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Vidler’s popcorn machine is degunked and restored

It was a close call, but the iconic 10-cent popcorn machine at Vidler’s 5 & 10 is back.

The more than 50-year-old vending machine stopped working last week, and store owners weren’t sure if it could be repaired.

“Normally it’s something that we can fix. We know there are certain ways to prod it, pull it and poke stuff,” said Don Vidler, a third-generation co-owner. “We cleaned it and de-gunked it but we couldn’t get it going.”

The machine’s original maker, theater and concessions supplier Gold Medal products, said it had stopped carrying parts for the machine decades ago. The search for a vending machine repairman turned up few leads. Finally, the machine ended up at S-S Electric Repair shop on Seneca Street in Buffalo – a company that has been in business since 1930 itself.

Turns out it was a simple fix. All that was standing betweenVidler’s customers and their beloved popcorn was a malfunction in the machine’s coin drop. The machine was fixed and back on the sales floor by Tuesday afternoon with a new lease on life.

The old fashioned popcorn machine is a nostalgic fixture at five and dime store. It’s a fond tradition for many visitors, who often get their popcorn as soon as they enter, then spend their trip through the store snacking.

In order to use the vending machine, customers put a paper bag over a chute, insert a dime and turn the crank. The machine whirrs and pre-popped popcorn blows into the bag.

“When we posted about it on Facebook, lots of people laughed and said, ‘Oh, no, what are we going to do? It’s a crisis,” Vidler said. “But then others were like, ‘No seriously, What are you going to do? When is it coming back?’ ”

Vidler’s goes to great lengths to preserve the original features of the store that give customers that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Sandy, its coin-operated mechanical horse, is 54 years old and – like the popcorn machine – original to the store. Because of mechanical issues, it rides more like a bucking bronco than a pony these days. But it’s still going strong.

To keep it that way, Vidler’s has a 94-year-old craftsman they call Sandy’s farrier who comes in to take care of Sandy’s saddle, stirrups and other features. Sandy bears a sign asking riders to be gentle and letting them know that people older than 9 are not allowed to ride. (You’d be surprised how many grown-ups want to climb aboard for a selfie.)

Surprisingly, one of the store’s oldest machines is in better shape than both Sandy and the popcorn machine: The penny weight and fortune machine, trademarked in 1916, is still running like a dream – even if the fortunes are slightly dated.

For just a penny, you’ll receive your weight, which customers say is astonishingly accurate. You’ll also receive your fortune, which may show a picture of your future husband wearing a fedora and smoking a pipe, or say that your future wife will be a blonde “pippin,” which is 1930s slang for “hottie.”

So, at least for now, all of Vidler’s best loved machines are in good repair. Customers were happy to hear they can still get popcorn on their next visit, but perhaps the one most relieved to have the popcorn machine back in action is Vidler himself.

“It’s a definite business indicator,” he said. “We can always tell how busy we are by how much popcorn we’re sweeping up off the floor at the end of the day.”

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

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