The city of Buffalo once had a decent vintage clothing scene, but these days there are only a small handful of shops that cater to the retro crowd. So when a friend by the name of Fernando Ruiz suggested that we pay a visit to the City of Tonawanda, to explore their retro-vintage shops, I was game.
“As much as I wish to keep Tonawanda a secret… it is great to share with others who enjoy roaming for a great find,” said Fernando. “Lovely town with great soul, and a corner packed with lots of finds vintage clothing, house wares, local artist creations… and a great view to the river!”
While I was aware that the shop Cats Like Us was in business (I’ve heard their ads on the Buffalo State college radio station WBNY), I have to admit that I had never stopped in in person (shame, shame). The vintage boutique turned out to be one of the first shops on our list.
Upon entering, we were greeted by shop co-owner Julie Ann Davis (lead image), who began to tell us all about her 12 years in business at 67 Main Street in Tonawanda. She also clued us in to the “Retro Block” that had bubbled up around her over the years.
“Cats Like Us started as the anchor of the Retro Block Tonawanda on the corner of Main Street and Broad Street twelve years ago,” said Julie Ann. “Originally we were planning on opening on Hertel Ave, but the day we were going to sign the lease, a six foot piece of the facade fell off the building and I took that as a sign I needed to find a different location. While walking through the City of Tonawanda I stumbled upon this corner space on Main Street. It’s in walking distance to the Niagara River, several little parks with a large bike path, and all the necessities of running a business. My bank, post office, and car repair shops are only a few storefront away!
“Over the years we’ve seen businesses come and go, but we finally have our niche. Shops like Sweet Heart PinUp Photography Studio specialize in vintage inspired hairstyles, makeup, and photos all in one space, the Atomic Barber Shop & Salon can make your rockabilly hair a reality, The Mulberry Tree, a two floor antique shop will help you furnish your vintage home, Twin City Deli is an old school deli, and for dessert Hello Sweets will provide you with the classic candies you loved as a kid. More recently Black Sheep Market and Oddities gift shop opened next door to us and they are huge supporters of locally made gifts.
“At Cats Like Us, in addition to carrying retro and vintage mens and womens clothing and accessories, we host in-store events every month whether it’s local retro artists, vintage demos, or supporting local animal shelters. On the Retro Block you’ll find everything from antiques through today, but it will definitely take you back in time to the 1940s-1960s. It’s truly Main Street USA!”
Julie Ann inspired us to walk around in search of all of the fabulous places that she described. But before we left on our adventure, she told us about the upcoming Retro Block’s Rockabilly Garage Sale, set to be held on Sunday, October 3, from 12pm to 6pm. The event will feature styles that include pin-up, swing, rockabilly, gothabilly, tiki, atomic, and everything in-between. It’s going to be a day dedicated to shops and vendors selling men’s and women’s retro clothing, accessories, and housewares. Now that sounds like a heck of a lot of fun.
As we walked and talked, Fernando and I began to have a deeper appreciation for the quirky commercial neighborhood that we were discovering. Actually, being an avid retro clothing and barware collector, Fernando was well aware of the various shops along the way. Although he is relatively new to Buffalo, he immediately sought out these vintage outlets as a way to satiate his apparel and mixology-related shopping habits. As for me? It had been a long time since immersing myself in such a shopping frenzy – it was almost overwhelming to see how many of these retro oases had sprung up.
Another one of our initial stops was to Black Sheep Market and Oddities, where Fernando picked up a couple of skeleton keys to add to his collection. I scored a couple of throwback ‘hang ten’ island shirts at Cats Like Us, so I was pretty happy with the our excursion thus far.
Next up, we ventured into The Mulberry Tree, where Peter Karlinski (that day’s shopkeeper) introduced us to his operational vintage train set. We were blown away by Peter’s knowledge of trains – in particular, sales and repairs of Lionel postwar trains and accessories. We spent a good amount of time walking around the two-floor emporium, where I stumbled upon some retro glassware. But it was the train set that captivated us the most. Peter demonstrated numerous different engines and cars, while blowing the train whistle for added effect. The milk car demonstration was also pretty cool. I highly suggest stopping in for a demonstration.
While it was not on our list of retro shops, we did stop into the antique store Attic To Basement, which is a huge shop filled with all sorts of knicknacks. I couldn’t believe how big the place was – it just kept going back further and further. This was more of a meandering treasure hunt than any other place that we had been into – the store was broken up into various sections such as used appliances, cookware, jewelry, glassware, furniture, and books. I did manage to score an interesting set of Johnny Walker tumblers – Fernando helped me to identify the figures on the glasses with the use of a small magnifying glass (inset photo).
Seeing that we weren’t hungry, we were remiss to not stop into Twin City Deli for a bite to eat, but we will definitely make sure that we are both hungry the next time that we visit the Retro Block. While a sandwich was not in the cards, a throwback candy shop was something that we had to see. Hello Sweets turned out to be delightful. I couldn’t believe all of the candies and sodas from my youth, along with plenty of new surprises. I couldn’t help but purchase a Chuckles and a Crunchie, both of which I ate during our ride home. The stop into Hello Sweets was definitely the icing on the cake for our retro shopping escapade.
Tonawanda continues to surprise. From Dog Island to Rails to Trails… and now the Retro Block, I might have found one of my new favorite places to visit. If you’re thinking the same thing, then be sure to attend the upcoming Retro Block’s Rockabilly Garage Sale!