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CLOSING SHOP AFTER 22 YEARS AT COUNTY HALL IS SAD TIME FOR BLIND VENDOR, LEGION OF FRIENDS

Pete Olszanski ends 22 years of work today as the caterer to thousands of government and court denizens.

Operator of the County Hall concession stand since 1976, Olszanski is moving to Coral Springs, Fla., Tuesday with his wife, Gerry, and their son, Pete Jr., 22, to reunite with most of their relocated Buffalo-based clan. Their daughter Jennifer Hill and her husband, Randy, live in Coral Springs.

Legally blind because of a birth defect, Olszanski, 49, who grew up in Riverside and moved to Grand Island 11 years ago, got his County Hall job through the state's Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Even with guaranteed jobs in his brother-in-law Emil Noe's movie industry advertising concern awaiting him and his wife in Coral Springs, Olszanski gets teary-eyed talking about closing shop here.

Noting daughter Melanie, 20, long a concession stand aide, will remain at County Hall in her new job with a local property title-search company, Olszanski said, "I'm going to miss everyone, because my whole social life is here, basically."

Honored by about 60 friends Tuesday at a dinner arranged by senior State Supreme Court clerks Karen Bolm and Nora Whalen, Olszanski said he had no favorite government or court officials through the years.

"I could schmooze with all of them and did," he said.

Olszanski said the masses of lunch-time customers he and his staff (family and some kids he and his wife will always consider family) have catered to on weekdays for more than two decades "eat like crazy" -- wolfing down sandwiches, "snacks galore" and plenty of potato chips.

Asked who has been his best customer, Olszanski said, "Nobody and everybody."

Ms. Bolm said they organized Tuesday's affair as a way of saying "goodbye to Pete and thanks for being our friend for all these years."

"He was always there with an aspirin when you had a headache," Ms. Whalen said.

"And he'd even cash checks for us," Ms. Bolm said.

"Pete watched an awful lot of us grow up," said Ms. Whalen.

Leigh E. Anderson, a former Buffalo Legal Aid lawyer working for the poor who is now a well-known Buffalo defense attorney, said Pete "has been part of the fabric of my day-to-day life in the courts" since she became a lawyer nearly two decades ago ago.

"He's been cheerful, positive and upbeat, with never an unkind word for my 19 years in the courts, and we will all miss him," Ms. Anderson said.

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