Buffalonians know what to do with bread bags during the winter

By Steve Cichon

Wonder Bread bags used to come with ideas for reuse of the bag printed on them. There must not have been any Buffalonians working at Wonder Bread’s headquarters, because no where is there a mention of using them as a winter boot liner. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In Buffalo we seem to start thinking of winter the moment the Erie County Fair ends. A generation or two ago, winter was something that needed a bit more preparation than it does in 2015—especially if, back then,  you were getting your brother or sister’s leaky hand-me-down boots to wear every day from November to March.

Putting on socks, then bread bags, then boots was a routine of chilly Western New York winters for decades.

In my neighborhood, we looked to tell something about kids from their bread bags. Colorful polka dots on a white background meant you were wearing Wonder Bread bags on your feet. This was basically the Lacoste alligator emblem of dry feet.

Yellow, orange and brown bags sticking out of the tops of your boots meant that your parents drove an extra couple of blocks to shop at Bells.

You can’t have a snow storm without having plenty of milk and bread at home. Add toilet paper and beer to that list, and a Buffalonian can last a week without venturing out. From a 1979 Bells ad.(Buffalo Stories archives)

But most kids—including my brother, sister, and me—always had the red, white and blue of the Tops bags shown below, on sale this week 40 years ago for 39¢ a loaf.

From a 1975 Tops Markets ad. Buffalo Stories archives.

Even with the jamming of every spent bread bag in that special drawer in the kitchen for the whole year-round, there never seemed to be enough bags for all of our playing and walking to school all winter.

Not that they really kept our feet dry, anyway.


Buffalo in the ’80s: Questions we aren’t asked anymore

By Steve Cichon

Our day-to-day lives are filled with common almost reflexive interactions we barely think about. Quite often, we barely notice when one changes or goes by the wayside.

Here is a collection of several questions that were commonly asked around Buffalo in the 1980s, but not so much today.

Paper or Plastic?


When this photo of the Vogt Brothers and their Bells and Super Duper grocery bags appeared in The News in 1986, the accompanying story showed a city divided over the question.

What will we cover our school books in, or use to cover our turkeys to keep them moist should the paper bag go away, were among the questions asked.

Thirty years later, the paper bag is an anachronism. It’s still available, but for most it looks more like a vestige of another time rather than a way to carry your groceries home.

Many are working to give the plastic bag the same treatment. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spearheaded efforts earlier this year to examine the feasibility of banning plastic bags at grocery stores.

According to grocery supply company Topco, the sale of reusable shopping bags is a $75 million market in the U.S.

Smoking or non?

For decades, this was the ubiquitous ice-breaking question posed from restaurant hostess stations — but not since 2003 in New York State.

While this question might still be asked in other places across the country, New York’s Clean Indoor Air Act banned smoking in all public places in the state 13 years ago.

Where d’ya live?

Buffalo News archives

The question is still asked in a number of different ways in the volley of questions and exchanges of passports now needed to cross the border at the Peace Bridge.

But there was a simpler time, before 9/11, when just the answer to that question alone was often enough to get you over the bridge for some Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, rides at Crystal Beach, or to fill up with some cheaper Canadian gas.

Regular or Unleaded?

Buffalo News archives

That’s a gas station question that’s triple extinct.

Regular now means a grade of unleaded. Old-fashioned regular gasoline — the lead-additive-filled kind — is no longer generally available. And besides that, it’s difficult to find full-service stations where you might be asked anything by a gas pump attendant anymore.

This photo of the Mobil station at the corner of Elmwood and Forest in 1986 says the station is self-serve, but still shows the two grades of gas they offer as regular and unleaded.

Starting in 1973, the EPA ordered the phase-out of tetraethyl lead additives to gasoline. In 1975, car manufacturers began introducing catalytic converters in vehicles to make them run smoother and cleaner, thereby negating the need for the lead.

Regular was cheaper than unleaded, but leaded gas would ruin a catalytic converter, and make for a costly repair. By the end of the ’80s, “regular” gas was mostly phased out.

Can you think of other questions we aren’t asked anymore?

Buffalo in the ’80s: Hills at Transit & Main

By Steve Cichon

Not sure what Buffalonians will have more fun remembering: Hills or gas prices at $1.13.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

The shopping plaza known as the Clarence Mall, complete with empty Ames, G&G Fitness and Burlington Coat Factory stores, was bulldozed in 2005 when the name was changed to the Shops at Main/Transit.

