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.
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.
Think of a joyful weekend ride down a beautiful little country road.
Now think of a weekend ride down Transit Road.
Driving it today, you might be overwhelmed by the feeling of modern American sprawl, but the road itself was etched into the landscape more than 200 years ago.
Work began in 1799, cutting through the wilderness to create a route from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. The route was very close to one traveled by Native Americans from a time before recorded history, but construction followed one of the guidelines on the original Holland Land Co. survey of the area. The “Transit Meridian Line, due north,” which was nothing but an imaginary line on a map, evolved into today’s artery that runs through the center of southern Niagara and northern Erie counties.
The old Iroquois route was well established at what is now Transit and Main, and both the surveying and the road building started off from that spot. It’s been an important intersection for hundreds of years, long before our struggles to get into the proper lane for turning into Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Nature that wasn’t a much of a concern to the native peoples was soon being tamed by European settlers. Fisherman liked the speckled trout they could pull from the Tonawanda Creek, but they didn’t like the rattlesnakes, bears and wolves.
Taming nature also meant development. It was at the junction of the Erie Canal and the Transit Road where Lockport grew in the 1820s.
A few years later and little further south, Catholic missionaries founded “the Parish of the transit” in the wilderness of what is now northern Erie County.
In the 1840s, Adam Schworm built and home and a store near that church, and that part of Transit has been known as “Swormville” or “Swormsville” (depending on who you ask) ever since.
Another boon to the development of Transit Road came in 1893 with the New York Central Railroad’s decision to build 100 acres’ worth of rail sheds and locomotive shops in what would eventually become the Village of Depew.
Land speculators started gobbling up land near Transit Road. “At least 25,000 people will soon inhabit the new City of Depew,” says the 1893 ad for the Depew Transit Road Land Co., “and they will keep on coming.”
In the earliest days of the automobile and “the Sunday drive,” Transit Road was the strip of road where Buffalonians would drive to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, although even 99 years ago, a writer in The Buffalo Times admonished drivers for not taking it all in.
“The mad motorist will fail to appreciate the continual exhibition of pastoral life led by the farmers along (Transit Road) and will have no eye for the alluring country detail — the superb trees and verdure, nor sense the perfume from the hay field, flowers and sweet grasses.”
Once motoring enthusiasts started driving along Transit Road, farmers started making room for people trying to make a buck on those Sunday drivers.
Public houses, hotels and taverns sprang up with increasing frequency around the intersection of Main Street and Transit Road.
As the early days of the automobile moved into postwar suburban expansion, Main and Transit once again was an early spot for reflective development, culminating with the construction of the Eastern Hills Mall starting in 1969.
Hopefully all this gives you something to ponder the next time a Saturday afternoon Transit Road drive from Genesee Street to Maple Road takes 22 minutes.
If you eschew the k-cup– you are a soldier in the generations-long war over how coffee should be brewed in your home.
In 2014, Keurig sold 9 billion k-cups. That’s enough little white pods to circle the Earth more than 10 times.
While millions of Americans have given in to the convenience of the Keurig coffee maker, millions of others steadfastly refuse to entertain the notion of having the device in their homes.
Notwithstanding any recent political strife, “The coffee doesn’t taste as good” and “the little cups are just too expensive” are among the common arguments against the Keurig. These folks, it’s understood, are happy with the good ol’ automatic drip machine they’ve had for generations.
It’s a same-as-it-ever-was argument that seems to happen once a generation lately.
It was only 40 years ago when old line caffeine addicts were fighting the original home automatic machine, Mr. Coffee.
“Coffee tastes better in a percolator,” you’d hear people say, who’d also complain about the cost of the machine, as well as the extras, like filters.
But even among the fans of percolated coffee, there were those who couldn’t imagine the extravagance of an electric percolator in their kitchen. Their stove top model worked just fine, thank you.
These days, a good Keurig machine can be had for about $100. In this 1975 AM&A’s ad, the Mr. Coffee brewer is on sale for $29.99. The regular price of $39.99 is about $177 in 2017 dollars, according to a federal government inflation calculator.
Over the last 40 years, what was luxurious has become common place.
Today, the thought driving to the corner of Main and Transit might conjure up thoughts of sprawl for as far as the eye can see married with seemingly endless traffic. Sixty years ago that same view — as seen in the Transitown Plaza parking lot here — was more like the summit of suburban living and all the newness that Buffalo had to offer.
Buffalo News archives
This late ’50s H&K photo (above) is from the same time period as this ad (below) announcing Hens & Kelly’s 67thanniversary (and subsequent sale.)
Matthias Hens and Patrick Kelly opened Hens & Kelly in downtown Buffalo in 1892. The store remained in local hands until the late 1960s, when it was bought by Sperry & Hutchinson, the S&H Green Stamps people.
The original downtown location is now known as “The Mohawk Building.” The Transitown Plaza location is now home to TJ Maxx. When the Abbott Road location opened in 1951, Lackawanna’s LB Smith Plaza was the largest shopping plaza in Western New York. Today, it is anchored by Save-A-Lot. The Bailey Avenue location was next to the Kensington Expressway.
In the 1970s, the chain was purchased by Twin Fair. All Hens & Kelly location closed their doors when Twin Fair disappeared in 1982.
After agreeing to give a lecture at Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery about some of the city’s great retailers of the past, I was deluged with people offering up their memories, and thirsty for the memories of the stores of Buffalo’s grand old stores.