Little Richard plays Buffalo at the Zanzibar, 1956

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Rest in Peace Little Richard. Buffalo’s loved him since 1956.

His influence is heard on every single pop song recorded since rock n’ roll was called rhythm and blues or “race music.”

He was George “Hound Dog” Lorenz’s favorite musician. He was The Beatles favorite musician.

Don’t believe the campy persona he lived because he had to because it was just about impossible to be a black gay man in America.

From a song writing, music, and showmanship perspective– he invented rock ‘n’ roll.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Grandpa’s wall of 8-packs… and other warmly remembered childhood oddities

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Doing ’80s research is dangerous for me. Any time frame earlier is “history,” and I love it… but it’s hard to be clinical when every turned page of a 70s or 80s Courier-Express or Buffalo Evening News is dripping with images and ideas that leave me drowning in nostalgia.

I could write a short book about when the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every Buffalo grocery store was filled with Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola in tall, thin glass bottles.

Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles. Those eight packs were always on sale, and even when they weren’t, it was the cheapest way to buy the name brand.

That’s why Gramps loved ’em.

Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house. When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.

If Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, she was the first thing you’d see when that door swung open, sitting at the head of the table, with a cup of coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.

When you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right, if Gramps wasn’t working (which was a lot– he still had three jobs when I was little), he was sitting in that comfy chair right just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.

Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.

“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent. I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?

“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask, and immediately piss off my ol’man.

Royal Crown: the definitive “big name” cola of Polonia.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.

Ignoring my ol’man completely, Gramps would give an inventory.

“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”

The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway on the way to the kitchen.

Now I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became-my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.

In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about his hallway filled with pop.

When I say filled, I mean the entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.

It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein.

There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.

Now Gramps had ten kids, but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time. And even for ten kids– hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house… well, it was one of many things that made Gramps a true Buffalo original.

I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…

But Gramps really didn’t drink. He wouldn’t want a beer, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.

He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”

You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.

“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”

Cheap little donuts bring priceless warm memories

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

What a smile this brings.

Ran into this image in a 1980 Tops ad this morning.

Once every great while there was a peanut stick around, but if you were to say “donut” the me as a kid, this box of Tops brand donuts is what would have come to mind.

These were a highly anticipated, special treat in our house growing up.

When this ad ran, you can see they came sugar, plain, or a mix. While (obviously) the powdered sugar was my favorite, a plain one was just fine too.

The high-riding good times came to a screeching halt when, a few years later, they started adding cinnamon powered donuts into the mix.

That row always sat there as the last in the box, even growing a little stale sometimes before I could bring myself to wolf down a few– so they wouldn’t have to be thrown out.

Even a disappointing donut deserves a fate better than the trash.

Reflections from the Cichon Archives during Pandemic organizing

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Among the 5 or 6 big projects I’m working on to keep myself from going (any more) crazy during this lockdown, is organizing and straightening up the Cichon Archives, which fills the third floor of the Cichon Estate.

I’ll share some of the interesting things I find as I find them.

The Iconic Memorex Cassette

Though I have far fewer now, through the years, I’ve had hundreds of these 90-minute Memorex cassette tapes.

For much of the early 90s, a ten-pack was $9.99 at Media Play, and I invested most of those Media Play Gift Certificates I’d get for birthdays and Christmas into these tapes.

Many of those cassettes I bought went right back out the door– creating mix tapes and recording “radio shows” for my friends in my bedroom radio station.

Hundreds of others went to recording the actual radio shows, hundreds of hours of which I’ve digitized through the years, first to CD and then to mp3.

The digitized wing of the Cichon Audio Archive is more than 600GB with more than 120,000 audio files. There are still hundreds of hours of cassettes, reels, transcription discs, DATs, and mini discs left to be digitized– it always comes in spurts.

Sorting through a pile of these cassettes today, it was like I saw them for the first time– even though thousands of them have slipped through my hands since this design was introduced in 1987.

As a child of the 80s, I love 80s design—but mostly the retro-look meant to inspire the 50s or 60s.

This design, however, is purely pop 80s.

If Max Headroom or that MTV astronaut was going to use a cassette tape, it would be the 90-minute Memorex cassette, with angular shapes in bright blues, pinks, and yellows.

LB Smith Plaza/Abbott Rd. Plaza, 1976

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

An emailer asked what the name of the deli in the Abbott Rd. Plaza was back in the day….