Barnes & Noble, Old Country Buffet and Bed, Bath, & Beyond now fill the retail strip between the Eastern Hills Mall and Main Street along Transit.

Bells Markets and Liberty Shoes were among the stores at the Clarence Mall in 1981.

Bells Markets and Liberty Shoes were among the stores at the Clarence Mall in 1981.

When the Clarence Mall held its grand opening in 1967, ads called the place “the shopping plaza of superlatives.”


Grant City, the fourteenth store in the W.T. Grant chain, was by far the largest at 135,000 square feet when it opened. The 30,000-square-foot Park Edge grocery store that opened at the plaza was the largest in Western New York, with “the area’s largest dairy case,” measuring 80 feet long with four levels.


Buffalo in the ’80s: Talking Proud!

By Steve Cichon

At the time, M&T President Andrew Craig called it “the most extensive and far reaching effort in the history of Buffalo aimed at upgrading and improving Buffalo’s image.”


Thirty-four years later, any Buffalonian over the age of 40 still instantly recognizes the face and stance of actress Terry Licata (now Licata-Braunstein), who proudly led the “Talking Proud” march in an extensive, long-running TV promo campaign. (Buffalo News archives)

Even when it was new– and especially now, to the outsider — the “We’re Talking Proud” jingle and TV spot were at best lampoonish and cheesy. For Buffalonians, however, the song is a communally understood representation of our complex feelings about our hometown.

Most of us have an unusually fierce love and loyalty for Western New York, even for what outsiders might perceive as bruises and warts. We’re proud of our snow and our blue collars, but protective against people who might not understand or who understand but hold their noses aloft at our “quaintness.”

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The whole campaign was created to help us coalesce those feelings as a community. Surveys showed people wanted to stay in Buffalo, and loved the fact that it was relatively cheap to live well here. People loved the number of restaurants, the abundance of cultural and pro sports events, running the gamut of taste and price.

Bills and Sabres fans were talking proud in the early 80s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Bills and Sabres fans were talking proud in the early ’80s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

But in 1982, Buffalo’s unemployment numbers hit 15.3 percent, in the same year that Bethlehem Steel announced the shuttering of what was once the world’s largest steel manufacturing facility, and once the home of more than 20,000 jobs.

“The problem is (the people of Buffalo) don’t know too many facts about why they’re proud, and they’re sort of backward about standing up for their city,” campaign chairman Robert J. Donough told the Associated Press three months after the launch.

But even trying to capture the spirit of the campaign, the AP writer had to report some, cold hard facts. “With its numerous dingy buildings and empty storefronts, the downtown area remains a depressing shock to the first-time visitor.”

Donough told a different group, “We found we had to give (Buffalonians) something to talk about. So, at this point, we began to develop the Talking Proud campaign.”

Bells Markets became a clearing house for many Talking Proud logo items. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Bells Markets became a clearing house for many “Talking Proud” logo items. (Buffalo Stories archives)

At the high point, the Talking Proud logo was licensed to 85 firms producing 135 products, from lollipops to an $11,000 Buick Regal furnished as a rolling testament to pride in Buffalo.

The television ads were romp and pomp, and happy and high-flying, but the print ads, featuring small groups of Buffalonians, were a bit edgier.

“We’ve got a spirit and we’re talking proud…. We’re fed up with all the insults, all the jokes about our city. We Buffalonians have had it right up to here. We’ve got one of the best communities in the world.

“We’re proud of Buffalo. We’re not going bankrupt. We’re not having riots. And we’re not going to take your abuse any longer. So back off, America. If you want to poke fun, poke it somewhere else. We’re Buffalo. We’ve got a spirit. And we’re talking proud.”

Western New Yorkers were keenly aware of the problems at home—and for quite some time had been tired of hearing about those problems from outsiders.

It started as early as 1969, with a scathing piece as much about Buffalo as the Bills in Sports Illustrated. San Francisco sports writer Glenn Dickey made a city full of enemies for life as he was quoted calling Buffalo the “armpit of the East.”

After days and weeks of Buffalo Blizzard aftermath footage dominating national newscasts in 1977, Johnny Carson, whose Johnny Carson-brand suits were manufactured here by M. Wile, made Buffalo’s blizzard cleanup a longstanding punch line.

Even Howard Cosell, often derided for his sports analysis, specifically inspired the ire of Western New York with a jibe insinuating that Buffalo was a lesser “clone of Cleveland” on a Monday Night Football broadcast.

