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WESTERN NEW YORKERS PARTY THE YEAR AWAY IN HIGH STYLE

Partygoers ventured into the crisp night Friday to ring in 2000 at house parties, New Year's Eve bashes, concerts, family gatherings and local taverns.

Buffalo police, who were out in force on the downtown streets, estimated more than 15,000 people crowded around the downtown Electric Building to watch the ball drop at midnight.

There was no talking about computer glitches or society going awry, just jubilant dancing and hugging before a backdrop of fireworks and rock music.

"This is fantastic," said Tom Boyd of West Seneca, who was holding his 5-year-old son, Zachary. "They spent a lot of time and a lot of preparation getting this done. They did a marvelous job."

"Not bad," said Tricia Snyder of West Seneca. "This is my first time here. It's not so cold as it usually is."

Indeed, some people didn't even bother to wear hats or gloves.

This wasn't a New Year's Eve of the past, when just a dinner and a movie would do.

With a new millennium at stake, many people kicked up their celebrations a notch.

Marcia White of Williamsville made her statement in fashion. Wearing a black sequined dress, she headed to the formal Kootsie Ball at the Connecticut Street Armory.

"It's a special event," White said of New Year's Eve 2000, "so we wanted to do something."

"Someday, someone will ask where I was when the millennium occurred," said her date, Gale Engersol of Blasdell.

"We wanted to say, somewhere other than home," White shouted over the loud swing music that filled the street.

Those sentiments were echoed throughout the night -- at the Kootsie Ball, at bars on Chippewa Street and at First Night activities in the Buffalo Convention Center, where Eric Saenger and his wife, Valerie Vullo, shared New Year's with their two children.

It was the Clarence family's first time at the annual drug- and alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration.

The convention center was filled with rides for children and events for the family.

It was one of the largest First Nights, with about 28 venues offering revelers everything from music and comedy acts to theater, event organizers said.

"We don't usually go out," Vullo said, "but we wanted to do something special that's family-oriented. We thought it would be great fun for the kids."

Of course, New Year's Eve wasn't alcohol-free for everyone.

"We're just going bar-hopping," Brian Kilianski of Williamsville said as he headed into one of the Chippewa bars with friends Evan Feldman of Amherst and Scott Hartman of Clarence.

"Actually, I'm tired of hearing about ringing in the new millennium," Hartman said. "Let's just get it over with."

More than 1,800 attended the Kootsie Ball, a tradition that dates to 1976, said party founder Bill Rupp.

Guests spent $65 to $100 a ticket to ring in the new year in style and drink $7 martinis and $4 glasses of wine. Revelers watched a big screen overhead.

There were waiters in black ties and crisp white shirts, men in tuxedos and women in long gowns. There also were those creative types like Patrick Quinlivan of Williamsville, who wore a black tie and plaid kilt.

"I'm Irish," Quinlivan said simply.

Normally, on New Year's Eve, Alexis Mierzwa of Getzville might be home asleep before midnight. But she decided to attend the Kootsie Ball for something different to ring in 2000.

"I wanted to get dressed up," she said.

"You've got to ring in the New Year with something special," added her friend Crista Stoklosa.

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