Sometimes it starts with a question: 50-year-old memories of a small Western New York town, East Aurora

One 1965 classmate opened the floodgates of memories recently by asking one little question in Facebook about Main Street businesses in our small town in Western New York, where nearly every local store had a family name attached. (We not only knew store by family name, but we also knew the family story behind the store and the family members who ran it or who were our classmates.)

Karen: “..thinking about uptown in East Aurora: What was the name of the men’s store across from Max Kadet? Remember when you could actually shop for clothes in town? Before Plazas and Malls? AND we had 3 stores with soda fountains back in the 50’s.”

David: “Are you talking about Major’s?”

Karen: “Yes – I couldn’t remember. Good memory.”

David: “I used to shop at Max Kadet and couldn’t remember their name. I bought my blue Mohair sweater and a London Fog Inspector Clouseau trench coat there and was trying to remember the name.”

Barry: “Let’s see: Soda fountains….Thomas’s Drug Store (next to the high school, also next to the Red & White) where I used to get nickel cokes and cherry phosphates; (Dunc) Hill’s (just east of the viaduct, next to the grain elevator), where I used to get banana splits almost every Saturday with Jeff Bowen after we refereed/coached kids’ basketball; a soda fountain next to the movie theater, but I can’t remember the name! Did Vidler’s ever have a soda fountain? And, was there one anywhere on West Main?
“How about chicken-in-the-basket at the Aurora Drive-In, (out Olean Road, as I recall), or fresh ice cream at the Dairy (which used to deliver our un-homogenized milk in glass bottles)?”

Karen: “Milems (not spelled correctly) next to the show (what we called the Aurora Theater) had a lunch counter. There were quite a few drug stores in town then.”
“Remember Shores Circle Inn and The Curtis Hotel? Down by the circle. The Wagners went out for a fish fry in the 50’s every Friday night – then a big trip to Ben Franklin or Vidlers. I always bought that plastic stuff in a tube that you could blow purple plastic bubbles on a straw that lasted a couple of days. “Vid’s didn’t have a soda fountain – but they had that old fashioned pop corn machine and for a dime you got a pretty good size bag of the saltiest popcorn know to man. But we loved it.”

Scott: “I remember getting dragged down to Major’s, Max Cadet’s, Latson’s Outdoor Store ( Main & Pine ) My sister went to Seamen, Hood & Morey’s ( next to Griggs & Ball’s Grain Elevator). Had Nyhart’s Music store. Toner’s TV Shop. Roy McCutcheon’s produce market, W.B Gannon’s . The A & P Market. Larwood’s Rexall Drug Store. Can’t recall the name of the drug store next to the EA Theater. or the hardware store next to it. Vic Balthaiser’s Globe Hotel, Logan & Younger’s auto parts (NAPA) store. “And we cannot forget Vidler’s 5 & 10. The Ben Franklin store. Elane’s Bakery was in there too.
Soda Fountains …Duncan Hills Newsstand..and one between the Griggs & Ball Grain elevator and Seaman Hood. Most of those drug stores had soda fountains…complete with Soda Jerks.
We had Loblaws supermarket and that was the East end of the commercial district.
“Then we had the businesses down by the Circle. (Hasn’t NYSDOT done away with our traffic circle?) (the Main Street re-model?) and the crappy plaza beyond the circle..that ruined most of the uptown business in the 60’s and 70’s (which recovered in the 90’s and 00’s).
“At least the Town Fathers had the Cahunas to tell WalMart to take a leap!”

Karen: “Remember the Shoe Box, Lattimore’s Shoes, Velzies Gift Shop, Kent and Roat (sp?), a jewelry store near Larwood’s drugs. What was the name of the restaurant on the corner of main across from a little gas station, across from Griggs and Ball? They moved it behind Seaman, Hood and Morey’s. We went there for fish on Friday nights too back in the 50’s. Also, Fox’s Deli, Leader’s Toy Store, Chur’s Hardware and The Village Cantina (now Bar Bill which has the best Beef on Weck in town!) Oh, and who could forget Jim and Kelly’s? We’re talking WAY back.
“The circle still exists – it just wouldn’t be the same without it. But I agree the plaza is and always was useless!”

Barry: “Larwood’s was the drug store near the theater that also had a soda fountain!
“Your recall of all those store names is unbelievable, Karen! We used to call the department store ‘Seaman Hood’s’ for short. I got all my shoes and basketball shoes at Lattimore’s, and I seem to recall they used to have one of those foot X-ray machines…fun for kids but probably terribly unsafe.
“We did our grocery shopping at Loblaws, which my mom said I used to call BlobBlobs when I was little!
“I got my woodwind reeds and sheet music at Nyhart’s.
“As for shopping, I remember there was only one mall, near the Buffalo airport.”

