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Long Story Short: The people next door


Illustration by JP Thimot


Good fences make exasperated neighbors

It turns out that social media might be ideal place for confronting antisocial behavior, when all else fails.


Earlier this year, Buffalo artist Chuck Tingley was commissioned by Anne McIntosh and Nicole Casell to paint a mural on the side of their just-opened Hamburg wine bar, Alchemy. The objective of the bar is to make fine wines and beers accessible and affordable. Tingley’s art is equally accessible—and widely admired by the public—so it’s a good match. The mural depicts a woman from the shoulders up, wearing a head wreath of grapes.  Geometric shapes float on top of a silhouetted vine motif. It’s hard to describe; you just have to see it.


But you’d better hurry.


The details:

A John and Mary’s (J&M) sub shop franchise is located next door to Alchemy. From the sub shop parking lot, there’s a drop to a narrow walkway in front of the mural. McIntosh and Casell sought and received approval for the mural from the village Architectural Review Committee. That may not have been necessary, but they wanted public input and community involvement.


What they got was community uproar. Shortly after the Tingley completed his work, J&M began setting posts for a six-foot privacy fence that will completely block the mural from public view. Social media exploded with news of the impending wall. There have been calls for a J&M boycott or a flash mob action, and pleas to reconsider the fence.


To be fair, while the J&M owner has chosen not to comment, it’s possible plans for the fence were in the works before the mural was started. It’s also possible that J&M has legitimate liability concerns about people standing on their property to view and photograph the mural, even potentially falling down the embankment.


Yeah, but…

McIntosh and Casell offered to pay for a more transparent fence, or even shrubbery. And if the fence was planned before the mural, why not tell the Alchemy owners about it when they saw Tingley painting? What kind of neighbor lets you paint a mural knowing they plan to cover it? And why would J&M want to cover it? Murals are springing up everywhere. After a short time, the novelty wears off, and they become landmarks that attract attention and customers—in this case to both businesses! If it’s a liability issue, there are alternatives, but reports of hostility on the part of the J&M owner suggest the reasons for the fence go deeper.


So, what does the artist have to say?

“I worked with Anne and Nicole starting in February of this year,” says Tingley, “to plan the design and decide on a location for the mural. We decided it made most sense for the focal point to be on the back of the building facing Main Street, a high traffic area with a large parking lot where you can park freely, and also lots of viewers during the summer farmers’ market.” Tingley adds that McIntosh and Casell, as well as the building’s landlord, worked with their surrounding neighbors to get approval for the mural.


Now that it’s become the center of a controversy, “I try to stay out of the drama,” says the artist, “I just did my job as a muralist, and Alchemy was very accommodating every step of the way.” Tingley says that locals who stopped by while the mural was in progress, were very supportive. And he was completely taken by surprise by news of the impending fence. “After trying to become informed from every angle as to why this is happening,” he says, “I’m really disappointed with the decision to put up a six-foot privacy fence.”


He’s not alone.



What? My pop isn’t healthy?

News must be slow to reach the tiny village of Bolivar in Allegany County. At least one local citizen had apparently not heard that commercial food products come with ingredient labels. Julie Fletcher had been giving her kids Canada Dry Ginger Ale because she thought “it was “a healthier alternative to regular sodas." Wait, regular sodas? Does she mean other sugar-laden carbonated beverage varieties with different flavorings? Cola for instance? Because some research suggests the kola nut boosts metabolism, increases circulation, aids digestion, prevents some cancers, boosts the immune system, cures migraines, and relieves asthma. So, healthier than that? Ginger root is said to calm upset stomachs, but with the amounts found in soda pop, it’s largely psychological. Fletcher purchased Canada Dry when her children were sick. So apparently fixing a tummy ache makes ginger ale healthier than metabolism-boosting, cancer-preventing cola.


But I digress.  


After years of serving the stuff to her kids in the belief that Canada Dry had ginger in it, Fletcher discovered that it contains very little, if any, of the ingredient. Instead, she found it has carbonated water and high fructose corn syrup, along with natural and artificial flavorings—just as it states on the label.


Now Fletcher is doing what any red-blooded American would, upon discovering something isn’t like she thought it was: she’s suing.


The details:

Fletcher filed a federal lawsuit in Buffalo, claiming that Canada Dry’s parent company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc. misled customers into thinking that Canada Dry contained ginger. Of course, to sue someone, you must sustain damages, so Fletcher is claiming that Canada Dry’s false advertising hurt her economically.


Fletcher says ads for the soft drink gave the impression that Canada Dry was made with real ginger, kind of like Log Cabin “all natural” syrup might lead one to believe it’s made from maple sap. But again, it has a label which states that it contains corn syrup and flavorings, not real maple.


