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Family fun lets loose on First Night Activities allow youngsters to show their adults how to have a good time welcoming the new year

The air was chilly, the ground wet, but that didn't dampen the spirits of New Year's Eve revelers in downtown Buffalo Saturday night.

"Do we look like we're having fun?" squealed Marilyn Stidek, 52, of South Dayton.

Stidek and her husband, Jeff Furash, rented hotel rooms with their best friends, Lynne and George Montague of Forestville.

The couples -- decked in party hats that glittered -- started visiting restaurants at 4:30 p.m. to party the night away, reaching a climax with the ball drop at midnight in Roosevelt Square.

"This is the first year I haven't worked New Year's Eve in 15 years, so we're out doing it up," said Furash, a small business owner.

Thousands of people bundled in warm coats, many holding cups of coffee and hot chocolate, poured out of the Buffalo Convention Center and eateries as midnight approached.
Vendors hawked noisemakers, glow-in-the-dark toys and 2006 specs.
Daphne Wright, 43, who recently moved to Buffalo from Brooklyn, compared the mood to past Time Square visits on Dec. 31.

"It's smaller, but it's of good spirit out here," Wright said. "I like the vibe."

Earlier in the evening, the Convention Center was alive with the sights and sounds of a carnival as the 17th annual First Night Buffalo opened with amusements and diversions geared to those whose bedtimes generally come well before midnight.

Judging by the long lines for laser tag, the smiles of little girls on a merry-go-round and the looks of awe at a magician's slight-of-hand, there was no cooler place to be for the under-16 set -- and for many of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who brought them.

"We'd rather do this, spend time with the kids," Carol Dell said as she and her husband, Paul, watched their sons, Liam, 3, and Nate, 5.

"You're asking for trouble if you're out there late tonight," added Paul Dell.

Laser tag was the draw for many, including 12-year-old Mac Szakacz.

"That's how we got him out here," said Mac's aunt, Irene Rozmus of Buffalo, who said she had been coming to the First Night Celebrations with Mac since he was "a little boy."

Rozmus and her mother, Pat, had their hands full escorting six of Pat's grandchildren: Mac, his 9-year-old sister Tessa and four younger cousins, Evan and Emily Harder and twins Sierra and Sydney Olszowy.

Laser tag allowed Mark Selvaggio's two daughters, Francesca and Jacquie, the chance to fire away at their dad; son Justin insisted he took it easy on the old man.

Selvaggio said he liked having the First Night fun back downtown.

For the previous five years, events were held at several venues in the Museum District.

"Down there, there was a lot of hustle and bustle because you had to go on the bus," he said. "Here, it's all in one place."

Curtis Johnson said his four daughters, Sarah, Susan, Cassandra and Lily, were having a blast in a bounce house.

"They really like it," he said. "They're bouncing around like it was Christmas Eve."

Hypnotists, magicians and dueling piano players entertained downstairs as the Convention Center's wide-open second floor came to resemble a smaller version of the Erie County Fair.

Several bounce houses seemed to be jammed with kids at all times.

There was a merry-go-round for the young ones and a spinning carnival ride for the older ones.

Two slides, which stretched up to the ceiling, also proved popular, especially with 3-year-old C.J. Cswaykus, who made the long trip down one of them sitting between the legs of his dad, Fred.

It was their first trip to First Night. "We heard some pretty good things about it, so we thought we'd give it a shot," Fred Cswaykus said.

Traditional midway foods like funnel cakes and cotton candy added to the carnival atmosphere.

"It's the aroma; it calls you," said Kim Slosman as she muched on a sugar-coated funnel cake while her 5-year-old daughter, Katherine, picked at a bag of pink cotton candy.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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