Long Story Short: 2019 in review
Long Story Short looks back
Once again, we’re reviewing the highlights of the previous year. We thought this would be easier than writing new stuff at this busy holiday time, but it turns out wading through 207 stories isn’t so simple. Here are some of the major LSS items from 2019.
The day after Christmas, the Elmwood Village saw the demolition of eleven Elmwood Avenue structures—primarily Victorian-era houses—to make way for a four-story, forty-unit condominium project built by Chason Affinity. Update: the project appears about half done, but it’s already overly large compared to surrounding structures. This was the first of several Green Code variance stories we covered.
Other stories: After Buffalo lawmakers announced a new evening downtown parking fee, restaurant worker Reba Allen started a petition that restored free parking. Mayor Brown was into the skunk-like scent of weed, at least where it came to selling twenty-seven acres of Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park to Zephyr Partners of San Diego, who planned to grow cannabis there. But the state didn’t get its act together and legalize the stuff this year. Former Buffalo resident Cody Lutz built a ten-foot-tall snowman in Petersburg, Kentucky, only to have someone attempt to plow it down with their car overnight. However, the snowman was built around a huge tree stump. Justice served. January ended with the Dumbest sports tweet of the week and a sad dog story.
A report on the heavy snow of the week before led to a tale of a lone hero with a city snow plow. We explained the polar vortex.
We recounted the sad story of Lawrence Bierl, a much-loved homeless Williamsville man, who succumbed to bitter cold weather.
There was the first of several art exhibition mini-reviews, and one of several Buffalo renaissance stories. We got down to real news by alerting readers of a new planned Paula’s Donuts location. Less urgent matters included the struggling Tesla RiverBend project, and Douglas Jemal’s plans for One Seneca Tower. We told of an anti-vaccination advocate who had been falsely using the religious exemption, until NY ended it. (This somehow escaped the notice of the anti-vax attack squad; more on that later.) Mayor Brown ordered the Buffalo police department to stop enforcing low-level cannabis possession offences, which disproportionately impact people of color.
Suzanne Morgan told us about her platonic relationship with the late Peter Tork of the Monkees. We had the first of many demolition-by-neglect stories, this time at 619 and 621 West Delavan Avenue. We expressed outrage at a video showing police abuse of a handcuffed African-American defendant in the basement of Buffalo City Court.
We visited the new Gigi’s restaurant at the Northland Workforce Training Center and found the atmosphere as good as the food. Sadly, two weeks later we reported that the restaurant—now run by the son of the original owner—closed under the pressure of too much love. We wrote about—and explained—a Niagara River ice tsunami. We reported on Governor Cuomo’s announcement of a state-sponsored competition for an alternative design for the skyway, with a $100,000 prize.
When vigilante motorists cornered a drunk driver in a gas station, we told you about that, then reported on a dumb bank robber, who demanded $60 and waited for it while the police came.
Queen City Fine Arts studio/school opened, followed by the Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art. We filled readers in on both. The New York State Attorney General’s Office issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank for records related to Trump’s failed bid to buy the Buffalo Bills. We cleared up a common misunderstanding about signing New York State candidate petitions.
Cuts in US refugees impact Buffalo, stalling growth. We told you how. There was yet another national article extolling the virtues of Buffalo, but turns out that Erie and Niagara county residents have among the lowest life expectancies of all counties in New York State.
Our story on the great snack truck robbery might have sounded like an April Fool’s joke, but it wasn’t. The real April Fool’s joke was President Trump’s fake magnanimous gesture toward the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Our first-hand story about a west side refugee and the impact of gentrification on her family spotlighted an important ongoing issue.
More stories: Plans to legalize pot, a proposed Jack Nicklaus golf course, and rising housing costs. The big news was the announcement of the final design for the restoration and expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Then the “armchair architects” reaction.
Buffalo was named one of 15 American Cities That Secretly Have Great Food Scenes, with kudos to the city’s refugee community. As a boy, I watched white privilege in action, as my friend’s mother blithely crossed the US Canadian border with illegal fireworks. But when rapper Kodak Black and his posse of young black men in expensive cars tried to enter the country that week with guns and drugs, it didn’t go so well.
The month ended with the announcement of a planned Frank Lloyd Wright addition to the Buffalo Grand Hotel, and another tale of Elon Musk’s struggles in Buffalo.
Stories on a Buffalo real estate Ponzi scheme run from Kuwait, a report on how to improve the local job market, the possible return of the Mafia in Buffalo, a new law firm named Cellino and Cellino (later changed), a plan to transform LaSalle park, and another plan for the outer harbor kicked off the month.
A story titled Confessions of a Niagara Falls trolley conductor included things the public doesn’t usually hear. We noted public reaction to the announcement that the movie, A Quiet Place 2 would be filmed locally. A new bill requiring boaters to take safety courses got a skeptical once-over. We chuckled at the notion of handing control of Buffalo’s school board over to the mayor, and we lamented the disrespectful act of plunking a TV amid artist Fotini Galanes’ wall mural in the restaurant, Patina 250.
As spring got into full swing, we looked at the dubious case against Roundup herbicide, and a study ranking the best and worst job markets in the US put Buffalo second last. Local LGBTQ members voiced doubts about some aspects of Gay Pride month. Teacher salaries and resistance to changing school traditions in Williamsville were two more topics.
Following up on the drive for legal weed, we reported that New York will have to wait another year, but you can still get a serious case of the giggles at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, now the National Comedy Center. Governor Cuomo green lit the Green Light law, and Michael “Mickey” Kearns pouted.
