From an unassuming store front on Buffalo’s East Side, one of Buffalo’s most widely renowned craftsman puts as much energy and artistry into the order from a local walk-in and he does from the giant orders he gets to outfit Hollywood.
Gary White is as humble as the generations-old tools of the hat making trade that surround him at The Custom Hatter (1318 Broadway St., Buffalo, NY 14212, 716-896-3722). He’s been selling hats to gentlemen (and now, more frequently, ladies) since working at Buffalo’s venerable old men’s clothier Peller & Mure back in the 1970s.
Back then, you’d see his hats on the heads of retirement-aged men who worked in Downtown Buffalo. Today, his hats are seen all over the world, from heads at The Broadway Market to movies like The Untouchables, Dick Tracy, and Indiana Jones, where the hats play as big a role as the actors.
“It makes a statement, a real fashion statement,” says White, who says a hat should reflect your character and be an extension of who you are. “When you’re wearing a well-made hat, you can not only tell by the fit of the hat, but also by the way the hat lusters, and the trimming. There really aren’t words enough to explain it.”
For decades now, he really hasn’t had to explain it. There’s a constant stream of people at his doorstep who get it, even though the styles predate the grandfathers of some customers.
“Many of my younger clients now start with the ready-made hats that come from China,” says White, and after their fourth or fifth “disposable” hat, they decide “they want to move up a notch to a nicer, better made hat. That’s when they come in to see me.”
He’s not being pejorative when he calls today’s mass-produced hats “throwaways.” They often don’t do well in rain or snow, the synthetic material makes them challenging to clean, and if they are crushed, the new hats can’t be “reblocked,” or reformed back to their original shape.
“You get what you pay for,” he says.
White considers educating people about headwear as a large part of his calling, saying every hat is a unique match to a unique person. “It’s like framing a picture,” he says, “nothing too wide, nothing too tall.”
There is a cost associated with the crafting and the quality of the materials that go into one of his hats, but thousands of customers from the very famous to everyday folks say it’s worth it.
“After 40 years in the industry, I’m still learning,” says White—who’s quick to add something he learned long ago that always seems to hold true. “You can buy that $40 hat every year for the next 20 years, or you can buy one good hat that’s going to last you for the rest of your life.”
In 1923, there were 181,300 people of Polish extraction living “out Broadway”— the shorthand for what many in Buffalo proper also called “the Polish Colony,” metaphorically centered by St. Stanislaus Church and the Broadway/Fillmore intersection.
For the rest of the half-million plus people who lived in Buffalo, the Polish were at best a very foreign group whose language and customs seemed swathed in mystery. At worst, the Polish were a hard-working but lesser people who – aside from laboring in factories, mills and foundries – were best to stay in “Polacktown, where there are more children in the streets than in the yards.”
“Trouble in Polacktown” Buffalo Evening News front page, 1883. Buffalo Stories archives
Beth Stewart was among Buffalo’s first female newspaper reporters and later became a feature reporter for the Courier-Express. She married fellow Courier reporter Gordon Hollyer and served as the public relations director for the YMCA through most of the 1950s and ’60s.
Among her first series of feature reports was a three-part series on “the large and growing Polish colony of Buffalo.” It was a sympathetic and celebratory look at Buffalo’s Polonia, giving many outside the Polish neighborhoods their first opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of how their Buffalo neighbors lived.
The Polish people were without their own nation for the entire 19th century. Poland was carved up between the Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
The first big wave of Polish immigrants to Buffalo came from Prussian Germany after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck made it more difficult for the Roman Catholic ethnic Poles to freely practice their religion.
A wave of Poles from the Austrian province of Galicia started coming to Buffalo in 1882. Russian Poles started arriving en masse in 1905.
Buffalo’s first Polish councilman and later assemblyman James Rozan remembered coming to Buffalo as a boy in 1872. His family was one of a dozen or living in the mostly German Fruit Belt neighborhood.
Fourteen years later, when St. Stanislaus church was built at Peckham and Townsend Streets as Buffalo’s first Polish church in 1886, there were 19,000 Poles in the city, mostly living near St. Stan’s.
By 1923, there were 27 Polish churches for the roughly 380,000 Poles spread across the East Side, Black Rock, Elk Street, Seneca Street, Lackawanna, Dunkirk, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Cheektowaga and Depew.
