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.

The early rock ‘n’ roll history of Buffalo’s very own 1230am

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

1230am signs on

When 1230 am officially signed on in 1956, WNIA was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”

WNIA, 1956

The record library here in our Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.

From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”

WNIA control room. (Dennis Majewicz photo)

Sixty years ago, it was a difficult decision for a radio station to play rock ‘n’ roll music full-time, like WECK does now.

In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”

WNIA Founder Gordon Brown, remembered in his hometown Democrat & Chronicle in 1979.
Tom Donahue, 7th grade

A few years after the station first signed on, a group of local singers—all high school students– at WAY Radio productions sang the jingles you can hear in the piece linked above.

One of those singers was Tom Donahue.

That means his voice has now been heard professionally on the station for more than 50 years.


Mike Melody, Tommy Thomas, and Jerry Jack…

We’re continuing to talk about the early rock ‘n’ roll history here at 1230am.

There were dozens of young disc jockeys who played the hits here at Buffalo’s upstart rock ‘n’ roll station.

Dozens of DJs– but only 4 or 5 names.

Station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.

He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.

WNIA’s on air schedule

6 AM to Noon – Tommy Thomas
Noon to 6:30 – Jerry Jack
6:30 to 12:30 AM – Mike Melody

Brown died in 1977, and the station was sold. Since then, the disc jockeys you’ve heard on WECK didn’t necessarily have to use their own names– but they didn’t have to be Mike Melody or Mac McGuire, either.

WNIA poster created from original WNIA art by Steve Cichon.

Midnight Mood & Be Big…. 

We continue our week long look back at the early rock ‘n’ roll history of 1230am.

It’s one of the most requested songs as people reminisce about radio in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

It was the 1230 theme song for years, Richard Maltby’s Midnight Mood would play every night at midnight… that’s a tradition we continue now at WECK each night as the clock strikes twelve.

WNIA was a quirky station. The daily noon time Catholic prayers were bookended by rock ‘n’ roll music.

And if you listened to the station at all in those days, you probably remember that you should be big… be a builder.

THE IMPRESSION YOUR FRIENDS AND OTHERS HAVE OF YOU IS BASED ON WHAT YOU DO…TO TEACH…
TO CREATE… TO ACCOMPLISH… OR TO BUILD, WHETHER YOU DIG THE TRENCH FOR THE FOUNDATION
FOR A BUILDING; WHETHER YOU LAY THE LAST BRICK ON ITS TOP; WHETHER YOU WORK WITH A PICK
AND SHOVEL OR WITH THE TOOLS AND MACHINES, OR IN THE OFFICE,OR SELL THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES
OF INDUSTRY; WHETHER YOU GROW, PREPARE OR HARVEST THE VERY FOOD WE EAT… WHETHER YOU ARE A
HOMEBUILDER RAISING,TEACHING OR EDUCATING YOUR FAMILY OR OTHERS HOW TO BE COME A BUILDER…
NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU DO, IF YOU ARE A BUILDER, YOU ARE ONE TO BE LONG REMEMBERED.
THOSE WHO ATTEMPTED TO DESTROY THE PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT WERE DESPISED AND SOON FORGOTTEN…THOSE
THOUSANDS WHO LABORED TO BUILD THEM WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN………. BE BIG…… BE A BUILDER
–as transcribed at http://www.flynnflam.com/wsay/bbbb.html, a website dedicated to remembering WNIA’s sister station, WSAY, in Rochester.

The minute long diatribe, punctuated with the slogan BE BIG, BE A BUILDER, was the brainchild of station owner Gordon Brown.

It was a reaction to the war protests of the late 60s, and now its a well-remembered part of Buffalo’s broadcasting history.


Listening to the Archives

Mac McGuire, Tommy Thomas, Mike Melody, and Jerry Jack all holding court in the Make Believe Ballroom during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The call letters WNIA originally stood for “NIAGARA.”

When the station was sold in 1977, the new call letters, WECK were selected to represent another Buffalo institution.

WECK sticker, late 1970s.

From WNIA to WECK

This week we’ve been looking back at the history of 1230am…

For 20 years, tiny WNIA had a powerhouse sized influence on rock ‘n’ roll radio in Buffalo, from the same ranch house we broadcast from on Genesee Street.

From Mike Melody’s “Make Believe Ball Room,” to “Be Big… BE A BUILDER,” to Richard Maltby’s “Midnight Mood,”  WNIA and 1230am were very much a part of the tapestry that made up life as a teenager in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

By the late 70s, those days were over, the station was sold. WNIA became WECK.

The Roll that rocks. Get it? WECK Roll?

Anyway, 1230 grew up with those 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ rollers and was spinning the disco tunes with DJs like Frankie Nestro.

After years of “Music of Your Life,” then talk for a while, we’re now back to our roots as Buffalo’s home for Good Times, and Great Oldies…

Buffalo’s Very Own WECK.