Karen: “We shopped at blob-blobs and Bell’s downtown. A d we called it Seaman Hood’s too.
The shopping center near the airport was the Thru-Way Plaza. The only one around when I was really little.

Scott: “Shore’s Circle Inn… didn’t it burn down? Village Cantina was the soda fountain in the west village.
“The Aurora Drive-in and Chet’s Dog House on Olean Road. The Aurora Dairy( Seneca Street ) that still delivered milk in glass milk bottles.
“Vidler’s Popcorn Machine ( still there and still had the saltiest Pop Corn)… why hasn’t Erie County health department ever shut that salty pop corn maker down? What further befuddles me is why hasn’t that pop corn machine dissolved yet from all those years of salt? It should have corroded into dust by now.
“Wasn’t that the Village Diner that was across from Griggs & Balls that was moved behind Griggs & Ball with Loblaws and replaced by the ESSO/EXXON station that Stubby Holmes’s Dad ran? The little restaurant had great fish fries but seating was so limited.”

Barry: “I remember the diner behind Loblaws. There was a long counter with round stools, and coffee served in those white ceramic diner mugs, with sugar poured out of a tall glass container with an aluminum screw-on cap that had a pull-back spout.”

Vidler's, East Aurora, NY

Vidler's Five and Dime, East Aurora, New York

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About mountain barry

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., I grew up in a beautiful small town, where I could bicycle to the local golf course and to the Buffalo Bills training camp. My dad was from Kentucky and was a Naval officer in WW II. My mom was from a similar small town and could beat my dad at golf. I started my first publication, a weekly newspaper, in 9th grade, and have been at it ever since: college newspaper, graduate school, college press service, daily newspapers in New York, North Carolina and Kansas, business journals in Kansas and California; also corporate communications/p.r. in Kansas and the SF Bay Area. I have two beautiful children, one extraordinary grandson, three remarkable stepchildren and a patient, loving wife who also happens to be an eBay trading assistant. My dogs, cat, gardens and the basketball goal in the driveway round out the picture of my home in a small town in the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where mornings are foggy and afternoons are sunny.
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16 Responses to Sometimes it starts with a question: 50-year-old memories of a small Western New York town, East Aurora

  1. John Owens says:

    Well written walk down memory lane. I enjoyed it Barry.

  2. Judy Bramley says:

    Wow the memories! We lived on Buffalo Road, hear the circle. When the Circle Inn burned down, all the gas was turned off and it was the dead of winter. We froze! Across the street from our house was Franz Furniture Store-there was a canopy bed in the front window for years that we all wanted. My first job was at W T Grants in the small mall. We shopped at Booth’s Drug Store, Tops when it was Bells Markets, and stopped for sodas at Arlotta’s. What was the name of the place way outside town on Main Street that had shellacked tables and tree stump seats? I bought dad an Arrow Shirt at Max Kadet’s for years and they always remembered his size! My dad graduated class of 37 so many of the businesses were old haunts for him. We loved the fish frys at Curtis’ Hotel. Moved to southern California in ’77, no fish frys out here! So many fond memories of that small town. I describe it to friends here as a “Norman Rockwell” small town!

  3. peter miller says:

    My family moved to East Aurora I think in 1961. Our house on Oakwood was being renovated and wasn’t ready, so we stayed at the Circle Hotel for a couple of weeks. Very “New England” like as I recall. I remember the soda fountain at Dunc Hill’s, great cherry cokes, but guess I’ve forgotten the others. The Thomas were our neighbors and we patronized their store exclusively, but no fountain memories. There was an optician next door. I worked at the theatre and recall a radio repair store in the building on the left side of the entrance. Wondered even then how they managed to stay in business. There was another department or dry goods store past Vidlers and the bakery. Can’t think of the name though it was an interesting place that had some stock that was fifty years old then. Got my hair cut on the second floor across the street. Elderly man who charged less than the other shops in town. My Mom gave me money for the standard rate. I went to this guy and pocketed the difference. I know that I got a couple of suits and overcoat at Max Kadet. Seems to me that Majors was for more casual stuff and Seaman Hood was the place for ties and the like. In those days the Pennsylvania Railroad still had two sorry looking passenger trains that stopped at East Aurora. Always wondered if anyone ever got on or off. Tim Meyer gave me a tour once of his Dad’s funeral home. It was kind of spooky!! I still have an oil painting of a Saint Bernard that came out of the old library as it was being torn down as well as a Roycroft chair that I took from the wreakage of the old wing of the school as it was being torn down. I think you folks were right about the plaza. The only things I remember are Nyharts and the A&P. I also spun out my Mom’s new convertable in the parking lot there the day I got. my drivers license. I was a latecomer to E.A. , but still have lots and lots of fond memories of the people and the places.

