A yuletide or two ago, covering the 100 Things Every Western New Yorker should do at least once, we did our Christmas shopping on Elmwood Avenue.
This year, we're hitting Hertel.
Make no mistake, we'll find time for Elmwood too. You can't stay away. But Hertel Avenue, the jewel of North Buffalo, increasingly clamors for attention. The fun begins in earnest this weekend, with the annual Hertel Holiday Walk. It unfolds from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1; and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 2. Shops court customers with treats and specials.
"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks ..." At night, Hertel is dazzling. Christmas trees twinkle from windows. Golden lights sparkle. Fanciful snowflakes deck the lampposts. It's all aglow — shops, restaurants, the marquee of the North Park Theatre. From Delaware Avenue to Parkside Avenue, every block is crammed.
By daylight the street is bright and enchanting. In the window of Bon Fire Craft sat a gingerbread model of Buffalo's City Hall. The fanciful, edible creation is being raffled off to benefit Compass House.
Inside, a candy bowl sat on the checkout counter, with a spoon inviting you to help yourself. Assistant Ashley Messana was helping a customer try on a necklace.
The customer, Patsy George, had recently returned to Western New York. She and her sister, Sandy O'Connor, of East Amherst, were celebrating by touring Western New York, one district at a time. Today was North Buffalo. They had been to Famous Doughnuts and Parkside Candy and now they were shopping the Hertel strip, buying each other early Christmas presents. George had already bought O'Connor a vase at Cone Five Gallery.
Greg Link, the potter who owns Cone Five Gallery, remembered the sisters and their vase. He had enjoyed meeting them.
"They spent a long time in here," he said.
We could see why. The shop was a galaxy of color and light. Bowls crafted by Link were an earthy contrast with ethereal curtains of glass Christmas ornaments. You didn't know where to look first.
Moda, crowded irresistibly with antiques and vintage clothes, had us feeling the same way. A carousel of purses, antique silk suits and sparkly jackets, lamps, jewelry, where do you begin?
Owner Lucy Pirrone-Mancuso said that the oddments in her shop had come to the eye of folks in town shooting movies.
"The people making 'Marshall' bought cuff links, eyeglasses, thinks like that." Lucy said. " 'Purge' came by, too. And 'Wolfboy.' "
Antiques and home furnishings have long been a Hertel hallmark. You find things you won't find even in museums. At Queen City Antiques, we stared agog at a huge figure of St. Michael the Archangel conquering a hideous-looking devil. John Marfoglia, the artist who owns the shop, saw us staring.
"I have his wings," he said. "I can put them on him if you like."
With his wings, St. Michael looked glorious. At $3,500, it would be quite the Christmas present. Marfoglia said the statue was from the 1870s or 1880s. He also acquainted us with a 1940s mahogany carving from Cuba, of a hunter carrying a deer.
"The deer's alive. That's why I like it," Marfoglia said. Sure enough, the animal's eyes were open.
The hunter was $5,000. Other things, though, were much less.
One shopper approached Marfoglia with some show business sheet music she wanted to buy and frame for her mother. Marfoglia shrugged.
"Take it," he said.
We were doing too much talking and not enough buying. That changed at The Second Reader Bookshop, a Hertel institution.
Books on music were arrayed by pictures of Wagner and Mahler. Luxury coloring books called to us by the cash register. How about a two-volume "History of the Conquest of Peru," clearly from a library? It's a very important work, owner Dana Rigney told us, as Debussy played on the sound system.
Then our eyes lit on a tin of drawing pencils. It was $5. You could take them with you anywhere. Sold! One stocking stuffer down, many more to go.
"Strings of street lights, even stop lights, blinking bright red and green, as the shoppers rush home with their treasures ..." What fun to be among them. And to be one of a legion of Hertel fans.
"Hertel has turned around," said Pirrone-Mancuso, of Moda. "It's really booming. People are coming out of the woodwork."