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There Used to be a Department Store Here

Images of Sattler's on display at the Broadway Market

Well before Walmart and Target, Buffalo had a megastore, Sattler’s. At probably the best-known commercial address in the city—998 Broadway—from the barrage of radio ads for the store that always mentioned the location, in the jingle. Directly across the street from the Broadway Market, a block from Fillmore. The heart of Polonia. And as much a commercial centerpiece of Polonia as the Market. (Twin commercial centerpieces they were, like the twin towers on the old Polish churches, Corpus Christi, a street over from the Market, St. Stanislaus, a few blocks further down Fillmore and one block west.) Some photos of and about Sattler’s in its heyday—the 1930s to 1950s, 1960s—are currently on display in the Market.

Later on there were branch stores in several suburban malls, but 998 Broadway was the mother ship, and its demise in the 1980s portended the demise a few years later of all the offshoots.

Sattler’s on Broadway was a store that was more than a store to employees and shoppers alike. A kind of quasi civic institution as well as general goods emporium. One of the pictures shows a parade-type float in front of the building, complete a with small swimming pool and “bathing beauties performing,” the caption says. Part of an Erie County Day celebration coinciding with National Swim for Health Week. Other features of the day include a live radio broadcast from the float with local politicos and the like dignitaries, and “realistic” rescue demonstration by the Buffalo Fire Department, presumably water rescue. And not surprisingly, a store swim suit sale, in conjunction with a “Go Caribbean with Catalina” contest.

Another shows a “Sattler’s Social Club” party for employees, featuring a full dance band and singer. Another is of girls lined up under a theater marquee for a Theater Party with Danny Neavereth as Master of Ceremonies (as announced on a poster in front of the theater, with a picture of Neaverath looking to be about eighteen). The movie playing was Muscle Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. (Full disclosure: I was once in love with Annette Funicello.)

Another photo shows megastar comedian Eddie Cantor in an in-person appearance at the store in conjunction with a fire prevention show, the caption says.

Sattler’s pioneered the “bargain basement” retailing idea and would purchase rail car lots of merchandise from bankrupt stores that was then sold in “Bargain Train” sales events. From the late 1940s, the store sponsored an annual Santa Claus Parade. One of the pictures shows an elephant wearing an advertisement sheet proclaiming “Your One-Stop Christmas Store.” Variant of the regular advertising slogan “Your One-stop Wonder Store.”

The display items include a formal portrait photo of John G. Sattler, who founded the operation in 1889—when he was seventeen—as a shoe store in his mother’s home at 992 Broadway. Other photos are of the 998 building under construction. Steel and concrete and workers.

An internet blog exists—several of them actually—devoted to recollections of the store and milieu by former shoppers and employees. Both categories loved the place and sorely missed it. One blogger talks about in the 1980s seeing Mickey Mantle at the store promoting some product or other. Another says the store was “a magical destination for our family” when they came to Buffalo from Toronto several times a year from the late ’50s to mid ’70s. When that actually happened. Toronto folk came to Buffalo for some excitement, some real night life, and in this case, Sattler’s. “Sattler’s was our family’s favorite place,” the man says. “I remember the restaurant, the pet section at the front, the breakfast with Santa.”

Another blogger talks about how, “as children, my brother and I modeled in the store window; passersby would stop and gape at us, not knowing whether we were mannequins or real kids...” One blogger says, “as far as I knew as a child, Santa lived at Sattler’s.”

The Sattler’s photos will remain up through March.

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