Buffalo in the ’80s: Questions we aren’t asked anymore

By Steve Cichon

Our day-to-day lives are filled with common almost reflexive interactions we barely think about. Quite often, we barely notice when one changes or goes by the wayside.

Here is a collection of several questions that were commonly asked around Buffalo in the 1980s, but not so much today.

Paper or Plastic?


When this photo of the Vogt Brothers and their Bells and Super Duper grocery bags appeared in The News in 1986, the accompanying story showed a city divided over the question.

What will we cover our school books in, or use to cover our turkeys to keep them moist should the paper bag go away, were among the questions asked.

Thirty years later, the paper bag is an anachronism. It’s still available, but for most it looks more like a vestige of another time rather than a way to carry your groceries home.

Many are working to give the plastic bag the same treatment. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spearheaded efforts earlier this year to examine the feasibility of banning plastic bags at grocery stores.

According to grocery supply company Topco, the sale of reusable shopping bags is a $75 million market in the U.S.

Smoking or non?

For decades, this was the ubiquitous ice-breaking question posed from restaurant hostess stations — but not since 2003 in New York State.

While this question might still be asked in other places across the country, New York’s Clean Indoor Air Act banned smoking in all public places in the state 13 years ago.

Where d’ya live?

Buffalo News archives

The question is still asked in a number of different ways in the volley of questions and exchanges of passports now needed to cross the border at the Peace Bridge.

But there was a simpler time, before 9/11, when just the answer to that question alone was often enough to get you over the bridge for some Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, rides at Crystal Beach, or to fill up with some cheaper Canadian gas.

Regular or Unleaded?

Buffalo News archives

That’s a gas station question that’s triple extinct.

Regular now means a grade of unleaded. Old-fashioned regular gasoline — the lead-additive-filled kind — is no longer generally available. And besides that, it’s difficult to find full-service stations where you might be asked anything by a gas pump attendant anymore.

This photo of the Mobil station at the corner of Elmwood and Forest in 1986 says the station is self-serve, but still shows the two grades of gas they offer as regular and unleaded.

Starting in 1973, the EPA ordered the phase-out of tetraethyl lead additives to gasoline. In 1975, car manufacturers began introducing catalytic converters in vehicles to make them run smoother and cleaner, thereby negating the need for the lead.

Regular was cheaper than unleaded, but leaded gas would ruin a catalytic converter, and make for a costly repair. By the end of the ’80s, “regular” gas was mostly phased out.

Can you think of other questions we aren’t asked anymore?

Published by

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.