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COMMENTARY

Remember Sibley's, the Cobbie Shop and Hot Sam? 30 years of Walden Galleria

Wow, has it really been 30 years since Walden Galleria opened? Thirty years since Western New Yorkers marveled at their first two-story, upscale shopping center? Thirty years that people have been redundantly calling it "the Galleria mall"?

Yep, it was May 1989 when they cut the ribbon. George H.W. Bush was president, Sassy magazine was on the newsstands and Paula Abdul was burning up the charts.

The mall opened with more than 180 stores and six anchors: J.C. Penney, Sears, Bonwit Teller, Sibley's, L.L. Berger and the Sample. Today, all but 20 of those stores are gone, including five of the original six anchors (only J.C. Penney remains). Today there are more than 200 stores, which draw 23 million visitors per year. Since it opened, the mall has generated $934 million in sales tax revenue and $160 million in real estate taxes.

Walden Galleria killed the Seneca and Thruway malls (along with 65 percent of Scajaquada Creek's wetlands), but gave birth to the busy commercial thoroughfare that is now Walden Avenue as we know it. For good or bad, the Galleria is the reason Cheektowaga landed the region's first Chick-fil-A restaurant.

And though other malls are notoriously failing, Walden Galleria remains the region's strongest traditional indoor shopping center.

So what was it like during those early days?

Customer service. Representatives wearing tuxedos were stationed throughout the mall, personally greeting and assisting people. There were three customer service kiosks. The mall offered a coat check and a place to check your packages, year-round gift wrap services and sturdy shopping bags.

The mall has since gotten rid of its customer service desks to save money, but customers can still ask questions at its security office (if they can find it) near RPM Raceway. That's also where they can arrange for a wheelchair or check the lost and found.

Movies. The AMC's Holiday 6 movie theater on Union Road panicked in 1988, facing competition from a planned 12-screen Hoyts Cinema at Galleria. Turns out it had reason to worry: It was bulldozed in 1995 to make way for the retail boom Galleria spurred. It was replaced by the Union Consumer Square retail plaza.

In recent years, the Galleria's movie theater has been plagued by fist fights and other rowdy action, leading the mall to implement an adult accompaniment policy. Minors age 17 and younger are not allowed in after 9 p.m. unless they're with an adult age 21 or older.

Stores that came and went over the years. Of course you remember L.L. Berger and Sibley's, but how about Hold Everything, a store that sold organizational items? It was owned by Williams Sonoma and later incorporated into Pottery Barn and West Elm. Today, the Galleria is trying to get something like it back – it has been battling the Eastern Hills Mall to secure the Container Store as a tenant.

Walden Galleria once had nine bookstores. You probably remember Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, but do you remember Lauriat's Books? These days, there's not a single bookstore left.

You know Kleinhans Music Hall, but did you know it's named for a Buffalo couple who made their fortune as clothing retailers? Walden Galleria was once home to a gift store called Buffalo Boutique by Kleinhans, Kleinhans Men's Shop and Kleinhans Corporate Woman.

For shoes, you could choose from Buster Brown, Cobbie Shop, Connie, Fayva, Florsheim, Altier's Naturalizer, Altier's Stride Rite, Endicott Johnson, Father & Son, Foot Locker, Foot Quarters, Fredelle, Hanover, Kinney, Lady Foot Locker, Tony Walker, White's, Wild Pair and two different Payless ShoeSources.

Do you remember any of these? For men there was Anderson-Little, J. Riggings and Oaktree. Women had Gutman's, Parklane Hosiery, Ormond and Au Coton. For the rest of the family there was the Lodge, McKids and Circus World Toys. And what about jewelry stores the Canary & the Elephant, Carimar and Dahlkemper's; gift stores Ports of the Orient, San Francisco Music Box and Zingg; electronics and equipment stores Babbage's, Birdies and Bogeys and Just Fun; and Home stores Artemeus, J. Humphrey and Lechters? Don't forget Bally's Aladdin's Castle arcade.

Restaurants. Today, the Galleria's Restaurant Row is a destination in itself. Back in the day, things were a little more humble, with options like Dogs 'n' Wings, Everything Yogurt and Bananas, and McDonald's. These days, stopping at Auntie Anne's for a pretzel is a must, but in the old days, you had to stop at Hot Sam. There was even a Polish Villa at one time, and a Fanny Farmer.

Stores we loved and miss

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