Typically, when Buffalo Bob Smith enthusiastically shouted the question, “Say kids, what time is it?” the answer enthusiastically shouted back was, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”
That wasn’t the case in this series of Bells Markets TV ads from the early 1970s.
“It’s Bells Supermarket Time,” the peanut gallery shouted from the vegetable aisle at Bells.
Robert Schmidt was born in Buffalo and attended Fosdick-Masten Park High School (now City Honors School), and began a radio career on WGR and then WBEN with lifelong friend and early on-air partner Clint Buehlman.
As Bob Smith, he moved to New York City radio in 1947, and when he started hosting a children’s television show shortly thereafter – adding the nod to his hometown to his stage name, becoming Buffalo Bob Smith.
The video shows three 30-second commercials which aired on Buffalo television in the early 1970s.
In November 1978, News Photographer Bill Dyviniak grabbed his camera to take a few shots in the area we now call the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Then, it was the cold and abandoned neighborhood bounded by Buffalo General Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute to the north, and the still-buzzing M. Wile and Trico factories and Courier-Express presses to the south.
Buffalo News archives
It’s unclear whether the images were shot for a specific story or whether it was feared that the buildings might not last the winter. The folder was labeled “Landmarks to be demolished near Main & Carlton.”
Photographs of three separate “landmarks” were in that folder — and despite all the construction around that area over the last 40 years, from the MetroRail station at Allen Street to the ever-growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, all three buildings still stand to this day.
Buffalo News archives
The 19th-century Italianate houses on Washington Street are currently a part of the BNMC’s Green Commons project. They were saved from the wrecker’s ball in the late 70’s through the work of preservationists like Austin Fox working with the city and surrounding community.
The 1977 city directory shows all of the single family dwellings remaining on Washington and Ellicott Streets– both now in the footprint of The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus– as vacant or as lodging operated by Roswell Park. The area that was as recently as the 1950s a thriving residential area had quickly become nearly all industrial and offices.
Just west of those houses, stands the Roosevelt Apartments. The exterior has been rehabilitated and the Bells Market has long since closed.
Buffalo News archives
A few blocks away at Ellicott and Virginia survives Ulrich’s, Buffalo’s oldest continuously operated tavern.
A 1984 look inside the beer cooler of a Buffalo grocery store reveals that even the things that never change don’t always stay the same.
Buffalo News archives
Products offered by Labatt Brewing Company still remain the most popular beers in Buffalo, but there are some differences.
It was later in the 1980s when Labatt phased out the stubby bottle cases shown here in favor of what they first promoted as “Big Blue,” a 16-oz. bottle.
Labatt 50 Ale was one of Buffalo’s most popular beers for decades, as reflected in the heavy stocking of the beer in this photo. It’s now sometimes difficult to find even in Canada.
Also, it wasn’t until the 1990s when Labatt’s Beer officially became “Labatt Blue,” the nickname by which it had been known for decades.
Otherwise, generic plain label beer—available at Bells markets—was wildly popular with Western New Yorkers shopping for price.
The 1980s were also the decade of the wine cooler. Until then, the Mogen David Winery in Westfield was best known for its kosher Concord wines. Many who were college or high school students during that era in Western New York (and across the Northeast) might remember MD 20/20 flavors like Hawaiian Blue and pink grapefruit. Those same folks might be surprised to know that the MD actually stands for “Mogen David,” not “Mad Dog,” as the wine product was known.
A quick glance at this 1984 shot of Western New Yorkers in a supermarket checkout line might offer the warm reassurance that some things never change. Upon closer examination, however, we can find a few changes over the last 31 years.
The first one that pops out was the accessibility of cigarettes, right next to the checkout conveyor belt. Three decades later, many supermarkets no longer carry cigarettes, and the ones that do have them behind the customer service counter or at a single designated lane.
Of course the photo is different because this is a Bells Market. All Bells stores closed when the company filed for bankruptcy in 1993, and many former Bells locations were gobbled up by Quality Markets, among others.
