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At Camillo's Sloan Super Market, Christmastime is the busy time

They started pulling in the driveway of Camillo's Sloan Super Market by 8:30 a.m., a half hour before the store opened, and began lining up outside the door 15 minutes later.

Inside, butchers had been working since 6 a.m., and the staff was getting ready for the crush of customers coming for the fresh meat the market is known for.

It's the same story at other independent butchers at Christmas: customers lined up from the cash register to the door, buying prime rib, sirloin and sausage for the holiday. They were happy for the most part, joking with strangers in line, hugging friends they had not seen in months.

"I think they come for the chaos. I think they love it," Sloan Super Market manager Ashlee Leo said. "They love how tight everyone is inside of the store. They love the interaction with the deli clerks and the cashiers."

And when they call "all hands on deck," there's a rush of adrenaline as the door opens for a steady stream of customers in a Christmas tradition of buying fresh meat at a corner market.

"What am I buying today? Roast beef," said Tracy Traufler of Cheektowaga, who was first in line Friday, waiting outside the Sloan Super Market on Reiman Street. "This gets crazy. You can't beat the prices."

Tom Raczysnki of Cheektowaga buys meat every year at the Sloan market.

"Everything is fresher. It's just tradition," he said.

Ready for customers at Camillo's Sloan Super Market: pork Florentine, which is filled with provolone, spinach and red peppers. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Dave Camillo bought the Sloan Super Market 20 years ago and now he and his son, Gaeton, run it. Tucked away from main thoroughfares, it sits on a corner in a residential part of the village, surrounded by houses.

"It was an IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) store. It was here for 30 years," he said. "I had the vision to do fresh meats and produce; that’s how I started. I bought the store, the inventory."

Then he ran the existing inventory down and started concentrating on meat — prime rib and Angus beef tenderloin, pork and chicken, lamb, fish and calamari, turkey and duck. There's also sausage, freshly made each day, with as many as 25 varieties in the summer.

"I started with five employees. I've got 30 now," Camillo said.

They all were hustling Friday, and by the end of business Saturday, they will have served more than 3,000 customers, including filling more than 800 advance orders. That includes 8,000 pounds of prime rib, 5,000 pounds beef tenderloin and 6,000 pounds Polish sausage.

Matt Bartel brings bone-in prime rib into the meat room for the butchers to cut. They purchased 15,000 pounds of prime rib for the holiday. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"It is organized chaos. It’s a well-oiled machine, and sometimes it feels really overwhelming, but anywhere, if you need help, someone goes there to help you pick up your slack," said manager Ashlee Leo.

Amy and Mike Slusser of Warsaw buy meat throughout the year from the market, but they stock up at Christmastime to personally deliver a Western New York care package to family in North Carolina.

"They don’t have anything like this down there," Amy Slusser said. "That’s what they prefer for Christmas gifts, is some good quality New York food."

That could include Miller's horseradish, Weber's mustard, Rooties Blue Cheese dressing, Anchor Bar wing sauce and other hometown favorites, also lining the shelves at the Sloan market and other local butcher shops.

Most customers are good-natured, but it was a long week for everyone.

"They're miserable from shopping somewhere else, and then they come here, so you kind of have to make their day," said deli clerk Christine Pyzikiewicz.

Everyone looked out for customers at the market, whether it's yelling a number at the meat counter, running to the cooler to pick up an order, or helping customers take their food to their car. Pete Scanio, a  retired Erie County Sheriff's deputy working security, held the door and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

"I just open doors, make people feel wanted and secure," Scanio said. "I've done a lot of things in my career. This is probably the most rewarding."

"We know nobody wants to stand in line and nobody wants to wait, especially for food. You've spent your whole month waiting at department stores and the mall, the last thing you want to do is come here and wait. So we do our best to be as quick and as efficient as we can," said Leo, the store manager.

The days leading up to Christmas can be 16 hours long, with butchers starting at 6 a.m. and staff working until 10 p.m. or later filling orders.

And what do the Camillos have for Christmas dinner?

"We're Italian, so we have lasagna,"  Gaeton Camillo said. "We'll have prime rib and lasagna."

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