Without much explanation other than just printing the Polish names without translation, Stewart wrote that the larger Polish community, first built around St. Stan’s, was further split into seven communities that would be readily understood by those who lived among them.
The first was Stanislawowo—members of St. Stanislaus Church. Then was Kantowo, from parishioners of St. John Kanty. Members of St. Adalbert’s were from Wojciechowo, Pietrowo was made up of the members of Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Clinton and Smith.
St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown made up Kazimierzowo. The community surrounding St. John Gualbert in Cheektowaga was Gwalbertowo. Black Rock was directly translated into Polish as Czarna Skala.
But however far-flung, Broadway and Fillmore remained “the Polish Main Street and Delaware Avenue” for Buffalo’s Polish population. The business district there was equivalent to the main street of a mid-sized northeast city. Polonia boasted 2,930 Polish-owned businesses and 14 community banks.
Right at that intersection was the building created as a hub of Polonia-wide activity. Translated, Dom Polski means “Polish home.” The substantial edifice opened as “The Polish Literary and Assembly Rooms Association, Inc” in 1889, replacing a refashioned barn used for the same purpose for at least a decade before.
Rather than an organization itself, the Dom Polski was the home of the Polish library and fraternal groups like Kolko Polek—the Polish Women’s Circle, Polskich Krawcow—the Polish Tailors, Sokol Polski—The Polish Falcons, Szewcy Polski—The Polish Shoemakers, and the Polish National Alliance.
It was a place on a Sunday night where you might find a half-dozen small family dinner parties in the different rooms and men smoking and playing billiards in the library. It was the Polish equivalent of the clubs on Delaware Avenue which routinely denied membership to most Polish-Americans past the middle of the twentieth century.
Much like their uptown counterparts, the members of the various clubs of the Dom Polski worked together to make their community a better place. One such effort was lobbying for a high school for the 6,000 Polish-American children in the Buffalo School system in 1923. They were fighting against the notion that the educational needs of Polish-Americans could be addressed by the city’s vocational schools. In 1926, East High School opened to serve the children of East Buffalo.
One of the amplified voices of Buffalo’s Polish population was “Everybody’s Daily,” a Polish newspaper with a circulation of 26,000.
“The paper is a force in the colony,” wrote Stewart. “It has enemies and many friends. It proclaims a policy of honest advertising. It fights for community interests—civic, political, educational, and religious.”
One still familiar institution is the Adam Mickiewicz Literary and Dramatic Circle. It still survives on Fillmore Avenue, but it was once one of many such organizations. Singing societies were also a popular element of Buffalo’s Polonia population in the mid-1920s, and one through which a greater number of Buffalonians were introduced to some Polish customs.
The Aleksander Fredro Literary and Dramatic Circle was a Mickiewicz-like group in Kaisertown. The Moniuszko was Polonia’s first singing society, and in 1923, headquartered at 570 Fillmore. The Chopin singers were at Broadway and Lathrop. There were also the Kalina, Lutnia, Lirnik, Harmonia, and Jutrzenka societies among others.
The Poles of 1923 weren’t just joiners of Polish groups—most of Buffalo’s 4,000 Polish-American World War I vets belonged to the American Legion. Adam Plewacki Post 799 was among the city’s “most active and lively posts,” and 98 percent Polish in membership.
Plewacki, who lived on Best Street, was the first Buffalonian killed in World War I. The post named in his honor worked to “cultivate the love of American ideals in foreigners,” working to “Americanize” immigrants beyond just proficiency in English.
If Buffalo’s landed class could appreciate anything about the people of Polonia, it was the way that most worked quickly to buy land, and then maintain and improve property once owned.
“Polish colonists are not merely home owners,” wrote Stewart, “they are improvers of communities. A piece of land is more than a commercial investment to the Polish buyer. It is a plot to be made his own, a place where a home may be built and trees and shrubs set out for beauty.”
“Fillmore Avenue, wide and shaded, set off on both sides by neat residences, is proof of the Polish ability to build up attractive communities.”
Clearly, Beth Stewart thought she was writing to an audience that—if they thought anything at all– thought very little of the Polish people. She wrapped up her 20,000 words worth of reporting with a glowing summary of her expedition “out Broadway.”
