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My View: Last-minute shopping in a bygone Buffalo

By Douglas Turner

In the “Days Beyond Recall” – apologies to Canisius College author Roger Burke Dooley – doing all of one’s shopping on Christmas Eve was not a vice, but the whole point of the thing.
As the 1960s rounded in, the editors at the Buffalo Courier-Express would let you slip out of the city room with the unspoken and empty promise you would return or, better still, meet later for a drink at Ray Flynn’s Golden Dollar down the block or at Robinson’s at dawn.

At the foot of Main Street, farther south even than Dennis Brinkworth’s Diplomat, Robinson’s later collapsed under the weight of snow.

Moving past Shelton Square, I first stopped at Minnie Feiner’s, a thin slip of an eatery wedged between a bank and, it seemed, a newsstand, for a bite. A large woman in a spattered apron slapped down a thick liverwurst on rye in front of me. Then it was on to McDole’s, at Main and Chippewa, for a fortifier.

I had a short list: my fiancée of three years standing, mother, brother, his wife, their kids. And me. Slogging through the slush, I could get it all done before the Scrooges running Ryan & Williams, the old office supply store on Pearl Street that employed my future wife, closed a half an hour early – at sundown, or 4:30.

Reaching the jewelry counter at the carriage trade L.L. Berger without my fiancée was urgent. There was really a Louis L. Berger Jr. on the premises on Christmas Eve. Then I was off to Flint & Kent’s department store, and the Otto Ulbrich Co., for books, records and educational toys.

Douglas Turner.

As was our custom, Mimi and I saved the best for last. We met at a small store on what was then Eagle Street, called G.E. More’s. It was distinguished by three things: the finest imported woolens, the original iron gate leading to the gallows at London’s Newgate Prison and a staff of well-born ladies who drank eggnog, toasting the day.

Parcels in our arms, we trudged up Pearl Street to Murphy’s Omega Steel Bar & Grill for Manhattans, and singing with pianist Marion Healy. Murphy’s, a former speakeasy, was licensed by Gov. Al Smith as a Prohibition-era social club.

We dropped by my widowed mother’s flat on Norwood for her annual party, featuring mushroom sandwiches and carols. My father’s old pals, the McMahons and the McTigues, piled out early for midnight Mass at the cavernous St. Joseph’s New Cathedral, then at Delaware and West Utica.

The ushers wore formals, which lent dignity to the process of wheeling out a worshipper who partied too much before the Introit.

Late Christmas afternoon, I visited an ailing friend, Nicholas Smith, who told this story of redemption: A boyhood friend, “Uncle Bo” (short for Boetheus) O’Malley, had come calling earlier that day. Born into a wealthy family, Bo became disreputable for writing forged checks and went to jail for it.

This time, Smith related, Uncle Bo was in deeper trouble. While visiting, Bo told Smith that a Treasury agent was after him. Not wanting to appear to be on the run, Bo said that if the agent came, Smith should tell him that Bo would be at the Shamrock, a bar then on Elmwood Avenue. There, Bo left word he would be across the street at the Elmwood Lounge, and so forth down Elmwood to Ubelhauers, and finally the Stuyvesant Room. The agent chased, but Bo disappeared.

The next day, the Treasury man finally caught up with Bo in Veterans Hospital, where he was very sick with pneumonia. Smiling, the agent tore up the warrant in front of Bo, saying, “you’ve vanished.”

This column by former News Washington Bureau Chief Douglas Turner first appeared on Dec. 24, 2012. Turner died on Nov. 4.

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