For most of Buffalo’s history, the easiest place to shop was Main Street downtown. Until the 1980s, the largest and best-stocked dry goods and department stores had names like AM&A’s, Hengerer’s and Hens & Kelly.
Today we look back at the blocks that would eventually become those stores that any Buffalonian over the age of 40 or 50 will fondly remember – especially this time of year.
The building that was constructed for Hengerer’s opened in 1904 but was a famous Buffalo address long before that.
In 1880, is was the location of one of Buffalo’s leading hotels, the Tifft House.
The Tifft House replaced the Phoenix Hotel, which was built in 1835 on the east side of Main between Court and Mohawk.
For more than 90 years, AM&A’s was across Main Street from the spot we now remember. Adam, Meldrum and Anderson took over the more familiar spot from JN Adam & Co. starting in 1959, and lasting until the store closed in 1996.
The JN Adam & Co. store building was purchased by AM&A’s in the late 1950s.
JN Adam built his store on the spot where the Arcade stood, until it burned in 1893. When built, the Arcade was Buffalo’s largest office building.
The light-colored building is the Arcade, which burned down. That block of buildings was replaced by storefronts for Kleinhans, Woolworth’s and, eventually, AM&A’s. The ornate building across Lafayette Square is the German Insurance Co. building, and was replaced by the Tishman Building, now home of the Hilton Garden Inn.
Hens & Kelly:
Hens & Kelly’s downtown flagship store was built on “The Old Miller Block” at Main and Mohawk.
The store was opened in 1892, and closed 90 years later.
Over the last couple of years, brick and mortar retail has taken a major hit in Western New York. Sears and K-Mart stores, Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Toys-R-Us, Macy’s and the Bon Ton have all closed stores or gone out of business.
The change in the local and national retail landscape has led area the owners of local shopping malls to reimagine what those malls could be as they struggle to keep up on bills.
The last time such a tidal wave hit Buffalo retailing was during a recession in the early ’80s.
During an 18-month stretch between 1980 and 1982, seven major retailers closed 36 stores in Buffalo.
An Associated Press report blamed “high unemployment, impossible interest rate hikes, changing consumer demands, long-term population shifts, and, in some cases, bad management” for the closures.
At the time in question, the original flagship Sears store on Main at Jefferson closed (today, the building is part of the Canisius College campus). Also closed: three Sattler’s stores, eight Hens & Kelly stores, 15 Twin Fair stores, five King’s stores, three Naum’s and two Two Guys stores.
It was during that same time period that Buffalo lost another long-standing name in retail, as Hengerer’s stores were rebranded as Sibley’s.
Even though some stores were bought out or taken over, the closures left 2.5 million square feet of empty retail space around Western New York. Most troublesome were the empty downtown Main Street storefronts that had been Hens & Kelly and Sattler’s for decades.
“Their show windows are dark and dirty, like others along Main Street, even as progress on the city’s new pedestrian mall and rapid transit system continues,” wrote John Given in an Associated Press report printed in newspapers around the country.
The longtime retail giants left standing were feeling the pinch, as the massive MetroRail construction on Main Street was happening just as the worst economic times were hitting.
Robert Adam was worried about the downtown AM&A’s location, but even more so, the branch near the GM/Harrison Radiator plant in Lockport that had just seen massive layoffs.
“Everyone thinks if you’re the only one left they have to go to you, and that’s not true,” said Adam. “I don’t want to be the only one left.”
A few blocks down Main Street at LL Berger’s, Louis Berger said he hoped that all the bleeding in 1981 and 1982 was going to be enough to right the ship.
“We’ve seen the end of closings downtown,” said Berger. “I think the shakedown is over.”
This week, we’re looking back at the glory days of shopping on Main Street downtown, and we begin with the giant: AM&A’s.
Adam, Meldrum & Anderson was Buffalo’s largest and most popular department store for 127 years.
Locally owned and operated from 1867 to 1994, more than just a place to shop, it was a Buffalo institution.
Starting in the mid-1970s and lasting through the early 1980s, the store’s italicized green-lettered corporate logo was augmented with an ultra-modern swooshy AM&A’s first in an electric green and blue, then in a more subdued dark blue and red.
In 1995, only months after AM&A’s sold its operations to Bon-Ton, the York, PA based department store announced the closure of the Main Street downtown location which had been hemorrhaging money for quite some time.