One Buffalo jab blew a bit out of proportion, but wound up with kumbaya.

In 1981, the Chinese owner of the Hilton, Clement Chen, was planning to build a hotel for Americans in Beijing, so he brought a delegation of Chinese chefs to train in American cuisine at his Buffalo hotel. CBS Newsman Morley Safer, who found the notion of Chinese chefs training in Buffalo “marvelously incongruous,” wrote a tongue-in-cheek commentary that was likely funny to most of America, but not to Buffalo—where jokes about Love Canal and the lake being dirty have never played well. Safer spoke of “the more than aromatic shores of Lake Erie” and said that Buffalo’s “greasy and impenetrable” “chemical cuisine” would result in “international ill-will.”

Thousands of letters from Buffalo later,  CBS president Gene Jankowski, a Buffalo native, “urged” (strong-armed?) Safer into accepting the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce to visit Buffalo.”My impression of this city has certainly changed,” the newsman said as he toured. “I wrote in my commentary about the mythology and now I’ve seen reality. You’ve just won a fan.”

Buffalo Community Development Commissioner Larry Quinn shows Morley Safer around downtown. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Later that morning, he told a throng outside One M&T Plaza, “This whole thing started in fun and I was determined not to apologize. But after one of the most gracious and spectacular mornings of my life, I must say I am sorry.”

“Talking Proud” was great for Buffalonians and showed outsiders that we cared. But in national talk about the juggernaut, more people echoed the negative notions the campaign was meant to dispel.

US News and World Report said the campaign was conceived to “disprove outsiders’ cruel jests picturing Buffalo as an urban desert.” TV Guide said the bright music and happy marching was “in contrast to Buffalo’s coldly forbidding image.”

Again, the print ads were far more succinct than the happy jingle.

“Give it to ’em, Buffalo. We’ve got an earful to tell America about living here.

“For starters medical care, food prices and home costs are among the lowest anywhere. So are our crime rates. Our schools are some of the best. Plus we get a gentle prevailing wind off our lake that gives our city four distinctive weather seasons and some of the best pollution-free air around.

“Sure, some of us moved out of Buffalo. We tried other cities like Chicago, San Diego, New York, Houston and Memphis.

“Funny thing, America, a lot of us moved back. We missed the short commuting times to work. And the cheap parking rates. We missed Buffalo’s unique nightlife. We missed quiet places like Delaware Park, the Marina. We missed neighborhoods that pull together, stay together and are being restored and renewed together.

“In short, America, we think the quality of life around here is better than a lot of places you offer.

“So we’re speaking our piece. Because we’re Buffalo. We’ve got a spirit. And we’re talking proud.”

There were many people who can take credit for giving life to the “Talking Proud” campaign.

Fred Dentinger, the great Buffalo philanthropist, was chairman of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce when he championed the notion of defending Buffalo against naysayers, and even going on the offensive if necessary. A few years later, Dave Smith was in charge at the Chamber, and joined by PR man Pat Donlon, laid the ground work for “Talking Proud.”

They hired Alden Schutte, the great ad man and artist, who oversaw the creation of every facet of the campaign.

Then there’s the actual voice we can easily hear in our minds without trying too hard. Teresa Giles, still hailed as one of Indiana’s premier session singers, was described as a “27-year old farm girl” when credited with singing the original track, recorded at Wolftrack Studios in Indianapolis.

The personification of Talking Proud, however, had to be the exuberant young actress selected to star in the TV spots.

Terry Licata-Braunstein has been seen in films like Raging Bull and Hide in Plain Sight, and on the small screen in Law & Order.

Terry Licata-Braunstein has been seen in films like “Raging Bull” and “Hide in Plain Sight,” and on the small screen in “Law & Order.”

Terry Licata grew up on the West Side, and had tried out for a role in an AM&A’s commercial. That didn’t work out, but producer Schutte remembered her, and the rest is history.


More on “the high-stepping, diminutive lady in the red jumpsuit leading a throng of chest-thumping Buffalonians” from News Reporter Harold McNeil: ‘Talking Proud’ cheerleader still struts her stuff on screen

There’s also Joe Cribbs, Chuck Knox, Joe Ferguson, and the early ’80s Bills. When the Bills beat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the “Talking Proud” song blared from the Rich Stadium sound system, 80,000 people danced and sang.  And we haven’t stopped showing that “Buffalo’s got a spirit” ever since… talking proud, talking proud.