We’re all to blame for the horrific tragedy of Larry’s death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If you knew Larry at all, then just like me, this is probably how you knew him– the guy with the long dreadlocks sitting just inside the door at the Tim Horton’s on Main Street in Williamsville.

I took this photo last January, after asking him if he needed anything on a cold night. In his quiet and gentle way, he politely declined. His face told parts of the story that he wouldn’t say with his voice.

Poor Larry died overnight in the bus shelter at Main & Union, and my heart breaks.

I don’t know why he chose to live on the streets, but I know we have to do better helping people like him— people like me.

Mental illness is terrifying and taboo, for both people who suffer and people who can’t understand the suffering. I don’t know what the answers are, but I know he died in large part because his brain was sick, and we have no good way to help.

We can’t write off his death as “the life he chose for himself” any more than we can write off the death of someone who dies when a sick heart gives them a heart attack or when sick cells mutate and cause cancer.

I tried to buy Larry a cup of coffee a few times over the years. That’s not even close to enough. Others have done a lot more for Larry and others like him, but how the hell can we sleep at night having people freezing to death in one of the wealthiest goddamn zip codes in the country?

A warm bed would have treated a symptom, but still, the sickness would remain. Larry’s sickness took him to a bus shelter to die in a blizzard. That’s the extreme version. There are less dramatic (but just as real) versions of the same story playing out all around all of us everyday. It’s needless suffering that we as a society have to decide all together must end.

Rest in peace, Larry. On behalf of humanity, I’m sorry we failed you.

Mixed feelings on Millard Fillmore’s birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Millard Fillmore’s grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Buffalo’s own Millard Fillmore is buried in Forest Lawn cemetery, his grave very simply marked.

Those who loved him, appreciated his contributions to Buffalo’s formation as a city, and his involvement in the creation of dozens of institutions from UB to the SPCA to the History Museum… in death, they called him M.F.

There are also those who look upon his signing of the Fugitive Slave Act and his later lack of enthusiasm for the northern cause toward the end of the Civil War and call him M. F.

It’s nice that we can all agree about what to call Millard Fillmore on this, the 219th anniversary of his birthday.

I tend to agree with both interpretations. HB, MF.

Sears & Kmart, once the gold standard, now nearly dead

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was a longtime Kmart man.

Throughout my childhood, even as Hills, Twin Fair, Gold Circle, Ames, and Brand Names all had their advantages, Kmart was my gold standard in shopping.

It was always clean, well stocked, and carried quality merchandise.

When we first bought our house, Sears was still the embodiment of dependability. To buy something from Sears was an investment.

It’s been sad to see these great brands ravaged, and to know the service and dependability they stood for is completely and utterly dead on any large scale.

I was thinking about all this after writing about the demise of Kmart and Sears for The News.

The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY

 

Krispy Kreme is the “The Blizzard of ’77” line waiting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Even removing any social justice or political overtones, as a community, Buffalo has a tortured relationship with national chains, especially chain restaurants.

Police blockades set up outside Chick-Fil-A’s Walden Avenue location in Cheektowaga during its first week of operation, November, 2018. (Steve Cichon photo)

On one hand, we are proud of our superlative and eclectic local dining scene, and we are very encouraging and protective of our Western New York neighbors trying to make it in the slim-margin restaurant world.

One the other hand, though, we bear a chip on our collective shoulder when Western New York “doesn’t fit into the business model” of some trendy shop we saw on vacation or a Shangri-La Superbowl advertiser.

“It’s fine,” we say, like any other jilted lover, if a national company ignores us– but then we drop everything and fawn when they pay us any attention. For a little while anyway, depending on the brand.

We say “thanks, but no thanks” to plenty of big names. Dominos and Dunkin Donuts have both tried more than once to make splashy entrances into the Buffalo market, but stores have eventually closed. Folks in the Elmwood Village were downright hostile when a Jimmy John’s Subs opened in 2016 (and closed the following year.)

The fact is Buffalo has a pretty good handle on quick pizza, coffee, and subs, and those places did little to ignite our imaginations here.

But the opposite is also true.

Just like with this week’s bated-breath arrival of Chick-Fil-A, a handful of big chains have made headlines with their much-anticipated grand openings in Western New York. In 2013, Popeye’s came to Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo and in 2015, Sonic opened on Union Road in Cheektowaga, each with much fanfare, long lines, and news coverage. Both were nationally advertised brands that Buffalonians might have only sampled on vacation.

Lining up at Sonic during its first week of operation on Union Road. (Steve Cichon photo)

That notion of seeing something great elsewhere and wanting it here extended to grocery stores as well. Wegmans remains a beloved local giant, but when Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came to town, many waited in line to give them a try.

Jammed aisles in the days after Trader Joe’s opening on Niagara Falls Blvd. (Steve Cichon photo)

By now, whether you’re a Buffalonian who waits in line or Western New Yorker who scoffs at the queues, just about everyone expects a line when something new comes to town. Even if you don’t “get it,” you know it’s going to happen—ever since the grand-daddy of all mass-hysteria snaking lineups happened in October, 2000.

