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Expatriates savoring annual influx

Last week’s historic snowstorm was a major topic of conversation Wednesday night among the thousands of Buffalo expatriates who make their annual sojourn here for Thanksgiving to visit friends and family who this year lived through “Snowvember.”

“Everyone who knows I’m from Buffalo was asking me, ‘Oh, how are all your friends and family up there? I hope everything’s OK,’ ” said Grand Island native Chris Stessing, a systems engineer in Washington, D.C. “When I told them I was coming back here they said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘It’s the only place I want to be.’ ”

Stessing, 22, was joined by his brother, friend and cousin at the Iron Works bar in downtown Buffalo’s Cobblestone District, which was especially bustling before the Sabres game on the night before Thanksgiving.

It’s typically thought of as the busiest party night of the year.

And nearby at the Cobblestone Bar & Grill, owner Marisa Proietta-Milbrand had to jump in and assist with food preparation at the pizza oven.

“It’s always a very fun and festive crowd,” she said during a quick break. “We’ll probably be a lot busier after (the game) because of a lot of people coming into town; high school buddies will be meeting up with each other.”

The Blake brothers – Chris, Brian and Nick – were having a dinner of pizza and wings at Cobblestone before taking their father, Jim, to the game for his birthday. Chris, a 25-year-old information technology salesman in Pittsburgh, had arrived early Wednesday morning.

“I like to have all my kids home and I wish his job was back here, but it’s not,” said Jim Blake. “It’s a great day any time I have all my kids home.”

Hamburg native Chris Blake followed the storm updates closely from Pittsburgh.

“It looked out of this world,” he said. “I was watching it on the Weather Channel. It was national news. I was texting my buddies. It looked rough.”

At the bar, Dan Brown of New York City spoke proudly of his mom, a nurse who weathered the storm at Buffalo General Medical Center.

“She was giving me updates from the hospital,” said Brown, 28, a Lancaster native. “She was working for 36 hours straight.”

Besides Wednesday night’s Sabres game, he was also planning to attend Sunday’s Bills game.

“It’s always good to see all my friends that still live in the area and others in from out of town,” said Brown, who was joined by his brother, Mike, and friend Tim.

“We have a big Thanksgiving at my house, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Expatriates were also admiring – and flocking to – HarborCenter, home of Buffalo’s hottest new bar, (716) Food and Sport.

Jessica Mueller, an operations director for a large nonprofit organization in D.C., waited in line for an hour with her husband and their friends.

“It’s just amazing to see the renaissance of the city,” said Mueller, 29, a Sweet Home High School graduate. “It’s such a cool time to be here.”

She said she was particularly impressed by Buffalo’s burgeoning craft beer industry and new breweries.

“That’s one thing that’s really vibrant and strong in D.C. and so it’s cool to come back home to Buffalo and see it hugely surging here,” she said.

She and her husband, Jackson, a Connecticut native, drove here overnight, arriving at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to avoid the Nor’easter threatening the East Coast. Mueller is also planning to attend Saturday’s World Largest Disco at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center with her best friend from childhood.

“I just have a lot of hometown pride being from here,” she said. “A lot of scar tissue, too – but it builds character. I love telling people I’m from Buffalo and telling them about what’s happening here. It’s just really exciting times.”