Is this the real world, or have you stepped into a Christmas card?
Well may you ask yourself that, standing in awe outside Vidler's Five and Ten, the legendary East Aurora five-and-dime. The sprawling store, founded in 1930, stands on a quaint main street, across from another storied stop on our 100 Things tour, the Aurora Theatre.
[Gallery: Vidler's Five and Ten]
Snowflakes are falling, if you're lucky. And to complete the picture, we ran into two shoppers emerging from the store. They were Lynn Perry and Vicki Roberts, both of Niagara Falls. They were brandishing Vidler's bags in triumph.
One of them displayed a snowman pizza cutter.
"I had to have it, and it was the last one," she said.
The other pulled out a piece of jewelry. "See this? It holds your scarf in place."
She paused, contemplating the bounty of Vidler's. "I said if we went out the door and in again, it would be a totally different store."
Walk into Vidler's, and the world swirls around you.
A wall of obscure pop. A wall of jigsaw puzzles. Lite Brites. Spirographs. Live Sea-Monkeys. The World's Most Comfortable Pencil. Rolls to hold nickels and dimes. Cheapie stamp albums. Flasks reading "Girlfriends are Therapists You Can Drink With." Monopoly games of every description. Dominoes. Dream catchers. Daniel Boone hats. South American handbags. Sealing wax.
Pokémon posters. Bins of wallets and pocketbooks. Curlers. Peeps. Cookies and carrot cake. Garden gnomes. Biker gnomes. A carousel of bedroom slippers. Paper dolls of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, all in a row. Tee hee! On the first page of the Trump book, the president-elect wears shorts and a T-shirt reading "The Wharton School of Finance."
[Related: Last week's 100 Things on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra]
Vidler's has grown organically over the years. Cross a threshold, and you find yourself in the land of candles and soaps. Downstairs is the textile department, with a thousand hues of yarn and miles of bolts of fabrics. The kitchen department had every gadget imaginable. A miniature Lodge skillet. A Stock Sock, for making soup. Cookbooks. Sprinkles. Hundreds of cookie cutters.
On weekends, the store's age-old player piano might kick in. Otherwise, there's no PA system. All you hear is the creaking of the wooden floors. And the conversations.
"Santa comes in here, you know," we heard one clerk telling a little girl.
The girl said solemnly: "He comes down the fireplace."
The two most common words heard in Vidler's are not "Merry Christmas," though we heard that often. They are "Excuse me." The aisles are narrow, and incredibly, the place offers shopping carts.
I settled for a basket, which soon grew heavy, with -- oh, let's see. Christmas tree light cookie molds. A cookie press. A doughnut pan. A math set with a protractor, ruler and compass. Coffee filters (I was out of them). A fountain pen. A sketchbook.
"Somewhere in here there has to be a night light," we heard one shopper say.
From a distant corner came a shout: "A yodeling pickle? Everyone needs a yodeling pickle."
Hours passed. Lots of customers break for lunch, then return to shop some more. I should have done that. Piously, I put back my doughnut pan -- only to replace it with a snowflake cookie mold.
I ran into Sharon, our photographer. She was trying to find just the right potato scrubber. Already in her basket was a big tin sign reading "Nobody Wants To Hear About Your Diet. Just Shut Up, Eat Your Lettuce and Be Sad."
At the checkout, confronted by every candy known to man, Sharon selected a Bun candy bar, maple flavor. I fed a dime into the half-century-old popcorn machine. Snacking, we both gazed at Sandy, the ancient mechanical horse. A mother paid a dime for her daughter to have a ride, but had to lift her off again.
"She has a horse at home she bounces around on," the mom apologized. "But this is wild."
Wild is the word for the whole Vidler's experience.
"It's more than shopping," said Beverly Vidler, the daughter of Ed Vidler (the "Vidler on the Roof," whose statue perches atop the store), and the granddaughter of store founder Robert S. Vidler Sr. "It's entertainment."
And it's part of a Western New York Christmas. Warm up the car, hitch up the sleigh, do whatever you have to do to get there.
Just be warned, if you see another snowman pizza cutter, it's mine.
Info: Vidler's Five and Ten, 676-694 Main St., East Aurora; 652-0481
Story topics: 100 things