  4. Dee Raisbeck Crescimanno says:

    Oh the memories!

    Thanks Barry. My son is a week away from moving to Los Gatos to work for Netflix. Do you know the town?

    It’s so much fun reading all the comments and looking at all the pictures on Facebook….I might just join someday…after I get over how mean Mark Zuckerburg is in The Social Network. 😉

    • Corinna says:

      Dee Raisbeck Crescimanno,
      Los Gatos has a very quaint small town feel to it. But actually has a population of about 30,000. It is about 20 miles from where Barry and I live. It is on what we say the other side of the “hill” HiWay 17. We are also about 7 miles from Santa Cruz beaches.

      • Dee Raisbeck Crescimanno says:

        Thanks Corinna. My son and his wife are heading in that direction today to look for a rental home. I think I’ll recommend that he tries “the other side of the hill”.

  5. Hanford Jr. says:

    … My father was-a-soda jerk at the drug store across from la old Griggs & Ball! How ’bout thee Red & White food store next to-la-old Thomas’ Drug Store? Dog Bar’s still serving great dinners in West Falls!

  6. Susan Rapalje Martin says:

    The collective memory is _definitely_ better than the individual; I am _amazed_ at what clarity these names bring with them. But there’s fog too – for instance, what was the name of the snack shop/soda fountain directly across Main Street from the village hall, that was very popular in 1959 or so – THE place to go after school ? Anybody? Anybody?? Bueller ??????

    • In response to our soda fountain question, all I remember is Dunc Hill’s newstand and soda fountain next to Griggs and Ball, which I think is the other side of the RR tracks from village hall. Thomas’ drug store on Main Street next to the elementary/high school had a soda fountain until sometime in the late 50s when it remodeled and expanded the retail space.

    • Julia Williams says:

      I went to school with you Susan ! Are you talking about Clates Doughnut Shop ? I lived at 502 Main st.. It is now a Dental office. Wonderful memories.

  7. Corinna says:

    This was fun to read everyone’s perspective and memories.

  8. Susie Barbieri Murphy says:

    Well this is wonderful to read about home! Interesting, all the folks moving to California. Married and raised my kids in Los Gatos. So very beautiful.
    EA is truly home. And it always will be.
    I think there was a soda fountain called Putneys, too.

    • Peter Pinkerton says:

      Hi, Susie. Remember your little cousin in Buffalo, spring 1967? Big girl now with an active family. How are YOU doing?,

  9. Sue Plummer says:

    Even though it is now May 2014, I would like to add a few names to the list. Just feel onto this site of Barry’s after reading about his Dad’s career in the Navy. Well, back to it. On the East side of Main Street, at the corner of Olean and East Main, was DuBois’ Hardware store run by Charlie DuBois’ family. Elaine’s Bakery was across the street near Vidler’s. There was a Meat Store across the street from Dubois’ run by Pat Donovan’s Dad. (on the Pine Street side, as you would go towards Porterville Road) Then directly across from the meat store on the same side as Vidler’s was a Kayak and Canoe store. Kent and Roat sold shoes and clothing. My brother bought his loafers there all the time. Mr. Kent and his wife moved to the Atlanta area in the 70’s and they came to a birthday party for my Mom when she turned 70. They also came to her funeral in 2004. They now are retired in Florida. The Laundramat was next to Korst Liquor Store and my Mom would use the large washers for spreads and big time items. Kevin Korst’s family ran the liquor store. Mileham’s had the soda fountain, but for some reason, Dunc Hill’s seemed to be more popular. Joseph’s was a lady’s clothing store somewhere near Vidler’s, on the same side of the street, and was a top contender for Seaman Hood’s. They moved up to the Gray Street Plaza in the late 60’s and had twice as much room.

  10. Karl Swartz says:

    Does anyone remember anything more about Hill’s, owners name, associates, etc. My grandparents had a summer cabin on Ostrander Rd. in East Elma. We used to go into E. Aurora for kerosene (lamps, oven), ice (ice box), anthracite coal (fireplace) and other supplies. We would stop at Hill’s for an ice creme cone. Mr. Hill was a very nice man as I recall. This was the mid 60s. I believe the store was razed around 1970.

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