James Costa Sr., who made a living selling foot-and-a-half-long hot dogs for a dime during the Great Depression and assisting on movie sets in Hollywood, died at his home in Lancaster on Saturday. He was 99 and six weeks away from his 100th birthday.
Mr. Costa, who opened a number of local restaurants called Jimmy's Lunch in the 1940s, was remarkable for his energy, entrepreneurship and exacting memory, said his son, James Jr. A few years ago, at 97, he climbed the roof to help his son with a repair job.
"He was just an amazing kind of guy," said his son, a retired West Seneca high school English teacher. "He even washed my sister's floors. Her knees were bad. He loved being busy. He hated sitting still."
A Buffalo native, Mr. Costa briefly moved his family to Los Angeles three times in the 1940s. There, by recommendation of a fellow boarding house boarder, he got work at Monogram Pictures and MGM Studios. When the Anthony Quinn movie "Black Gold" was being shot, Mr. Costa's son was thrilled to go watch.
"Then we looked up to them like they were gods," Costa Jr. said of the movie stars.
Eventually, in about 1950, after the family had moved back to Buffalo, Mr. Costa got a union job as a steamfitter with regular paychecks, which pleased his wife. Throughout his steamfitting career, which led to work in Bolivia, Columbia and Rome, he continued with entrepreneurial businesses. This included pinball and jukebox distribution, real estate sales and half ownership of Cheektowaga Taxi company.
He was married to his childhood sweetheart, Vivian Arcuri, for 59 years. After she died in 1990, he moved in with his daughter, Rosemarie Caito.
He loved 1940s music, playing the ukelele, oil painting, cutting the grass and bushes, and carpentry, recently building an 80-foot fence.
In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Lucille Kramer.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 5337 Genesee St., Bowmansville.