Remembering Burt Reynolds in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Burt Reynolds spent time in Buffalo during the shooting of “Best Friends” in 1982.

He happened to be in Buffalo for a bit of history.

Reynolds and his co-star Goldie Hawn were at the Aud when Wayne Gretzky broke Phil Esposito’s single season goals record.

Along with Oilers GM Glen Sather, Gretzky, Hawn, Reynolds and Espo celebrated with a photo in the Aud Club at Memorial Auditorium, in front of that amazing Sabres latch hook rug.

Glen Sather, Wayne Gretzky, Goldie Hawn, Burt Reynolds, Phil Esposito, on the night Gretzky beat Espo’s single season goal record with his 77th goal of the season of the 1981-82 season.

Like most good things in Buffalo in the 80s, Mayor Griffin played a small role in “Best Friends”– he can be seen as a kid’s hockey coach in one scene.

Mayor Griffin with Burt Reynolds, when he was in town shooting “Best Friends.”

 

From The Complete History of Parkside:

Parkside Goes Hollywood

Though usually thought of in terms of a staid, august, and venerable neighborhood, Parkside has also seen its share of glitz and glamour.  For the same reason so many Buffalonians are attracted to its wonderful architecture and tree-lined streets, Hollywood producers have also taken notice over the years.

For three weeks in February, 1982, Summit Avenue went Hollywood for a week. Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn spent that time holed up at 45 Summit Avenue, shooting scenes for the big screen motion picture Best Friends. The local accommodations were much cheaper than the LA high rollers were used to, as Ellen Parisi wrote in her History of the Good Shepherd Church, only a few doors down from the home where most of the film was shot:

In order to accommodate the cast’s and crew’s noon meal, the advance people made arrangements to rent Jewett Memorial Hall. “Probably the biggest mistake I ever made,” said Fr. Jerre Feagin, Good Shepherd rector 1978-82, “was not charging them more. When they asked how much it would cost to rent the hall for three weeks, I said, ‘One Thousand dollars.’ that was a lot of money to the Church of the Good Shepherd. But the man looked at me with great surprise in his eyes, as if to say, ‘Is that all?’ and he immediately wrote a check.”

Production trucks for BEST FRIENDS line up along Summit Avenue

The Parkside home of Alex Trammell and the Buffalo snow provided the perfect backdrop for producers. Signs outside of the home pleaded for untracked snow… But one four-legged critter didn’t see the sign and spoiled the scene producers had hoped for, namely virgin, freshly fallen snow. But that errant dog didn’t provide the only challenge to filming:

“There was one problem with a neighbor who didn’t want (the film people) there,” Fr. Feagin continued. “It was a nuisance. They roped the streets off. Mounted police were all over keeping intruders out. Big sound and power trucks came in at 5am and parked all over the streets. There were catering trucks selling things. It was like a carnival. Well, this one neighbor didn’t like it, and in protest, every time they’d begin filming, he’d run his lawnmower. In February. The director, Norman Jewison, approached me and asked me to do something. The man causing the trouble was a Roman Catholic, so I called Fr. Braun from St. Mark’s and he straightened it out. That movie company was only a few hours from packing up and leaving town in search of a new location if Fr. Braun hadn’t been able to stop the noise.”

Main Street mocked up to look like Chicago.

Hollywood was back in Parkside the following year, this time at the corner of Main Street and West Oakwood Place for the shooting of The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford spent a few days in August, 1983 at the Parkside Candy Shoppe. The no-nonsense long time owners of the ice cream parlor, Ted and Sandy Malamas, told the Parkside News in 1988 that they were impressed with Close, who garnered an Academy Award Nomination for her role in the film. Given their silence on the rest of the cast, one can draw ones own conclusion.

from The Natural. Glenn Close and Robert Redford on Main St at W Oakwood Pl.

The scenes shot inside the store were, according to the story, taking place in Chicago. A large matrix of I-beams was erected of Main Street at Oakwood to give the appearance of Chicago’s elevated train. Filming of the movie also took place at War Memorial Stadium and All-High Stadium, the Buffalo Schools field just up the street behind Bennett High School.

Redford standing in roughly the same location as the above shot, from a different angle.

After a twenty year hiatus from Tinsletown, Parkside returned to the small screen in 2003 as the setting for the MTV Reality Series Sorority Life. Season 2 of the show featured the Delta Xi Omega sorority from the University at Buffalo. Their sorority house for 2002 was at the southwest corner of Crescent and West Oakwood.  Shooting for the show happened all over the neighborhood, but perhaps most publicly at Kostas Restaurant on Hertel Avenue, where cameras followed one of the sisters to work as a waitress.

Parkside also played a dark role in a similar MTV show shot in Buffalo the following year. Three UB students were arrested after breaking into the Buffalo Zoo in 2003 as a part of a videotaped stunt for the show Fraternity Life. In an incident reminiscent of stunts dreamt up after a night of collegiate drinking at the Park Meadow two decades earlier, The pledges were to break into to the zoo, and take an animal home as a pet.