More than 300 jobs were lost with the closure of the store as well as the warehouse behind the store across Washington Street.
We’re in the final chapters of AM&A’s history now, with the Bon-Ton’s never ending going out of business sales in several of AM&A’s former locations.
With both Macy’s stores and Ulta gone, Bon Ton on the way
out, and the mall’s owner unable to keep up with the mortgage payments, these
are troubling times for the McKinley Mall.
For decades, having a mall at the corner of Milestrip Rd.
and McKinley Pkwy. has just been a way of life around here, but whether or not
the mall should be built in the first place was, according to The Sun, “the
most controversial political question ever presented to Hamburg Town voters.”
The question was answered in a 1981 referendum on a land swap, which essentially
asked voters whether or not the mall should be built.
Hamburg and all of Wester New York were buzzing with the
question. The property where the mall now was park land, but called mall
proponents called it “a piece of scrub and brush property” that could
transformed into “a regional mall with top flight shopping facilities” standing
poised to pay $10 million in property taxes over the first decade.
Taxpayers for a Great Hamburg, led by Vincent M. Gaughan, Sr,
lauded what was being presented as a $100 million investment in Hamburg—the
largest in the town’s history. It was anticipated that up to 95% of the 2000
jobs created by the mall would go to Hamburg residents, and that payroll for
those jobs would exceed $20 million annually.
Consolidated Residents Against McKinley Mall– or CRAMM–
was opposed to the development which would “change (Hamburg) forever,” and cost
taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per year to provide services to the
mall. “Our park gone today,” read one ad, “maybe your park gone tomorrow.”
The final vote was 10,122 yes and 8,134 no. With only 55% of
Hamburg residents on board, shovels broke ground in July, 1984. Supervisor Jack
Quinn called the $50 million project “the cornerstone of Hamburg’s future.”
The mall opened amid fanfare on October 7, 1985 with
AM&A’s and a “new high-tech Sears” as anchors for the 75 tenants, including
The Sample. LL Berger’s was added as a third anchor in 1988 and Sibley’s became
a fourth anchor tenant in 1989.
In the last month, the mall’s owners have been declared
delinquent in a $35.4 million loan on the mall property as an increasing number
of storefronts go empty with the future of the 33-year-old shopping center up
in the air.
If you eschew the k-cup– you are a soldier in the generations-long war over how coffee should be brewed in your home.
In 2014, Keurig sold 9 billion k-cups. That’s enough little white pods to circle the Earth more than 10 times.
While millions of Americans have given in to the convenience of the Keurig coffee maker, millions of others steadfastly refuse to entertain the notion of having the device in their homes.
Notwithstanding any recent political strife, “The coffee doesn’t taste as good” and “the little cups are just too expensive” are among the common arguments against the Keurig. These folks, it’s understood, are happy with the good ol’ automatic drip machine they’ve had for generations.
It’s a same-as-it-ever-was argument that seems to happen once a generation lately.
It was only 40 years ago when old line caffeine addicts were fighting the original home automatic machine, Mr. Coffee.
“Coffee tastes better in a percolator,” you’d hear people say, who’d also complain about the cost of the machine, as well as the extras, like filters.
But even among the fans of percolated coffee, there were those who couldn’t imagine the extravagance of an electric percolator in their kitchen. Their stove top model worked just fine, thank you.
These days, a good Keurig machine can be had for about $100. In this 1975 AM&A’s ad, the Mr. Coffee brewer is on sale for $29.99. The regular price of $39.99 is about $177 in 2017 dollars, according to a federal government inflation calculator.
Over the last 40 years, what was luxurious has become common place.
Like so many of our great cultural traditions in Buffalo, trying to pin down the concise history of our collective amber-hued fuzzy memories of Downtown Christmas shopping is difficult and can even get combative.
For many of us, all those warm recollections seem to get lumped into a generic category of “AM&A’s Christmas windows,” and to imply anything else is often met with side eye looks, and sometimes with outright hostility.
Through the decades, some stores moved, some changed names, all eventually closed. Taking the fuzz off memories and bringing them into focus with the actual names and dates can be dangerous business, but that’s the dangerous business we’re in. So here we go.
The tradition of decorating downtown stores for Christmas dates back before anyone reading this can remember. Downtown’s department stores were fully decorated, for example, for Christmas 1910.