While the photo is black and white, it’s easy to imagine the cashier’s neckerchief being either the orange and brown or later green and yellow color scheme Bells used through the ’70s and ’80s.
Plenty is different, but the closer examination also shows that some things really don’t ever change — like Michael Jackson being featured in the tabloid rack. When this photo was taken he was still at the height of his Thriller and King of Pop fame … but despite the fact that Jackson died six years ago, would anyone be surprised to see him featured on a tabloid cover on your next shopping trip?
Thirty-five years ago this month, The News began celebrating the 100th anniversary of the paper’s starting a daily edition.
In the special section called One Hundred Years of Finance and Commerce, The News recounted the history of a handful of Buffalo’s financial and commercial industries and provided ad space for many companies involved in those industries to tout their own contributions.
Reporter Stephanie Christopher’s look back at the families who put food on the shelves of area grocery stores for generations — before founding Buffalo’s first supermarkets — offers a glimpse at businesses that have all been bought and sold out of local control over the last 35 years.
The one standout is Tops Markets, which was sold to the Dutch firm Ahold in 1991, only to be sold back to local owners in 2006.
BUFFALO, NY – It’s an amazing transformation that happens somewhere in our brain. At some point, judging by the numbers of hits they receive, the terrible TV commercials once hated and vilified, become that for which we search YouTube.
Many things annoy us about the spots by which we are regularly bombarded. The seeming ubiquity when they are on radio, TV, billboards, print. The fact that many are cheaply or poorly produced, or just based on an asinine idea that shouldn’t even have been written on the big sheet of paper in the brain storming session, let alone the idea that will not haunt hundreds of thousands of memories into perpetuity.
Perhaps worst is when, for no one particular good reason, the spot is just plain annoying.
The problem becomes, love them or hate them, they become familiar, a little warm. Annoying, but somehow comforting, in that it’s always there. And then, sometime, even decades after they go off the air, you get a yearning to love and hate them all over again. The hatred for the ad in question turns to hatred for the internet when you can’t mine that nugget you are trying so desperately to remember, so you can properly forget again.
The classic example of this is the Kaufman’s rye bread commercial. This jingle ran over and over on Buffalo TV for 20 years.
Whenever I give a talk about Buffalo, I play that, and people smile and sing along. They hate it, but love it. That jolly little baker is the perfect animated definition of frienemy. Almost scary happy smiles while people say, “I hate that!”
But they love to hate it. We all do. We love to hate terrible commercials. Don’t make me list the commercials you hate today that you will one day search for on the 2037 version of YouTube.
All of this came to mind when I was going through some video recently for a friend, and found some commercials that if you lived through the 80s in Buffalo, you will certainly remember them. And maybe even enjoy watching them once before going back to hate.
I found one of the more popularly hated and loved commercials of the 70s and 80s when i was doing research on the book I wrote about Irv Weinstein. A commercial so popular, people who were too young to have ever seen it in the first place still say FUN WOW even though they aren’t sure why–
Amusement Parks can be especially deadly when they are trying to appeal to kids. This is one from 1989 that I just uploaded. I consider this the definitive version of the Marineland jingle, with King Waldorf singing, and the kids filling in the words.
Fantasy Island and Marineland… Fondly familiar to see those spots once– maybe not again for a while now. But here’s one you might wind up looking at again::
Two Buffalo institutions in this one, but even while WKBW morning man Dan Neaverth is shilling for Bells, he has to work in a reference to the country’s newest amusement park: Darien Lake Fun Country::
Danny of course known as a DJ, and doing Channel 7’s weather outside… He wasn’t the only 1980s spokesman to come from a different line of work to sell a product. Jim Schoenfeld sold City Mattresses for years.
A few more:
Check out the “state of the art” computer they are bragging about at Fay’s Drugs in 1981:
The sound track on this 1989 Genny Light spot is pure 80s. So are the women, as Genesee mocks the 80s trend of filling beer commercials with women in bikinis instead of beer.
Finally, here’s one that put Lackawanna on the map in the late 80s… You may have forgotten about it, and you’ll probably hate me for reminding you.