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Discount Diva: Happy memories of bygone stores

In the 1940s, a teenaged Norma Unher worked at Siegel's Millinery on Main Street for 35 cents an hour. She and her friends would go to lunch at either MacDoel's or the Oppenheim Collins' Top of the Town restaurant.

"We would order shrimp salads, tasting shrimp for the first time and dreaming of it ever after," Unher wrote.

They always wore hats and gloves, dresses, sensible shoes and girdles to hold up their stockings. After lunch, they would hit L.L. Berger, Flint and Kent, J.N. Adams, AM&As, "and as many others before our stamina ran out." Sometimes, they would simply take in a movie.

"Now, at 88, I still get excited about having a shrimp salad," Unher said. "I only wear hats to keep warm or keep the sun away. I watch movies on Netflix or Amazon and shop mostly on the internet. I still go out to lunch with friends, walking with our canes or walkers. But I have happy memories of those days."

I recently wrote about long-gone stores I miss, and asked you to share your favorite retail memories. Boy, did you guys come through: I received hundreds of replies via email, Facebook and Twitter. It's amazing how dearly we hold our memories of shopping trips past. Readers spoke about now-defunct stores the way they might speak about old friends.

Annette Sansone of Cheektowaga fondly remembers buying wool Adler socks for $1 and Scholl's wooden sandals for $5 at Achter's on Chippewa Street in the 1950s. To this day, Cheektowaga resident Audrey Friedrich's favorite knife is a long, serrated one she bought at Pete & Larry's for $1.97.

Mark DePalma of Hamburg remembers Two Guys across from Walden Galleria (which was then a VFW Post), W.T. Grant's and Twin Fair (which became Gold Circle and is now HSBC). Across the street from Twin Fair was a drive-in theater, whose movies he tried to watch through binoculars from his home a mile away.

"For me as a kid, Walden Avenue was like Rodeo Drive," DePalma wrote.

Others recall S.S. Kresge, which later became Kmart; AM&As, which was sold to BonTon in 1995, and Hens and Kelly, which existed for 90 years but lives on in the minds of Western New York shoppers.

Here are some other retail memories readers cherish.

LL Bergers flourished and expanded locally before declaring bankruptcy and closing its doors in 1991. (Buffalo News file photo)

L.L. Berger

Bernadette Ruof of Williamsville said visiting L.L. Berger was like a trip to Manhattan. She remembers the nozzle in the store's facade that would emit "the classiest, most beautiful" fragrance as she walked by, enticing her to shop. Michelle Trimper from Town of Tonawanda thought Berger's was "New York City, Paris and Milan, all rolled into one beautifully magical store." Chris Taube, now of California, remembers trying on clothes for hours or just sitting in the ladies' lounge. Laurie Glieco of Amherst is still wearing a winter coat she bought at Berger's a year before the department store closed. The store's retail prices were high, she said, but "sales often made Berger's the most reasonable store in town."

Nothing beats West Seneca resident Cherie Messore's story. In 1970, her mom ordered one of the store's signature cotton, monogrammed blouses for her to wear with a navy blue skirt for her school's orchestra concert. Days before Christmas, she received word the blouse wouldn't be ready for the holiday.

"Lo and behold, on Christmas morning, Mr. Lou Berger himself pulled up to our house with a car full of deliveries and presented the beautifully wrapped box to my mother, thanking her for her patience and for being a good customer," she wrote.

The Wm. Hengerer Co. was founded in Buffalo in 1876 and merged with Rochester-based Sibley’s in 1981. (Buffalo News file photo)

The William Hengerer Co.

Diane Sterbak of Amherst misses the Hengerer's location at Main Street and Eggert Road.

"It was free standing. You either found what you wanted or you didn't. Then you got into your car and went home. No endless mall wandering until you forgot where you parked your car," she wrote.

She also loved the restaurant upstairs – always hoping for a window table – and still holds its chicken sandwich as her "standard measurement for excellence." She misses its lemon-filled, white layer cake with coconut frosting, too.

Twin Fair

Gayle and Cecil Davis of Clarence liked Twin Fair for its inexpensive groceries, toiletries and clothing back when the couple was first starting out. Tricia Hirschbeck of Kenmore remembers getting her school supplies at the Niagara Falls Boulevard location in the 1960s and bought her first fringe purse there with babysitting money. Paul Schrems of Canton remembers waiting for his dad, the manager, to "come down the long stairs from the office with the big window overlooking the sales floor."

Living in Warsaw and hearing the Twin Fair commercials on the radio, Becky Arcese of Depew never dreamed she would actually visit one.

"It was like Disney; I'd heard about it but never anticipated going," she wrote. "Then my dad, an Episcopal priest, got called to Trinity in Lancaster and bam! We were in the Promised Land."

Twin Fair eventually became Gold Circle, which has its fair share of admirers. But Arcese wasn't a fan. "Yuck. No air conditioning in the summer and they treated their employees like slaves," she wrote.

Twin Fair opened its first location on Walden Avenue in 1956. (Buffalo News file photo)

Some Gold Circle stores converted to the Hills banner.

"As soon as you smelled burnt popcorn and sauerkraut, you knew you were at Hills," wrote Ann Winter of Lewiston.