Since those stores—some with familiar names—decorated their windows more than a century ago, plenty has changed along Buffalo’s Main Street, especially in the areas where generations did their Christmas shopping.
The most tumultuous change came between 1965 and 1985, the time when most of our memories were forged and influenced. The buildings we shopped in for decades came down, new buildings were put in their place, and traffic was shut down with a train installed in place of the cars.
The one constant through all of that, our collective memory tells us, is those wonderful AM&A’s windows.
Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson was a Buffalo institution between 1869 and 1994, when the Adam family sold the chain to Bon-Ton. That being the case, for as long as anyone can remember, people off all ages would line up along the east side of Main Street, looking in those big AM&A’s windows, before going inside and taking the escalators up to AM&A’s Toyland starring Santa himself.
Well, here’s where the hostility sometimes comes in.
If you remember looking at windows in that spot before 1960—you weren’t looking at AM&A’s windows, you were looking at the windows of JN Adam & Co.
For more than 90 years, AM&A’s was located directly across Main Street from the location where the store’s flagship downtown location was for the final 34 years of the chain’s existence.
JN’s closed up in 1959, so AM&A’s moved into the larger, newer building. Soon thereafter, the original AM&A’s was torn down to make way for the Main Place Mall.
Adding to confusion is the similar name of the two stores. JN Adam and Robert Adam—the Adam of Adam, Meldrum & Anderson—were Scottish-born brothers who founded department stores which would eventually compete with each other across Main Street from each other.
Both stores also took their window decorating—especially Christmas window decorating seriously. But so did all the Main Street Department stores. On the same block as JN’s and AM&A’s, Kobacher’s, which had a location in a spot now occupied by the Main Place Mall, had a memorable giant animated, talking Santa in its window. Hengerer’s, a bit further north, always had well decorated windows.
Still, AM&A’s and JN’s made the spot just south of Lafayette Square the epicenter of Christmas décor in Buffalo. As early as 1949, JN Adam was promoting “animated Christmas windows.”
AM&A’s decorating team, eventually headed by Joseph Nelson, started adding animated displays as well, although it wasn’t until the 1960s—after AM&A’s moved into JN Adam’s old space—that AM&A’s made the presence of the windows a part of their Christmas advertising.
It’s tough to tell even if the “AM&A’s window displays” which have popped up around Western New York over the last couple of decades were originally created for and by AM&A’s. AM&A’s took over not only JN’s building, but also many of its traditions, and quite possibility the actual displays and accoutrements of those traditions.
Another JN Adam yuletide tradition which also became an AM&A’s tradition after the move was the full-floor Toyland.
All this is to say, if you walked down Main Street in mid-December 1955, the magic and wonder you were filled with was only partially Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson-inspired.
But AM&A’s was the survivor—which is why we remember. But just keep in mind– it’s very likely that 1955 window you remember was a JN Adam’s window.
But no matter which store displayed these windows when, they have always been a universally beloved Buffalo institution, right?
Well, once again… not exactly. As traditional Main Street retailing was gasping its last breaths in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Christmas windows were often derided as a part of the larger problem—rehashing the same ideas instead of trying to appeal to a new generation. The dated, tired animatronic scenes seemed out of place and woefully out of date in the Nintendo age.
When this snarky review of AM&A’s holiday decorating efforts appeared in The Buffalo News in 1993, the writer probably didn’t realize he was looking at the penultimate effort of a nearly-dead Buffalo institution.
In the AM & A’s window downtown, the same (manger scene) figures are placed in front of a set of free-standing Baroque pillars, all marbleized in green and gold. Lofty, that. If Gianlorenzo Bernini were around today, that’s what he’d be doing for a living: AM & A’s window displays…
(And) at AM & A’s downtown, the other holiday windows display a charming mixture of images, though if any community actually tried to build like this, folks would be petitioning for a design review board before the developers knew what hit them: New England covered bridge here, rough-hewn alpine furnishings there. One window features a frilly pink Victorian cottage that looks as if it could have been plucked off a side street in Allentown.
Since AM&A’s flagship downtown store was closed shortly after selling to Bon-Ton in 1995, the legend of the window displays—and the actual displays themselves—have spread far and wide.
In the mid-90s, Buffalo Place refurbished and displayed the most-recently-used scenes along Main Street. Some of those, along with older scenes as well, have appeared around Western New York in holiday displays in the Village of Lancaster and in Niagara Falls, as well as around Rotary Rink near Main and Chippewa.
