print a schedule. By doing that it let us be more flexible to add or remove tours that were doing well, or not doing as well. Plus we could add in new tours each month. Every winter, we get together at Rohall’s Corner over on Amherst Street, have a few drinks and take post-it notes and start slapping them on the wall with new tour ideas. People start to feed off of each other’s energy. What’s really great about this group is that you have a bunch of people that are like-minded, who like to give tours and talk about local history.”
What about Buffalo?
“It’s the people, the stories. We can talk about the architectural features, the stonework and the windows and stuff, but people’s eyes glaze over most of the time with that. They want to know the stories, the people that built them. Why was it built here? Why was it designed to look like this? Why is the building here? That’s what really makes the building come alive. It’s those stories about places like the Guaranty Building, the post office, the theater district, Richardson Complex, Central Terminal that are still standing because people cared about these buildings. In Buffalo, you can do something like this. It has the power to support an organization that is just tours and it’s not supported by the City, History Museum. There are only two other cities, that I know of, that have anything comparable to this, and those are Chicago and Boston. We were able to start something up here, finding lots of different friends and places to come out of the woodwork to help us. And a lot of the buildings volunteer their buildings to be on tours. They call us and ask if we can add their buildings to a tour.”
“People are really interested and proud of what we’re doing, and want other people to know about it. They’re becoming much more appreciative and aware here in Buffalo, and it’s radiating through the city. You can see that in the real estate market.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“As many people say, I was born at the age of 40. I followed what I wanted to do. I made the decision to stay in Buffalo and not go away to school. That allowed me to be here and do that docent training while I was in college and get on this path. What would I have done differently? Not a whole heck of a lot.”
- Rick Smith and Swanny Jim – Silo City