Share this article

print logo

100 Things Every Western New Yorker Should Do Once: Christmas shop on Elmwood Avenue

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style...” A Western New Yorker, Ray Evans, wrote those lyrics. Surely Elmwood Avenue inspired him.

Where else would you find:

• Glass ornaments from Seattle, guaranteed to include ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980?

• A soy candle called “Hombre”?

• Buffalo dog collars?

• A giant rosary, each Hail Mary bead several inches wide?

• A T-shirt reading: “Scared Straight By Father Baker”?

The Elmwood Village, with its painted lady Victorians and whimsical gift shops, is Buffalo’s Haight Ashbury. The Elmwood Strip, which stretches from Allen Street to Forest Avenue, has a unique frivolity that can turn Christmas shopping from an onerous errand into a blast.

Two of us from The News headed there on a balmy December day. We were seeking that “Silver Bells” spirit. We found it. We also found, of course, a lot of other stuff. But isn’t that the point?

Half and Half Trading Co. and Everything Elmwood, two venerable outposts, happily looked just as they had when we were in college. Hats, fine scarves, candles, soaps and beautiful soft clothes were right where we remembered other items of their ilk. At Half and Half, hippie music played. At Everything Elmwood a curtain of Christmas ornaments included tiny boots, whiskey bottles and wedges of Romano cheese. What fun to watch the chic staff expertly wrapping presents, unfurling ribbons from a rainbow of spools to the tune of a rocking “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

At Elmwood Pet Supplies, we entered through a Grand Canyon of dog toys. A big, gentle dog named Beau padded forward to greet us. Here is where you find the Buffalo – and Buffalo Bills – dog collars. They make great gifts for expats, we hear. Time-honored Poster Art also offered gifts for the Buffalophile. Here we found posters of the Statler, big photos of old Buffalo, and T-shirts including that Father Baker number.

“Buffalonians are crazy about Buffalo things,” pointed out proprietor Mark Corsi.

Life slowed down at Thin Ice, a lovely gift shop. (“If you’re going to walk on thin ice, you may as well dance,” a banner read.) An orange tabby named Simon napped in a cardboard box. Children shyly petted him. “Silent Night” played. We feasted our eyes on jewelry, local pottery and those volcanic Seattle glass ornaments.

Candles by Christina debuted last year but already had that hip Elmwood vibe, with a quote by Gandhi in the window and, inside on a chalkboard, an idealistic quote from Christina, who owns the place with her husband. Christina makes the candles herself – which include the aforementioned spicy “Hombre” – right on site. They are 100 percent soy.

At El Buen Amigo, a longtime Elmwood mainstay, we perused brightly painted crucifixes, a dizzyingly complex Mayan calendar and, you guessed it, that gigantic rosary. Owner Santiago Masferrer called me Maria. He explained in his thick accent: “I am not here to make money. If I wanted to make money I would live in China.”

That’s the kind of passion you encounter on Elmwood. Sales folks don’t jump on you. You are free to browse in peace. But that Buffalo spirit kicks in, and before you know it, you’re gabbing. And the day flies. Especially if you pack more into it than just shopping. Pause to try a local beer, grab a snack, get your hair cut.

New to the strip? Look for free leaflets with info and a map. A free shuttle runs on Saturdays through Dec. 19. A shuttle runs other days too. It’s not free, but it’s cheap. It’s called the No. 20 Metro Bus.

“City street lights, even stop lights, flash a bright red and green, as the shoppers rush home with their treasures...” Rushing home with your treasures, you’ll feel like a real Buffalonian.

You just have to figure out who needs that giant rosary.