The actual displays are interesting, but seeing them out of context—or even worse, trying to pry an iPad out of the hand of a toddler so she can appreciate them—seems to miss a bit of the point.
A Victorian man carving a turkey or a big white bear handing another bear a present isn’t what make those memories so wonderful—it’s the way the memory swells your heart.
Here’s to whatever makes your heart swell this Christmas season.
These photos appeared in the Buffalo Courier Sunday Magazine, New Year’s Day 1911. The quality of the images isn’t good enough to see what is in those window displays, but they still represent a great look at the retail scene on Main Street downtown more than 100 years ago.
Where possible, the 1910 images are presented with Google images of the current look of the same space.
From the pages of the Courier-Express, holiday shopping on Main Street downtown 47 years ago today… AM&A’s windows and sidewalks jammed with shoppers.
Downtown Is Jammed by Shoppers In Traditional Post-Holiday Spree
By RAY DEARLOVE
The traditional heavy shopping downtown the day after Thanksgiving held true again Friday as pedestrians jammed stores and sidewalks and cars filled downtown streets bumper-to-bumper most of the day.
Most store officials contacted said they were pleased with what appeared to be near-record crowds and all the stores were jammed right after opening.
Total sales volume for the day wouldn’t have been known until today.
Robert B. Adam, president of Adam, Meldrum & Anderson Co., said A. M. & A.’s traditional downtown store Christmas window display was viewed by the largest amount of people in the eight years the displays have been offered. He said this
year’s window display is on the history of Christmas carols.
Hens & Kelly Inc.’s downtown store also was reported jammed and Harry Blum, senior vice president, said business was very good right from the store’s opening. He said it was usually “noon before the store got that crowded.”
Lawrence R. Rose, executive director of Main Place and vice president and secretary of the Main Place Merchants Assn., described the shopping crowds as
“fantastic.” He said the day is normally a big day, but that Friday’s crowds were exceptionally heavy in all 53 stores in Main Place.
Best Day Seen
Similar observations were made by Daniel Ransom, president of the Wm. Hengerer Co., who said Friday was the best day-after-Thanksgiving in the
three years I have been here.”
Parking facilities in the downtown area were reported full most of the day.
Gerald R. Tunkey, general manager of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps Inc. which operates five city ramps in the downtown area, said all the ramps were
full by 11 a.m. William J. Cochrane, assistant manager of the
Genesee Motor Ramp at 312 Pearl St., said business was “much heavier than normal, with almost all 300 spaces full much of the day.”
The shopping hordes meant the usual headaches for traffic police. Capt. Albert F. Saxer, head of traffic point control and radar units of the Buffalo Police
Dept., said extra patrolmen were planned both day and evening to handle the traffic.
“There are not enough parking facilities to handle the volume of vehicles that were downtown Friday,” said Saxer. “Parking facilities would have to
double to alleviate the situation.”
Saxer said traffic was slow but moving. There must have been room for sleighs, since several Santa Claus’ were spotted
WEBR’s “Amanda” interviews an AM&A’s buyer on her midday shopping and fashion tips show at the WEBR-970 studios, 23 North Street, in 1951.
“Amanda” was actually Dorothy Shank, president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio & Television. She later worked in marketing for AM&A’s, had a show on Channel 4, and was a host on WJJL in Niagara Falls through the 1980s. She was 81 when she died in 1989.
But my favorite part of this photo: in the middle, just to the left of the phone, Buffalo’s 1950’s equivalent of a Tim Horton’s cup– a glass “to go” coffee cup/milk bottle from Buffalo’s ubiquitous Deco Restaurants (there were more than 50 Deco locations around WNY when they were most popular.)
Now that Halloween is over, retailers see nothing but daylight between now and the big day — Christmas. That sense of timing has been true for decades, but the way certain items are marketed have changed with the times.
This AM&A’s ad for holiday sweaters appeared in The News’ Buffalo Magazine in November 1988.
If Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson was still in business, they might still be offering the same array of sweaters, but instead of calling them “festive holiday tops,” and noting their “designer look,” there’s a fair chance that they’d have joined other retailers like Macy’s, Target, and Walmart, each of which have large selections of “ugly Christmas sweaters” on their websites.