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Shorts signal survival of fashion's fittest

It's like seeing the first songbird of spring perched on a snowbank -- you're happy to see this harbinger of warmth, but sheesh, aren't his legs cold?

Like hardy songbirds, some Western New Yorkers pride themselves on wearing shorts in winter. And whether they bare their knees as a sign of personal toughness or civic pride, this has been a prime year for spotting them.

Newell Nussbaumer says he steps into shorts in cold weather "occasionally, but not as much as I used to. It's a Buffalo thing, to be the last person still wearing shorts in the winter."

Nussbaumer operated Thunder Bay on Elmwood Avenue for 12 years, and says, "If anybody walked into my store with shorts on in the winter, I always said, 'All right! Fantastic!' I think it's a sign that for people around here, winter is no big deal."
Even though the area has seen a bit more wintry weather this month, the balmiest January since 1950 had people dressing lightly.

You might see Randy Leising of Williamsville doing errands in shorts on a cold day, he says. But for him, it's more internal temperature than what's going on outside. Leising, who is director of research and development at Greatbatch Inc. and runs recreationally, says, "Even though it's winter, after I'm done running, I'm warm. So I'll take a shower and put shorts on, because that's what's comfortable. And then if I have to go out, I go like that."

When he goes out wearing shorts in the winter, "People might think you look a little strange, but . . ." and he laughs.

Leising says he added shorts to his winter wardrobe after he and his wife, Mary Ellen, returned here from Minneapolis, where he had done post-doctoral studies. "It gets so cold there that once the temperature rises into the 30s, people walk around in shorts. After experiencing the minus-20, minus-30 weather there, where it's so cold that you can't even go outside, and you have to plug your car in, in 30-degree weather here, I wear shorts."

Dave Schueckler, co-owner of the Treehouse toy shop on Elmwood Avenue, is another confirmed winter shorts-wearer. In fact, Nussbaumer, co-founder of the Web site, says Schueckler "is definitely a rock star when it comes to donning the shorts in the winter time."

"It's not that I'm anti-pants, but shorts just conjure up warmer memories," says Schueckler. "I have to wear shorts at least until Thanksgiving, and it's always a bonus if I get to put the Christmas lights up in shorts, because then I call my friend in North Carolina and say, 'Hey, how's the weather down there? I just put up the Christmas lights in shorts!' I say, 'We don't get hurricanes, forest fires, mudslides, dust storms -- we just get a little snow, and we can take it!' "

Schueckler says a heavy accumulation of snow might curtail his shorts-wearing, but he'll wear them for any peek at the sun or peak in temperatures. "If it's 10 degrees out and sunny, I'm in shorts. If it's spring and 30 degrees, I'm wearing shorts."

It's interesting that a lengthy informal search failed to turn up even any reports of local women wearing shorts in the winter. Blame that on the skirt, which many working women are required to wear year-round. A trudge to a bus stop with nothing protecting your legs from the howling wind but whisper-thin pantyhose might extinguish the urge to further bare your extremities.

In fact, Leising says his older daughters, Rebecca, 13, and Erin, 11, sometimes ask him, "Why are you wearing shorts, aren't you cold?" But in an interesting twist, he says, "when my son Robert [who is 9] walks around without a shirt on in the winter, I say the same thing to him." (The younger Leisings -- Allison, 5; Benjamin, 3; and Jacob, 17 months -- don't have strong opinions about proper winter clothing yet.)

In the Village Glen's Resolution race on New Year's Day, Leising says, "You'll see people in shorts, and that doesn't bother me, but when they're in shorts and just a T-shirt, I think, 'You've got to be cold!' "


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