BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Dwayne Madyun can tell you what North Fillmore Avenue looked like when he opened Ansar Communications almost nine years ago.     

"Very empty, a lack of spirit, lack of motivation, lack of cooperation, and especially among the businesses just a lack of a spirit of working together," said Madyun.

Madyun and Saleh Muthana, the owner of the Fillmore Ave. Foodmart, both invested in their businesses through the North Fillmore Avenue Facade Renovation Project. Under the initiative, businesses who made big changes would then get reimbursed by the state 75 percent of the cost of any upgrades to their storefronts. 

"Brand new facades, windows, new entranceways, just a much more beautiful design than what we had before, we didn't have anything. As I said were boarded up, we had gates on our building as well," said Madyun, who spent $50,000 on renovations.

Both Madyun and Muthana were handed hefty reimbursement checks Thursday from the Community Action Organization of Western New York, which initiated the program. L. Nathan Hare says the goal is to help promote business on the east side.

"The idea is that if you begin to build a brand, sort of an identity for your community, you can draw people into your community who want to be around your brand," said Hare, president and CEO of Community Action Organization.

Five stores are slated to get new signage in the near future to help Fillmore create that brand.  Hare say the initiative is way of having businesses take ownership of the transformation underway.

"We have to work together, pull resources together, take some of our own equity, and use our own equity to be the anchor, to be the leverage so we can make more dollars come from outside the community to inside the community to allow us to grow the community," said Hare.