More than just a nice day in November

By Steve Cichon

To try to define Buffalo and what it’s like to be a Buffalonian isn’t quite a one sentence or one draft beer notion.

Even exquisite paragraphs and emptied pitchers can leave so much unsaid.

Today, November 18, my wife and I cruised through our city with our convertible top down. It wasn’t just a tolerable drive, it was warm– on the skin of our cheeks and the depths of our souls.

Driving our city streets and watching the outdoor smiles and nice weather rolled up sleeves of our Western New York neighbors only helped radiate more warmth.

Down Hertel to Delaware, under the 190 and through the Marina. It wasn’t just about enjoying the day, it was about enjoying Buffalo enjoy the day.

Backup through Canalside and heading for the Outer Harbor, we turned onto Michigan Avenue, back into the low hanging dark orange sun.

It’s a different warmth that comes from the November sun, and as its gentle-yet-thorough toasting rays began their magic dancing on the skin of my face again, the most glorious surprise struck.

With deep breaths, my lungs filled with intoxicating sweet cocoa smells of General Mills baking cereal.


For a few fleeting moments, there aren’t words. Just Perfection. Right here in Buffalo, the kind of which you can’t find on the most beautiful Caribbean beach or the most tranquil Himalayan mountain top.

It’s the kind of perfection it takes a lifetime to acquire the taste for— but I can’t imagine there’s anything sweeter.

On a day that somehow feels stolen yet still very much right, Buffalo brings it all perfectly.

Already buoyed by friendly smiles and the waning-yet-perfect comfort of the sun drenching all that it touches in just enough warmth, the addition of lungs-full of baked goodness was about enough to leave me momentarily delirious.

And in the midst of all this on a glorious warm sunny day, I stopped to buy gas for the snow blower. The weather man says within 48 hours, we’ll certainly be 40 degrees colder– and maybe under a six-inch blanket of the white stuff for which Buffalo is so well known.

And I’m not only ok with that, I’m giddy about it— because this is Buffalo, and I’m a Buffalonian. And I couldn’t have had today without what might come tomorrow.

Buy another pitcher and I’d be happy to explain further.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Our city smelled like Cheerios … and dog food

By Steve Cichon

What a wonderful idea that our city has smelled like Cheerios for more than 75 years now, and it’s even luckier than just the soul-warming smell of baking cereal.

General Mills, 1964 (Buffalo News archives)

The fact that sweet delicious Cheerios are the sole survivor in our odoriferous industry category is really a reason to celebrate, and it’s just another one of those strokes of luck that has helped us feel better about the city so many of us hated for so long. It’s tough to hate a place that smells like Lucky Charms, which is how I’ve described that sweet oat smell for decades.

Even before Buffalo smelled like Cheerios, the smells of other cereals made by General Mills here wafted through the air.

My grandfather — who later worked at General Mills for a few years — grew up during the Depression walking over to the dumps across Fuhrmann Boulevard from the plant with his friends to pick through the trash for unopened boxes of cereal that, for one reason or another, got tossed.

Eddie Cichon worked at half a dozen plants in the Buffalo area, including General Mills, but he worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color. (Buffalo Stories archives)

They might have eaten a handful or two of the cereal — this was the Depression, after all — but the main purpose for these trips to the dump was to bust open the boxes to get their hands on the toys and trinkets that were included as premiums with the cereal.

The Fuhrmann Boulevard dumps in 1935. (Buffalo News archives)

There’s no doubt Gramps would have noticed the smell of Cheerios in the air, but he might not have been impressed with it, having lived the first 41 years of his life across the street from a grain elevator and malting house on Fulton Street in “The Valley” neighborhood. (That neighborhood is often lumped into the First Ward or South Buffalo by outsiders — but usually not by the folks who live there.)

A few blocks away from his house near Fulton and Smith, Ralston Purina had an elevator and mill similar to General Mills’, near Prenatt and Smith.

Purina Mill, Prenatt Street, 1972. (Buffalo News archives)

It was the same sort of operation. Grain was hauled in and milled, and the smell of processing and baking filled the air for miles around. Just like the smell of Cheerios is inescapable as you traverse Canalside at the right times, for the people of the Valley and miles around, the smells of Purina were inescapable.

The only difference was, Purina made dog food. The smell wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but not something you’d want to celebrate on a T-shirt. One longtime resident said the dog food operation smelled like sweet but slightly rancid grain: Like maybe someone spilled a cheap beer on the carpet last week, and it had been baking in the sun. The odor on its own wasn’t heartwarming, but knowing it was dog food baking didn’t necessarily inspire folks to delight in long pulls of air into their nostrils and down into their lungs.

Even when the wind turned and it was Cheerios in the air, could you be sure? Just another sweet, grainy smell that might be cereal from a few miles that way, beer a mile that way, or dog food a few blocks that way.

That was when you were lucky enough to have any grainy essence in the air. It was far more likely that the atmosphere of the Valley and surrounding neighborhoods would be filled with the smells of heavy industry from places like chemical manufacturer National Aniline, the Mobil refinery, Republic Steel and Hanna Coke. Just like Purina, these places were all within a short walk of the Valley. And just like Purina, these places stopped churning out smells — and paychecks — decades ago.

The Purina Mill turned out animal feed for 55 years until it was closed in 1970. The building was torn down in the early ’80s.

So for anyone who has wondered how it’s only been for the last decade or two we’ve celebrated that “our city smells like Cheerios” when it’s smelled that way for 75 years … it’s much easier to get excited when the last smell standing is such a great one.