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100-Plus Things: Amvets in North Buffalo

Elmwood and Hertel avenues boast Buffalo's best shopping. So surely the best of the best can be found where those two streets meet.

Lo, over that hallowed crossroads looms the legendary North Buffalo Amvets.

Greater Buffalo has two Amvets stores. The other behemoth, which rightfully has its fans, is on Walden Avenue in Depew. But the Buffalo store has an urban appeal its suburban cousin can't match.

"I find this one is better, hipper," said Angie Kahn of Amherst, as the store's crackling sound system played "That Old Time Rock 'N Roll." She was shopping under the industrial fluorescent lights for clothes for her 12-year-old daughter -- and, OK, maybe for herself.

Gale Washington of Buffalo picks up a stuffed Elmo doll for the toy corner at her house where her 2-year-old grandson loves to play. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"We're basically the same size," she said.

Like most of the customers we spoke with, Kahn is a regular. "I come here maybe once a week. I'm surprised they don't know my name."

Eric Smith, browsing cassettes, also said he was a regular. He had come to Amvets with his 14-month-old twins, Leah and Oliver.

"I'm Mr. Mom," he said, "so whenever I can get an hour to myself, I get away."

Thrifting has never been more accepted than now. By recycling, you're helping the environment. High-minded friends can't carp at you for supporting bad labor practices in foreign lands. Plus, at Amvets, you are helping veterans.

Helen Stottele, a 24-year employee, of Amvets straightens the furniture. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"We have a lot of regulars," said the store manager, Becky Beck. "Some of them come in and browse for hours."

Strolling through Amvets, it's hard not to think of that Macklemore hip-hop hit "Thrift Shop." The store looks like the one in the video. Rows of pants stretch as far as the eye can see. Dresses spans practically the length of one wall.

There's great stuff at Amvets, but you have to look for it. As you wander, the words to Macklemore's ditty may well drift into your mind. "They had a broken keyboard -- I bought a broken keyboard." "I'll wear your granddad's clothes ... I'll look incredible ...."

We got to peek into the back room, where donations are sorted and priced.

A Hot Kiss box holds a nativity scene. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

It was a colorful sight. Staffers were readying a Smithsonian-worthy collection of Christmas sweaters. "We save them for this time," said Beck. applying a long ribbon's worth of yellow price stickers.

Merchandise in Amvets goes in cycles. The day The News visited, items with the yellow tags were new. But blue and orange were the colors of the day. Those tags denoted items that had been around for a while, and so were marked down.

Amvets has half-off sales on Veterans Day, Black Friday, and certain other occasions. They draw crowds. Aside from that, things are unpredictable.

"It's hard to say when it's going to be busy," Beck said. She added: "When it's not, I get worried."

She won't have to worry any time soon.

Nilda Lopez of Buffalo walks through the furniture department of Amvets on Elmwood. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The holidays are high season at Amvets. The staff was beginning to wheel out the racks of sweaters. A music box kicked in with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Nilda Lopez, looking through knickknacks, was all for it. She had just found a beautiful cross -- her favorite find of the day, she beamed -- and a brand-new foil Christmas tree.

"In Puerto Rico, we celebrate Christmas from October to February," she beamed.

It wasn't hard to draw people into conversation. Amvets is one of the few places besides taverns where it is normal to talk to strangers. What if you spot, as we did, a Nativity scene packed into a box reading "Hot Kiss"? Or bedroom slippers that look like bear claws? You can't just keep such sights to yourself.

"We have a friendly environment," Beck said. "It's very important to us. I try to find people with a friendly attitude."

If you're new to Amvets, you might want to do what they tell you to do with supermarkets, and shop the perimeter. The bric-a-brac in the back is an adventure in itself. You'll find statues, dishes, dolls, cookie tins, old china. A mess of books. A mortarboard, displayed casually on a rack of hats. A "Sex and the City" trivia game.

The loads of vinyl records are fun to flip through. Don't have a record player? Check the electronics department. Stop to browse furniture. Someone we know bought a piano here. Someone else found a gorgeous desk.

When you're ready, venture into the prairie of clothes. The fitting rooms, in the front of the store, are kind of rugged. But where did you think you were -- in the mall, at Lord and Taylor?

No, you're in Amvets, at Elmwood and Hertel.

Shop, in the name of love.

Amvets Thrift Store at 1833 Elmwood Ave. has been a popular go-to place for used goods for years. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)



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