Here’s a scientific fact: humans have brains. Our species has acquired language, which has led to ingredient labels on food products. Humans can read the labels and learn about the food they consume. Of course, manufacturers are going to spin their products to sound better than they are. Consumers have to be vigilant.


The takeaway:

Suing Canada Dry because it contains little or no ginger could start a trend.  Next thing you know, people will expect Bac’n Bits to contain bacon, or crab meat to have crab in it, or coffee creamers to include cream, or wasabi paste to have wasabi, or popcorn butter to be an actual dairy product … and so on.



Sahlen’s: top dog

Summer wouldn’t be complete without Sahlen’s hot dogs. You can debate the qualities of one dog over another all day, but Sahlen’s is the taste of Buffalo. And did you know that the company was founded by Joseph Sahlen back in 1869, making this its one-hundred and fiftieth year in business? And that, for all these years, the company has been run by generations of the same family? Joe Sahlen is the current patriarch of the company, working with the next generation to carry on the family tradition. 


I recently gained a little insight into the history and workings of the company whose hot dogs I’ve eaten all these years. Fellow artist Augustina Droze and I just completed a large-scale mural on the side of Sahlen’s Howard Street factory, celebrating their sesquicentennial anniversary. It was an opportunity to work with some of the nicest businesspeople I’ve had the pleasure to know.


Joe Sahlen, his family, and staff accommodated us in every way possible, with a relaxed “whatever you need” manner. Employees we came into contact with often smiled—at work! We got to see a bit of the factory, and it is impressive: spotlessly clean and systematized. Semi-trucks arrive continuously, load up, and depart all day long. Everything is state-of-the-art, or so it appeared to this mural painter.  


On the final day we worked, Joe Sahlen sat on metal steps with Augustina and me near the expansive mural. He seemed pleased with the job we had done. We discussed other opportunities for mural work, and just chatted. Earlier, I had handed him our invoice, and he returned with a check. “There’s a tip in there for you,” he said, an unexpected act of generosity that speaks to his regard for hard work.


What others say:

I talked informally to several employees, who confirmed Sahlen’s generosity and his respect for labor. “Forty years ago,” began one employee, “Joe Sahlen said to me, ‘you take care of me, and I’ll take care of you.’ And he’s done that. It’s not easy work, but I’ve made a good living.” A couple workers mentioned Sahlen’s willingness to do what he asks of his employees. “I’ll say this, he’s in there every morning cleaning the smokehouse,” said one. Another detailed how the senior Sahlen personally taught him to do one of the most unpleasant jobs in the factory. Others mentioned Sahlen’s generosity to the community: the food the company donates, the teams it sponsors.


The business also owns and operates Sahlen's Sports Park, a 180,000-square-foot multi-sport public indoor facility in Elma, New York, where they provide affordable family recreational activities. Sahlen’s also sponsors Six Hours of Watkins Glen, a sports car endurance race. Joe Sahlen and others race as Team Sahlen.


One hundred and fifty years is a long time for any company to exist, especially as a family business. And while the company is huge, it seems to remain a hands-on family business rather than a soulless mega-corporation. Perhaps part of their success is thanks to the care they show for the community they serve.  



Immigrants in Buffalo

Refugees escape horrific conditions in their homeland and seek safe homes in America. There is fear that they will take American jobs, and in many cases become an economic burden on the country. They’ve often been accused of being criminals.


The year is 1845, and the wave of immigrants that are making Americans so fearful are Irish. Extreme poverty, and a blight on their food staple, the potato, brought millions of Irish immigrants across the Atlantic; thousands settled in Buffalo, establishing their own communities, and eventually becoming US citizens.



The first immigrant granted citizenship in a Buffalo court was an Irishman, Owen Kieren. That happened on August 1, 1903. U.S. District Judge William Skretny mentioned this historical fact this past Thursday, when he and six other federal judges gathered together for the first time ever at the Robert H. Jackson Courthouse to celebrate Buffalo’s immigrant history and heritage. The judges represented various ethnic-American backgrounds, and they came here "en banc" (all judges of a court together) to celebrate as fifty people from twenty-four countries became new American citizens. US District Judge Elizabeth Wolford handed out naturalization certificates to each new citizen.


This took place two days after President Trump declared our nation’s immigration laws to be the laughingstock of the world. Some people must have thought the same when two million Irish flooded the US when it was a country of twenty-two million. Maybe 115 years from now, Burmese-American, Iraqi-American, Somali-American, and other ethnic-American judges will celebrate en banc as another group of immigrants in Buffalo become new Americans. Hopefully they won’t all have annual parades and celebrate by drinking colored beer.


Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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