All-time Buffalonian Mark D. Croce, Jan. 24, 1961 – Jan. 9, 2020

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rest In Peace Mark Croce, who died in a helicopter crash last night.

Aside from being one of Buffalo’s leading restaurateurs and club owners, without him, the Statler Hotel property would be a parking lot right now. He literally saved it from the wrecking ball. I was also privy to many of the really great things he quietly did for people just because he could.

The world has lost a good man who cared about this city and it’s people.

I ran across this Joe Cascio photo today of Mark Croce holding court with me and the rest of the media on the steps of the Statler Ballroom in 2011.

He didn’t have to buy the Statler. After years of crazy schemes and a handful of less-than-ideal out-of-town owners, the city was pricing out demolition.

His commitment to Buffalo by saving one of our storied landmarks was one of the small handful of events which helped Buffalonians see light coming from around the corner. I don’t know if we’d be wearing “Keep Buffalo A Secret” t-shirts without Howard Goldman’s having worked on Mark to buy the old hotel.

Ironically, it was on this same day that Mark and Mayor Brown were making a big announcement about the future of the Statler, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg answered a question about a lack of classrooms, road maintenance, and housing in New York City by throwing a shot at Buffalo.

“There’s an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, New York, if you want to go there. I don’t think you do,” Bloomberg said.

Mayor Brown, who can be seen all the way to the right over Mark’s shoulder answered Bloomberg’s comments– right there in the Statler lobby– with the most tenacity I’ve ever seen from him in 15 years as mayor. “I’m pissed,” he said, several times, before demanding an apology.

Standing there, in this saved building, with our usually even-keeled mayor boldly standing up for our city’s honor– it was tough to not stand a bit taller as a Buffalonian.

And all that, because Mark Croce believed in Buffalo and put his business and his reputation on the line to make the Statler into an admittedly wobbly investment in Buffalo which acted as the basis and foundation for so many others…

Instead of a parking lot for City Hall workers.

 

Great old sign uncovered at old Record Theatre

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Since no fewer than 300 friends have called, texted, emailed, and sent telegrams about the cool sign uncovered at the old Record Theatre (thank you all!!), I took a ride over and snapped a couple of pics— featuring the vintage sign as well as the Lenny Silver Way signs.

Record Theatre renovations, 2019
Record Theatre renovations, 2019

Nine years after his death, the world needs Jim Kelley more now than ever

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Nine years ago today, I wrote:

My good friend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Kelley died today. When we last spoke a few weeks ago, he knew it wouldn’t be long. I told him I love him, and he said it back. I’m glad we had that conversation. I wish more friends could/would. God bless you Jimmy, and your family.

Jim Kelley, October 26, 1949 – November 30, 2010

I started out in the “real world,” with an adult job in an adult environment at the age of 15, surrounded by an amazing cast of people who made me think the world was made of great men like them.

There were many, but none was better than Jim Kelley.

He was a hockey writer, but more than that he firmly believed and professed that there was truth and falsehood. Further, he believed that anyone who tried to make gray out of black-and-white was probably up to something and as a citizen and a journalist, it was his job to figure out what.

I miss him personally as a friend, and more broadly as the kind of guy this world needs more of… now more than ever.

Sabres Goalie Andrei Trefilov offers Russian greeting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When he was the Sabres primary back-up goalie, Andrei Trefilov was a funny guy.

One day, I was covering the morning skate and a bunch of us reporters and media types were waiting for all the guys to leave the ice.

Not too long after Dominik Hasek roughed up Buffalo News reporter Jim Kelley, Trefilov came pounding off the ice with an angry look on his face, scowling at the assembled media.

He stopped, narrowed his eyes as he looked at us reporters and growled, “F**K YOU ALL!”

He then waited a moment, smiled, and said, “That means ‘Good Morning’ in Russian!” and walked away laughing. Hahaha.

Ticket taker Gramps let us into Rich Stadium with a matchbook ticket

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My “new” old Bills sweater is the exact same one Gramps used to wear as a ticket taker at the stadium. Gramps would let us into Bills games— I remember going to a Baltimore Colts game during the 1982 strike.

We weren’t allowed to acknowledge or say hi to Grandpa, and we had to give him a matchbook to rip and hand back to us in case the bosses were watching. 

Paid attendance at Rich Stadium: 80,080. Non-paying Cichons: 3,347. Hahaha

It was the Jackie Jocko’s heart, as much as his music

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The truth is, Jackie Jocko didn’t know me from anyone. We’d met a bunch through the years, and I even drove him home from EB Greens a few times toward the end of his career, but with Jocko, it didn’t matter who you were anyway– if you were in his company, he was there to entertain you with his musical ability but also to touch and warm your soul as one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met.

He didn’t know me from the guys from Iowa at the next table, but when he sang, “My friend Steve is a good guy,” he meant it. He meant I was a friend, and he meant that he saw the good in me… Because he was literally everyone’s friend and he saw the good in everyone.

If it was just the size of his talent behind a piano keyboard, it would have been an honor to have spent some time with him through the years… But he was a genuine and thoroughly good man to a degree where it seemed like he turned over his entire existence to the well-being of the people around him.

What else can you do but hold up a paddle that says SMILE, and sing… “My… friend… Jock… ko… is… a… good… guuuuy….. ”

May perpetual light shine upon him.

Milestone: no more colorful glass in the window across from Ken West

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bottles had been displayed for decades in the window of this Delaware Rd. home.

For as long as I can remember, stopping at the light next to Kenmore West High School has made me smile.

When you were stopped on Highland, you were looking straight into a picture window which, forever, had a lovely glass collection displayed in it.

Driving by the other day, I was a little sad to see the house was up for sale and the colored glass bottles were gone.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

Hearing Buffalo’s accent feels like home

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

After more than a week away from everything Buffalo…

Nothing says welcome home like sitting in an airport waiting for the second leg of a flight to BUF, and listening to the loud flip phone conversation of a 60-something woman with a third-generation Buffalo/Polish accent– ya know– naaht too baayd— but just enough to know that if she doesn’t live in Chicktawaga now, she probably did at some point in her life.

I can’t really believe how the sound makes my heart full. Other places are great to visit, but I just can’t imagine coming home to anywhere else…