“The Poles in Buffalo have achieved much of which they may well feel proud. They built up a great and prosperous community—a city within a city.
“They have given to the city of their adoption distinguished professional men, sober industrious workers, artists, gallant soldiers.
“They have added to the beauty of the city turreted churches, dignified homes, and fine public buildings.
“They have borne themselves in a manner which leaves the city no room for regret that one-third of its population once bore allegiance to a foreign land.”
For generations of Buffalonians, Christmas didn’t begin without the Sattler’s Christmas parade and a visit to the Toys Annex across the street from good ol’ 998.
Starting in 1947, Sattler’s played host to a Santa Claus parade up Broadway that was patterned mostly after the New York City Macy’s parade — featuring gigantic balloons tethered by ropes and the big man himself as the grand finale.
Image from the 1962 parade.
It was estimated that 40,000 people lined the parade route on a cold, snowy November Saturday for the parade in 1962. That year, there were 40 large balloons and about 20 marching units —including the Buffalo Police marching band.
Image from the 1962 parade
The 1964 parade was announced by WKBW’s Danny Neaverth and featured Buckskin Joe and the Fantasy Island Stagecoach.
Click to enlarge 1964 ad
In 1967, Santa arrived at 998 via helicopter, greeted by WWOL’s Ramblin’ Lou.
Of course, seeing Santa was great—but the real thrill was shopping for the toys which Santa might bring.
Even once you outgrew toys — Sattler’s always had plenty to fill your Christmas list, like this 1963 record album list including “The Singing Nun” and “Best of Joan Baez.:
The store’s odd and interesting array of bargains, big events like their Christmas parade and that first-of-its-kind “Shop and Save at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway” jingle made the store a destination for people from all over Western New York.
Through the 1960s, Sattler’s became an anchor tenant in a handful of Western New York’s new shopping malls.
Sattler’s went out of business in 1982, but the landmark Broadway-Fillmore store was stripped of the Sattler name a year earlier. For its final 13 months, it was known as the 998 Clearance Center. It carried castaways from the Main Place, Boulevard and Seneca Mall locations.
This week, The Broadway Market kicks off its busiest time of the year — the days leading up to Easter.
For generations, the market was the epicenter of Buffalo’s Polish community.
A fixture in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood for more than 125 years, the market’s heyday was likely in the 1950s – when every Friday and Saturday people from the neighborhood stuffed into the newly renovated structure in the same way we see now only during Holy Week.
The glory years were certainly waning by 1983, but the market had much of the same character and charm as it did in the earlier years. Dozens of second- and third-generation family businesses filled the stalls once run by their fathers and grandfathers.
This piece takes a look back at some of those families and how the market had changed through the years up until that point. Many who still remember the old daily hustle and bustle of the market miss it terribly – the next two weeks is an opportunity to relive a part of what it was like, and perhaps conjure some idea of what the future of the beleaguered landmark might be.
The photos and text here were featured in “The Magazine,” The News’ Sunday insert in 1983. The paper is from the Buffalo Stories collection.
Fifty-five years ago this week– the last week of August, 1960– The News’ special back-to-school section featured articles on the latest in education inside and outside of the classroom, and, of course, plenty of back-to-school ads.
Clothes shopping was a much more gender-specific endeavor in 1960 — while many larger department stores and discount stores obviously offered accouterments for both sexes, there were also plenty of specialty shops that catered to only boys or girls.
Girls were looking for dresses and skirts as they found new school clothes 55 years ago; most schools banned girls from wearing slacks.
Goldin’s, Morrisons and Oppenheim Collins all catered to women and girls.
Hengerer’s, Kobacher’s, Neisner’s, Sattler’s and the Sample sold men’s and women’s fashions.
Can you still get homemade duck soup at the Broadway Market? This story could have been written this week:
April 21, 1984: Smell of pierogi, road of crowd greet market Easter shoppers
“Under a heavy aroma of pierogi, 99 varieties of cheese and all manner of fish, the shoppers maintained a dull roar all afternoon. The aisles were flush with people of all ages, housewives pushing baby strollers, stockboys struggling with mobile racks laden with the kind of breads and cakes that could be bought nowhere else.”