As summer heated up, there was a viral story of a fourteen-inch goldfish in the Black Rock Channel, which wasn’t the last fish story this year. M&T Bank announced plans to move into Seneca One Tower, lending credibility to developer Douglas Jemal renovation plans. We also covered Megabite Ronnie’s plan to represent Buffalo in Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney.
A corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Shields Street that served as a community pocket park got mowed down by city workers, and an angry community reacted. We covered Spot Coffee employee efforts to unionize (which they eventually did). We related a personal story about our efforts get information on a traffic incident we witnessed, which led to a larger discussion on police transparency.
Tinsel Town came to sleepy Olcott and we covered it. We compared local roofing contractor Todd Cameron’s fifty-one month sentence for hiring undocumented workers and cheating the IRS, to Donald Trump, who has done both and is still president. And we reported on the latest person to go over Niagara Falls and live.
We revealed the real reason for New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia’s abrupt resignation. And we mused over the optics of rude police behavior.
Let them drink coffee was the title of our deep look into one East Side neighborhood’s effort to stop a Tim Horton’s Coffee from being built on 474 Michigan Avenue. They would eventually fail, but their willingness to sue sent a message.
Buffalo pizza is the best anywhere, so says culinary expert, Arthur Bovino. Former University at Buffalo football player Chris Spell broke the world record for the standing jump at 64.125 inches (or about the height of my wife). A Quiet Place 2 tried to film in Orchard Park, but the town wanted thirteen times the price of filming in New York City.
Sorry, but we myth-busted the claim that Hamburg is the birthplace of the hamburger. And we asked, “Is it art?” as various critics weighed in on a new letter sculpture on Hertel. Then we noted how Facebook tends to encourage negative comments about anything that happens in Buffalo.
Beef on ’weck got national attention. We waxed nostalgic after seeing Brian Wilson play Pet Sounds at Artpark. The much beleaguered cultural center project at the Richmond Methodist Episcopal Church got our full attention; then, late in the year, it cleared the final hurtle and construction has started. The year saw many stories about Cellino and Barnes’ court battle. August had one. We closed the month with the true story of Seymour Knox and the first American Rolls-Royce.
We wondered what would happen to one block on Elmwood, now that Ronald and Barbara Lucchino bought its last building for seven times its value. We’re still wondering. We reflected on how Google knows when we were born. Kmart’s closing prompted us to ruminate on change, but a story about Let’s Goat Buffalo, the area’s first “goatscaping” business, was like a step back in time. The second fish story of the year was about a trout with two mouths.
We did a deep dive into the surprising and inspiring life of the Music is Art mermaid, and we told a wacky tale of a nighttime visitor to a lawn fountain (she was thirsty and hot). Home values were on our mind, as Buffalo residents began getting their revised assessments, and gentrification was again a subtext. We reported on the winner of Aim for the Sky, the contest to redesign the skyway and as always, we included people’s very mixed reactions.
The month ended with an investigation into some ghostly recordings, and the power of belief.
Another Chris Collins article provided an opportunity to explain insider trading, and why it’s bad. Then we rejoiced at plans for LaSalle Park, which is slated to become something of a wonderland by 2022. We brought you the Secret Life of Shark Girl, detailing the history of Buffalo’s favorite public art work, and just how much the artist has in common with her creation. All year, we followed the saga of Chris Collins’ insider trading case, which began the previous year. There were nineteen stories in which Collins was mentioned, and we’ll continue reporting until his sentencing this February.
A sad story about the loss of a friend was really a tale about living a good life. We told you about research which found that private schools do no better than public schools. (Sorry Sister Marie Anthony.) And we reported on a pending move by the extremely popular West Side Bazaar. There was also an almost surreal story on the Friends couch.
We liked a new downtown mural that states, “Keep Buffalo A Secret,” but there were plenty of other views on the subject. Then we told you about a Hollywood to Buffalo gossip pipeline that scooped all the local news outlets on Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley to be filmed in Buffalo.
The big news was the previous week’s powerful Halloween windstorm that blew down trees and moved a stranded scow after 101 years of being stuck in the Niagara River. We included the scow’s dramatic history. We told you about the ice-cream dude and a goofy article in Architectural Digest magazine that nevertheless said good things about Buffalo.
Speaking of history, we used an as-yet-not-fully-explained City Hall FBI raid to tell the backstory behind the origins of the art deco building. Then we reported on another dramatic Niagara Falls rescue. We told about plans to restore part of Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway, but showed how such plans often do not come to fruition. East Aurora political consultant Michael Caputo had a snit fit at Roger Stone’s trial. We gave thanks that the Albright-Knox Development and Expansion Project finally broke ground, and told readers how to make perfect mashed potatoes.
We offered readers a thought experiment to reflect on socialism. After Thanksgiving, we considered the ins-and-outs of turkey and football, and asked people to fight fake news by doubting themselves. We also cleared up that pop/soda debate.
As a white van owner, we noted the vehicle’s dark reputation. And another tragic demolition by neglect case at 435 Ellicott Street got everyone steamed, but will anything change?
An antivaccination billboard caught our attention, and the article that followed set off a firestorm of sometimes irrational, but always passionate responses. (They haven’t stopped yet!) We remembered artist Rodney Taylor, who tragically died weeks before a major exhibition as part of the opening of the Albright-Knox Northland facility.
We looked at the ecological cost of manufacturing plastic bags vs. the alternatives. Then we explained two lawsuits against Buffalo public schools for not providing arts education. We recounted the story of a Cheektowaga worker who painted a pro-Trump message on a town plow. The year ended with another sad tale of pals Roger Stone and Michael Caputo.
We can’t wait to see what comes next.
Happy New Year!
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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