Sites we remember from downtown shopping’s glory days through the years

       By Steve Cichon

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.

AM&A’s around 1910. This original AM&A’s location was torn down to make way for the Main Place Mall in the early 1960s.

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.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Before credit cards, you shopped with Charga-Plate

By Steve Cichon

In the days before Mastercard and Visa, there was the Charga-Plate – a little metal card with your name and address that in Buffalo, was good at all the downtown merchants.

The Charga-Plate was the credit card of its time, eventually accepted at most of Buffalo’s downtown merchants, until the individual store credit card became more popular in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

The Charga-Plate was introduced to the Buffalo market in 1936, as reported in the Courier-Express.

“J. N. Adam & Company and the Wm. Hengerer Company will begin operation of a new credit system on Wednesday. The plan, known as the charga-plate system, is designed to save delay and to protect the charge customer from fraud.

“The charga-plate is made of metal about the size of a calling card. On one side is embossed the owners name and address, and the number of his account, on the other is a specially treated card on which his signature is affixed indelibly. An addressing machine prints the information in triplicate upon the sales slip signed by the customer when a purchase is made. The former delay thus is avoided, and the name is not spoken, thus preventing anyone overhearing it and using it to charge purchases fraudulently.

J. N. Adam Charga-Plate ad, 1936

While today not knowing whether to insert or swipe or which button to hit for credit can leave you feeling a bit befuddled at the checkout, there was a time when the idea of a credit card was completely foreign.

The Binghamton Press carried an article explicitly outlining the process of using a Charga-Plate to check out.

“Each plate is a thin metal tag, resembling a military ‘dogtag,’ on which the customer’s name, address and account number have been embossed.

“On the reverse side of the plate is a card insert for the customer’s signature. A red leather carrying case is provided for convenience in spotting the Charga-Plate in handbag or purse.

“After the customer selects her purchases, the clerk lists the articles and their prices on a sales slip. Space at the top of the slip reserved for the customer’s name and address is left blank. The customer then is asked to sign her name.

“Then, the customer is asked for her Charga-Plate. The clerk places the plate, embossed side upward, on a small, hand-operated device called an addresser, slips the top of the charge slip over the plate and presses the handle down.

“When the handle is lifted, out comes the slip clearly imprinted with the customer’s name, address and account number.

“The clerk then hands the plate with its little leather case back to the customer, and another charge sale has been made.

“Customers, the stores urge, should carry their Charga-Plates at all times unless they want to go through the old time-consuming routine.”

By 1963, stores like Hens & Kelly and AM&A’s began offering their own credit cards, and it was only a matter of time. By the end of the 1960s, the era of Charga-Plate shopping had ended in downtown Buffalo, even though many clerks at some of Buffalo’s finer department stores were still calling your debit card a “charge plate” well into the ’90s.

Back to School 1960: Where girls were shopping

By Steve Cichon

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.

Goldin’s at Broadway-Fillmore and Thruway Plaza, featured “The Goldin Twins” and S&H Green Stamps in this 1960 ad. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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.

Hengerer’s, 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Girls were looking for dresses and skirts as they found new school clothes 55 years ago; most schools banned girls from wearing slacks.

Kobacker’s, 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Goldin’s, Morrisons and Oppenheim Collins all catered to women and girls.

Morrison’s, Main Street downtown, Broadway/Fillmore, and North Tonawanda. 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Hengerer’s, Kobacher’s, Neisner’s, Sattler’s and the Sample sold men’s and women’s fashions.

Neisner’s. Main Street Downtown, Broadway near Fillmore, and Bailey Avenue. 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Oppenheim Collins: Main at Huron, Thruway Plaza. 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Sattler’s, 998 Broadway, 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Sample. Hertel Avenue, Walden Avenue, Seneca Street, Lockport. 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Ulbrich’s. 386 Main, 17 W. Chippewa, University Plaza, Sheridan Plaza, Southgate Plaza, Thruway Plaza, Hamburg. 1960. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo in the 50s: On sale at Edwards downtown– your grandparents’ porch furniture

By Steve Cichon

If you spent time on a Buffalo porch or patio anytime from the 1950s through the 1980s, chances are pretty good at least one or two of these summer furniture pieces from Edwards’ downtown store look familiar.

The metal chairs, especially, seemed to last forever. Many still survive in the backs of garages even after being replaced by plastic resin Adirondack chairs.

Buffalo’s downtown merchants group branches out to the ‘burbs

By Steve Cichon

Thirty-five years ago this week, 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.

The Downtown Retail Merchants Association was a driving force in getting shoppers downtown, making sure they stayed there and making sure they shopped in multiple stores.

In 1978, the group’s name was changed to the Western New York Retail Merchants Association, with the focus changed from keeping shoppers downtown — which was looking more and more like a lost cause in the late ’70s — to making sure that people continued to shop throughout Western New York.