Directing traffic outside Krispy Kreme, 2000.

Just like all Buffalo snow storms are measured against the Blizzard of ’77, all Buffalo grand-opening crowds are measured against Krispy Kreme.

Because of the blizzard, we recognize that any snow can quickly become an emergency. Because of Krispy Kreme, we know our fellow Western New Yorkers can’t wait to get into a newly opened chain.

Both the ’77 and ’00 watermark events started slowly. Krispy Kreme hired an off-duty police officer to handle traffic and two Town of Tonawanda cars were sent to the scene on that first morning on Oct. 3, 2000.

Making the donuts at Krispy Kreme’s now-closed Niagara Falls Blvd. store.

“Traffic was backed up two blocks to Brighton (Road), and there were women with babies in strollers, all sorts of people just milling around watching the action,” said Town of Tonawanda Assistant Chief Robert Rowland on that first day. Traffic stayed heavy all day.

More than a week later, on Oct. 11, store manager Dave Benfanti told The News, “We never expected the opening to be this big.” Several nearby businesses like Goodyear Tire, EMS, and M&T Bank reported their parking lots were still being filled with more Krispy Kreme customers than their own.

A month later, only a few days before Election Day, the lines were still long as First Lady Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea came to Buffalo in the closing moments of what would prove to be Mrs. Clinton’s successful run for the US Senate. A good part of the Western New York trip was spent at—yes, Krispy Kreme on Niagara Falls Blvd., with both Clintons shaking hands to those in line and signing boxes of doughnuts of those leaving. It all added to the surreal feel of Buffalo’s weird obsession of late 2000.

The lines lasted longer than anyone would have expected, but they died out just as quickly.

Krispy Kreme’s Western New York footprint rapidly expanded first with another stand-alone store across Walden Avenue from the Walden Galleria, and then by making the doughnuts available in each of the several dozen Wilson Farms stores in the area.

Niagara Falls Blvd store, now just a memory.

Five years later though, in August, 2006, it was announced the stores would close and the red glow of the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign was forever darkened, but the memory is forever imprinted on our psyche.

The lasting result of the Krispy Kreme story is a lot like the result of the Blizzard. Until the last person who remembers the epic snow of 1977 is gone, whenever it snows a little more than we expect, there will be someone telling the story of where they were, and how the snow drifts reached the traffic lights.

And whenever we Buffalonians get overly excited about a fast food joint, national grocery store, or heaven forbid—someday an Ikea store, we remember with smiles, frowns, and a sense of bewilderment the great Krispy Kreme rush of 2000.

Great-Great Grandpa Slattery: “A jovial man and a good mixer”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Found a couple of new articles about my great-great-grandfather, Grandpa Coyle’s grandpa, Captain Thomas Slattery.

He was a Great Lakes ship captain. After many years commanding package freighters, he was given the helm of the SS Juniata, one of the great passenger ships of the Great Lakes.

Thomas J. Slattery was born to recent Irish immigrants in Prescott, Ontario. He moved to Buffalo as a young sailor in his 20s, living first on Orlando Street and then on Indian Church Rd.

I’ve never seen the photo of him as a young man in the one article. The only photos I’ve ever seen of of him as a much older man.

Comfort in the kettle’s whistle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

There’s a full kitchen a few doors down from my office, and someone left the tea kettle to boil and walked away.

It was going for two or three minutes before I got up to shut it off… I felt like I was back at Grandma Cichon’s house, where a lot of times it felt like I was the only one who heard the kettle going.

By the time I made it down to the kitchen just now, I was thinking back to taking similar steps towards a whistling kettle to make a couple of cups of awful instant coffee for Gramps and me… so we could sit and talk with Lawrence Welk or Stan Jasinski playing in the background.

“Perfect. Thanks son,” Gramps would say to any cup of coffee, knowing that it was made with love.

Perfect. Thanks Gramps.

I didn’t know I was a pencil snob

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I guess I’m a pencil snob. There’s a box of 144 new pencils in the desk I inherited, but I had to order some good ol’ Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2s.

Ever since Mr. Frost handed me a new one of these on the first day of second grade, every other pencil has felt inferior.

American cedar, quality lead, and a soft eraser that erases without ruining the page. And, maybe most important, they just smell like pencils.

Are you still reading this? Now I’m embarrassed.

No one should care this much about pencils, but then again, you already knew there is something wrong with me.

Pausing to reflect, 9/11/18

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The WECK Coffee Club paused at 8:46am this morning.

This morning we pause to remember… where we were, what we doing at the moment when we found out our world had changed.

We remember that moment…

We remember the people who were sitting at their desks in the World Trade Center and The Pentagon… and those who wrestled evil on a plane over Pennsylvania.

We remember the first responders who rushed in to help…

We remember those who volunteered to defend our country…
and we remember those who who never returned home.

In their honor, I hope we also remember the way we came together as a country and as a people, and try to find some way to bring that feeling into our daily lives– and remember what we have in common as Americans, in honor of those we lost on this day 17 years ago.