Wilson Farms was a chain convenience stores in the Buffalo area owned by Tops Markets back in the 80s and 90s. In early 1988 a new location was opening on Broadway and Schutrum St.. My mother was working at Tops headquarters and passed my application on to HR for Wilson Farms. That January I just turned 18 and still in high school when I was hired.
I was part of the new hires and got their full training program. Back in 1988 scanners were still not used in stores so everything needed to be priced. Training included knowing the difference between taxable versus non taxable, WIC, and Food Stamps. It wasn’t difficult except for bandages. Some were allowed on food stamps but were taxable, some were not taxable but you couldn’t use food stamps. We were also taught how to make sandwiches.
As one of the 3 males hired I was also trained on stocking and cleaning. Women were only expected to cash and work in the office. The store manager had an old school attitude about things. The first weekend of opening the manager yelled at me for proofing someone buying alcohol. He overrode me when I refused the sale because the guy didn’t have ID. So the guy got his beer.
As with all new openings they over hired. Once the store had been opened for a month they laid off over half the people. One guy was maid assistant manager and the other guy was kept as stock clerk. That meant I was laid off.
I started filling out applications at other places in the area including the Tops just past Bailey. After 2 weeks I was called back to work by the new store manager. I went back and asked what happened to the previous managers. It turns out the old school manager and his assistant were shorting the cash drawers and writing up people. It was what they did to partly justify who was laid off. He may have done it to me the few times I was on the register. He wouldn’t give us time to sign out properly. There was one older woman that had been a cashier for years at other places and wouldn’t let him push here around. She had kept track of everything and went to upper management with her proof. After the very quick investigation both managers were fired. The other stocker quit. They went from over double the needed people to less than half in a month.
I had an interview with Tops after a month or so. By mid May I was gone and starting at Tops.
Since then Tops was bought and sold a couple times. Wilson Farms was sold off on its own. It was then bought out by 7-11 which never had much presence in the area. There is no more Wilson Farms.
About four blocks away from my old home on Newton Street was an ice cream stand called The Dairy Isle. It was an old fashioned walk up ice cream stand with a couple of benches on the side for customers. It was the only place for miles to get custard. During the 1980s the area started becoming a food, entertainment, and retail desert.
In the spring of 1987, at 17, I got a job at the Dairy Isle. Mostly weekend until school ended for summer, them it was full time until September.
I got the job from the manager which was the same person that got me the community paper gig in 1985. She was the manager, the owner was usually very hands off. He would show up at the end of the day to count the daily take. For the entire summer we were short only twice. Once was a quarter and another time a dime and he was very upset. Both times the manager gave him the money out of tips to shut him up. He also owned several Dairy Queens in the suburbs and used the Dairy Isle to hide profits.
Duties at the stand were straight forward. serve ice cream and clean up. Morning shift was prep time making the different syrups and frozen treats. Night shift was tear down and clean up. It wasn’t a lot of money but it had more buying power back in the 80s.
A few years later a friend and I found his car abandoned at the stand with him nowhere around. We went to the manager’s house to see if she had contact information. It turned out his girlfriend picked him up and they left in her car. The mistake was the Dairy Queens were in his wife’s name and the Dairy Isle was in his. Because of this the place went up for sale and has only opened sporadically since the mid 90s.
In 1985 a friend’s mom asked me to help deliver a community newspaper for the democratic common council member representing our neighborhood. We were paid two cents a delivered paper. The entire council district needed to be covered in a weekend. We did this for about three months, one edition per month. It actually wasn’t bad money, Buffalo had more people back then so more papers to deliver.
Due to gerrymandering and shifting population the district has changed since the 80s. At first it was Broadway-Fillmore and Genesee-Moselle but added Allentown, the lower West Side, part of the waterfront and Marine Drive, Larkinville, the old First Ward over years. That same councilman I worked for was still in office in 2019. Finally he was replaced this last election. It was sad watching the neighborhood fall apart and see the same leader elected for 32 years.
This is my second Where Was I post. This job was with the Buffalo Mayor’s Summer Youth Program, I was assigned to work at Dom Polski. Back in 1984 Dom Polski (Polish Home) was the Polish Cultural Center at 1081 Broadway in the Polish east side. The lower level had J. C. Mazur Gallery, the two upper levels were a large stage with the seating area used as a gym. Above that was an area for a game room with a pool table and air hockey.
From the end of June to the end of August 1984 I worked supervising kids; usually in the game room. The weird part of the job is about half of the kids I supervised were my age or older. Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 3:30pm the upstairs was open to kids from the city. Usually only kids from the neighborhood showed up. Every day at noon the game room and gym closed for an hour for the summer lunch program. Anyone under 18 in New York State is eligible for a free lunch during the summer. I was assigned to inventory leftovers for the state. Certain items could be given out within the week and had to be accounted for.
The job was relatively easy and only a ten minute walk from home. It is odd that minimum wage at the time was only $3.35. Amazing that was considered a living wage.