That was Columbia Foods.

While looking that up, I also came across the list of Abbott Road Plaza merchants in 1976.

Good times at Abbott & Ridge!

Where did the name “The Valley” come from?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Valley is a traditionally working class, industrial neighborhood between the First Ward and South Buffalo, bounded by the Buffalo River, Van Rensselaer Street, and the I-190.

Leaving the Valley on Van Rensselaer Street heading toward the Hydraulics neighborhood, during thr Larkin Warehouse fire in 1954.

My dad always referred to the neighborhood where he grew up as “The Valley,” always talking about having to cross a bridge to get in or out of The Valley. That was definitely true in the 60s, and is still pretty much true now—but the delineation was even greater before they ripped out all of the old steel truss bridges and eliminated the ones on Smith and Van Rensselaer in the early 1990s.

My guess, in talking with folks from the neighborhood, that the name “The Valley” was coined sometime in the 50s, that seems to be the generation that started referring to that name.

The city didn’t use the name in any of its planning or urban renewal programs in the 50s and 60s, and I haven’t been able to find a reference to the name in print in the Courier-Express or the Evening News until the time when the Community Association was organized in the late 60s.

One would have to assume, however, that the name was in some kind of familiar use leading up to naming a community association after it. My grandfather, who was born in what is now considered “The Valley” in 1926, and lived there for 40 years, didn’t refer to “The Valley,” but usually “the neighborhood.”

My great-grandparents came to Poland to “The Valley” in 1913.

After living on Elk, Fulton, and Perry, they bought 608 Fulton St. in 1922. My great grandfather worked at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline for more than 40 years.

His son, my grandfather– who worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color– lived in his parents’ house and then bought one across the street (from his brother-in-law’s family) at 617 Fulton, where my dad grew up.

My dad’s family moved to Seneca Street in 1966. Dad later owned the bar at Elk and Smith in the late 70s/early 80s.

Finally found: “As long as you’re coming to Kmart, don’t forget the film”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Like many other commercial jingles from the late 70s through the early 90s, this one streams through my head regularly.

But unlike just about every other one of them, I couldn’t find this one online, anywhere. In fact, there aren’t even very many mentions of it without the audio or video accompaniment.

The jingle goes, “As long as your coming to Kmart, don’t forget the film.”

I thought maybe I had mis-remembered the lyric somehow, and one day shortly after my friendly neighborhood Kmart closed its doors for the last time, I decided to dig deep and see if I could find more about the jingle I remember, but apparently no one else does… at least enough to write about it online.

Nothing on YouTube, which lead me to believe it might have been a commercial campaign that ran on the radio only. After some intense searching, I finally found the jingle on an upload of an in-house Kmart music tape from the summer of 1990.

That makes sense, because I grew up only a five-minute walk away from a Kmart store, and spent many early-adolescent days just wandering around the store, where that jingle would have certainly seeped into my consciousness.

Anyway, to help out any other poor soul in search of this jingle, I created a YouTube video and a Google-trolled blog post to hopefully connect a memory with a bit of audio from a no longer existent store, about the long-anachronistic process of film developing.

Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Local 660 and Grandpa Coyle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Pittsburgh Plate Glass was on Erie Street near the waterfront when this photo was taken in the early ’50s.

Today, the spot is WNED | WBFO’s parking lot (Erie St. runs behind the building.)

That’s my grandpa, glazier Jimmy Coyle, in the middle with the checked jacket where the rip is taken out of the photo.

He was a glassworker and later the Business Agent for Local 660, and a member of that union for more than 50 years.

 

No, there wasn’t a secret tunnel. There just wasn’t.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I get questions about purported secret tunnels around Buffalo constantly, like from the well-intentioned person who sent this email.

People are obsessed with tunnels. Tunnels from Prohibition. Tunnels from the Underground Railroad. Tunnels between neighbors houses.

No one has ever been in any of the tunnels they email about—or even seen evidence of their existence— but the rumors are hot and people want to believe them so bad. But we are humans, not moles.

There are very few tunnels— statically NO tunnels compared to the numbers of rumors.

Of course, there are tunnels. Lots and lots of tunnels. But SECRET tunnels? There are secret tunnels only on Scooby-Doo.

But people will still email me about tunnels, and I will still gently try to tell these emailers that there probably wasn’t a tunnel, and they won’t believe me, and the beat goes on.