Winter's children made fun of her for buying cotton candy at Hills for 47 cents and bringing it with her to Darien Lake, where it cost more than $2. But she had the last laugh.

"The money I saved, I spent on Game Boy games at Media Play – another store from the past," she wrote.


Rochester-based Neisner's opened in 1911. Carol J. Russell of Amherst remembers walking there with cousins from her home on Buffalo's lower West Side in the late 1950s.

"We loved the lunch counter at Neisner's with its tall plastic glasses of lemonade, and grilled cheese sandwiches," Russell wrote. "We would shoot the paper straw covers at each other across the lunch counter."

They also bought Mother's and Father's Day gifts there and, of course, toys; saving their pennies "until we had enough to take our treasures home," she wrote.

Neisner's eventually created the Big N stores, an earlier version of today's big boxes, which were also a big hit with readers. Neisner's filed bankruptcy in 1977 and sold to Ames in 1978.


Who could forget Sattler's? Not J.S. from Grand Island, who remembers going downstairs for groceries. The groceries were put in the family's homemade shopping bags and loaded into the car. That was before the family headed to Kobacker's, Dixie's Hat Shop and Norban's, "where you tried clothes on in the aisles."

"If things went well, we got a custard cone and my mother would get her favorite bridge mix candy," J.S. wrote.

Brand Names

Judi Mietlicki of Cheektowaga still rides the stationary bike she bought at Brand Names more than 30 years ago. But she isn't the only fan in her family. When her nephew was young and she asked which Christmas carol was his favorite, he sang the company's Christmas jingle: "Bring Brand Names home for the holidays."

Brand Names was one of Janet Miles' favorites, too.

"You had the catalog to browse at your leisure at home, dog earring the pages of all your favorites and when you finally had enough money, you went to the store (mine was at the Southgate plaza), filled out your order form, slipped it into the box," said Miles, of Springville.

Vix Deep Discount and Pharmacy

A surprising number of readers waxed nostalgic about this Tops-owned pharmacy, including Suzanne Masterson from Town of Tonawanda.

"Vix was a discount drug store, but so much more than that," she wrote. "Some of the branches had a low-priced fine jewelry department. I purchased several beautiful things such as 14-karat gold bracelets and earrings."

Readers raved about Vix's beauty and cosmetics departments, as well as its bargain section. They loved the Freddy's drug stores, too, which Tops acquired in 1993 before selling both it and Vix in 1999.


Peg Johnson of West Seneca remembers walking Seneca Street with her family. Her favorite store was Fischmann's on the corner of Seneca and Buffum Streets. It had two levels – bargain bins on the first, where she got her first doll.

"Fischmann's had a soda stand right in the center of the store and, if we behaved, our mother would get us a soda to share, she wrote. "It came in a paper cup inside a silver stand with a straw and it was the highlight of the day. We sat on the revolving stools taking turns sipping our soda."

The Sample was founded on Hertel Avenue in 1928, (Buffalo News file photo)

The Sample shop

As a teenager with a summer job in 1964, Susan Nablo couldn't wait to shop at The Sample shop on Payne Avenue in North Tonawanda. It's where she bought her first London fog raincoat and got her first credit card. After she moved away, Sample was always her first stop on visits home.

"I would always head to the mecca, the mother lode on Hertel Avenue," she wrote. "Everything was well displayed and organized. It was truly my favorite."

Many readers also remember Sample as the only place to get Bastad Clogs outside of Canada.

F.W. Woolworth Co.

A reader who calls himself Hodge Elmwood fondly remembers the doughnuts at Woolworth's snack counter, particularly the ones covered with orange-flavored glaze and bits of orange.

Don Vidler, owner of Vidler's 5 and 10 in East Aurora is fascinated by the origins of Buffalo's Knox family, of Albright-Knox Art Gallery fame. Seymour Knox was encouraged by his first cousin, Frank Woolworth, to open what would become the very successful S. H. Knox Co. 5 and 10 chain. Those stores were later folded into Woolworth's, and Knox landed on the company's board of directors.

"The original Knox millions came from nickels and dimes," Vidler wrote. "I always ask my dad where we went wrong. Knox 5 and 10 lead to sports franchise ownership, Walton’s 5 and 10 became WalMart, and I’m still unloading trucks and sweeping up spilled popcorn."


Judy Wilder misses D&K, where a changing mix of items was displayed simply on tables or in bins. The towels were a mainstay.

"If you didn't mind mixing and matching, you could get high quality towels for a bargain price," she wrote. "When I moved into my new home, all the towels came from D&K."

Have a Heart.

As a middle school girl in the 1980s, Cheri Beitz loved the Have a Heart shop at the Rainbow Mall in Niagara Falls. It featured "all things rainbow, hearts and pink," including stickers, pencils, stationery and Hello Kitty trinkets.

"My friends and I would save our money for the big trip to Niagara Falls," the Orchard Park resident wrote. "It took forever to select the perfect item and we dreamed of filling our rooms with everything they sold."

Fred Roneker's

Janice Schlau of Williamsville remembers a place called Fred Roneker's which guaranteed lifetime alterations. She's disappointed the store is no longer around to fulfill that guarantee.

"My marriage partner bought his wedding suit there and still owns it," she wrote. "Sure could have let the waist out a size or two!"


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