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THERE'S LITTLE CHEER AT JIMMY'S, WHERE DEMOLITION LOOMS

THE CUSTOMERS at Jimmy's refer to it as "Cheers" without the beers.

Suzy, the manager/short-order cook, started out as a waitress there when she was 14.

Suzy's mom, Lu, a waitress with a sympathetic ear and friendly smile, recently married one of her customers.

John Jr., the co-owner and managing partner, sounds as much like a businessman as a restaurateur.

And John Sr., the owner's dad, is a retired-construction-worker-turned-soup-maker.

And, of course, there are the customers, an eclectic group of regulars who include the occasional banker, lawyer and judge, but who are mostly older men, including Sam and Ken, who prefer eating together to eating alone.

"This place is like home," says Sam Picone, a longtime customer, who says he lives up the road and stops by daily to "drink coffee, eat, see the boys and chit-chat."

"I'm here two to three times a day, for coffee and breakfast," adds Ken Smalley, 81, of Cheektowaga.

These are the characters at Jimmy's, a cozy diner that just happens to be located on an enormously popular intersection, where Amherst and Cheektowaga meet, and where Rite Aid wants to build a drugstore.

"It's like Cheers of Amherst," says manager/cook Suzy Gortzig, as she's preparing one of the morning breakfast specials at the grill. "It's a social outlet. After anything big in the world happens, you have to come here for a discussion. This Clinton-Monica thing, we had our own soap box."

"And after a football game," adds Lu Ess, who has spent the last 18 years serving Jimmy's customers as they sit around the counter at one of the 21 red-leather-topped stools.

One morning this week, the topic was Rite Aid's plan to buy Jimmy's, knock it down and replace it with a drugstore on Harlem Road at Kensington Avenue and Wehrle Drive.

One man, who didn't want to be identified, is signing a petition opposing the Rite Aid plan, as he mutters something about how he won't let Jimmy's close.

"Did you try my wife's cooking," he asks out loud, while contemplating the idea that Suzy the manager may no longer be making his breakfasts.

Another man, who also doesn't want his name used, is seething. "Just what we need, a drugstore," he says sarcastically, noting that there's a Walgreens across from Jimmy's and a CVS pharmacy less than a block away on Kensington Avenue. He gets more irritated as he points to a third area drugstore, a Rite Aid just up Harlem Road, that would close if the Town of Amherst lets the new one open up.

John Felgemacher Jr., co-owner of Jimmy's, says that he understands how his customers feel and that he considered buying the building from his partners. But, he says, the bank won't issue a mortgage unless he first spends an inordinate amount of money removing underground gas tanks left over from when a gas station was at the site.

Besides, he says, the proposed Rite Aid will be more attractive than some of the dilapidated buildings slated to be torn down if the project is approved.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo businessmen who own the restaurant building -- Richard K. Teschner and Donald J. Reeves, the other co-owner of Jimmy's -- understand the sentimentality surrounding the diner but view the sale as a business decision.

"We appreciate their patronage," Teschner says of the customers, "but there are not enough of them to keep the restaurant operating at a level it would need to be operating at, to keep it going and thriving and growing, the way an investment like that should."

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