Welcome to Part 2 of my series about Larkinville. In Part 1, we discussed a little of the history of the area itself, along with a short history of The Larkin Company. That video of the Larkin Administration Building! I’ve seen it many times now, but it still fascinates me each and every time I see it.
In this post, I hope to give you an overview of what’s going on there today from an urban hiker’s point of view. As I explained in Part 1, I’ve had the chance to hike around this area recently, and today I’ll be concentrating on Seneca Street in particular and what’s going on there. It’s a lot, as you’ll see.
Let’s Get Started
On the day I visited the Larkin Gallery, I decided to walk from the corner of Seneca and Lord towards the Larkin Commerce Center on the north side of the street. This is the first building I see, and it appears to be a typical Buffalo double. And it is. A couple of interesting things here though.
I think the house was built in 1870, and in 1895 a 12-year-old boy was reported missing from this address. The father thought that the boy probably hopped a train out of town. Apparently, it was not the first time the boy ran away from home. The summer before, he had run away and his father found him a day and a half later at an outdoor market in the city. The article I read was from the Buffalo Evening News, and was about five lines long. And the last line mentioned that the police had been notified to keep an eye out. No one seemed very concerned at all! Wow!
Also, there was a fire here in 1897, when the first floor held a paint and wallpaper store, owned and operated by the Koepf family. And in 1943, the family living here was the Czolgosz family. That’s right, same last name as the man who shot McKinley at the Pan American Exposition. I admit to never having thought about Leon Czolgosz’s family. I know he was from Michigan, and it’s entirely possible there was no relation, but….you never know.
Goes to show, every home has a story to tell.
Next, a Grocery Store
This next building was originally a grocery store owned by Frank X. Winkler, who ran the store with his sons. The Winkler family lived directly behind this building on Seymour Street, one of the nicer residential streets in the district. Frank could literally walk through his back yard and into the back door of his business. Also, the store remained virtually unchanged and was run by the Winkler family until 1968. Cool.
After that, the building was owned by a printer, a tile company, and sat empty for a while. SelectOne Search purchased the building in 2015 and has done a fantastic job returning the building to its former glory. SelectOne has their offices on the second and third floors of the building.
The Winkler Building, Commercial Romanesque Revival in style, was typical of the commercial buildings in this area, as you’ll see. When I walk by, I picture Frank Winkler and sons, selling groceries back in the day.
The Schaefer Building
The Schaefer Building was built in 1900 and was designed by Joseph J.W. Bradney, who also designed the Sidway Building, as well as John D. Larkin Jr’s home on Lincoln Parkway. Cool, I’ve heard of Joseph Bradney because of the Sidway Building, but I didn’t know he designed the Schaefer Building, and John D. Jr’s home as well.
This building was restored by the Larkin Development Group (responsible for much of the work here in Larkinville) in 2010 and is now a mix of offices and two bedroom apartments.
The Hydraulic Hearth
This building was built in 1890 and is home to the Hydraulic Hearth Restaurant & Brewery, and I might add some of the finest artisan cocktails in the city. Don’t ask me how I know that…
Here’s an interesting photo I happened upon on facebook, shared by a reader who used to work in the Larkin Building from 1987 – 1995. He shared how he would go to the Swan Lounge (now the Hydraulic Hearth) for a beer after working second shift. I find this photo so interesting, not only because of how different the building looked at that time, but I love to look at old advertisements. Gives you a peek at what was happening in the area at the time.
Quite a transformation to what it looks like today (see below). This photo was actually taken a couple of years ago. On the left you can see the beginnings of what is one of the best outdoor patios in the city. And we all know how important outdoor patios have become. Even in the winter, I wanted to go in and sit for a while. The building is owned by Mill Race Commons, a subsidiary of Larkin Development Group. They’ve done a great job here.
Pre-Covid, one of the biggest Larkinville events of the summers features a Beatles cover band playing on the roof of this building (see lead image). This, of course, harkens back to 1969 when the Beatles performed on the roof of Apple Records in London. Looking forward to seeing the ‘Beatles’ on the roof again. Someday…
The Swan Street Diner
Here’s where I come upon the Swan Street Diner. What every good food destination needs, a real diner. This one’s an original. It’s a 1937 Sterling Company diner car built by the J.D. Judkins Company in Massachusetts. It was brought to Larkinville in 2013 and restored beautifully. The Mahogany wood trim appears brand new, but it is original.
In Part 1, I mentioned that the Larkin Company started Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for their premiums. The woman who waited on me the first time I had breakfast there, told me that the diner was able to purchase some of the last place settings that Buffalo China made here in Buffalo in 2013. No other dishes would be more fitting! She also pointed out that the wallpaper and wall graphics (very whimsical and diner-like) inside the diner were designed by local artists who used the dishes as their inspiration. She didn’t seem to think this stuff was a big deal. But I thought it was pretty cool. The diner’s website corroborated her story. And the food is fantastic too!
Engine 32 / Ladder 5 Quarters
Buffalo Fire Department, Engine 32/Ladder 5 proudly serves the Larkin District. The building was built in 1955. Bet these firefighters are glad to see the recent changes in the area.
The Larkin Gallery
It’s time for our tour of the Larkin Gallery with Jerome (Jerry) Puma. Tim (my husband) is with me on this cold, windy day at the end of December. We follow Jerry into the Larkin Center of Commerce, and off to the left (just beyond Eckl’s). We walk through the glass doors and are immediately transported back in time. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are probably well acquainted with my propensity for time-travel. The Larkin Gallery is an excellent opportunity to feel like you’ve time-traveled. You know, while we await actual time-travel.
Jerry leads us back out into the hallway of the Center of Commerce. There’s a lot to see in this beautiful building. Not the least of which is the amazing photography on the walls by Joe Cascio. It chronicles the transformation of the building. Amazing and powerful shots. He really gives you a feel for what was here before. Check it out anytime. Just let the guards at the desk know what you’re up to. Cascio’s photography alone is worth the trip.
A Lending Library?
Also in the hallway, off to the left, is an actual lending library! Specifically, it’s the Arnold B. Gardner Memorial Lending Library. Gardner was an attorney in Buffalo and after his death the books were donated by his family. They cover everything from American history, art, biographies of well-known Buffalonians, to a collection of short stories about Ireland. And pretty much everything you could possibly think of in between.
What a peculiar thing in a building such as this! But also kind of wonderful!
The Gallery Itself
The Larkin Gallery is the brainchild of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions, and Sharon Osgood, Curator. The gallery opened in 2017, and focuses on the history of the Larkin Soap Company. Jerry tells me that both he and Osgood feel the Larkin Company played such an integral part of Buffalo’s history, that we needed this gallery. Having seen it, I agree. The gallery gives such insight into what life was really like in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. And I don’t just mean the dawn of electricity, or automobiles (although these were huge). This gallery shows you actual products people used on a regular basis in their homes.
Through the years, I, like most Buffalonians, have heard the stories about the history of the Larkin Company. See Part 1. But until you’re standing in the gallery, looking at the actual products and premiums produced by the company, you really have no idea. The size and scope of the Larkin Company was massive. In the gallery, there are drawers full of the catalogs (the art on the covers are amazing!), bottles and bottles of all sorts of Larkin Products from perfume, to castor oil, most still partially or full of product. There are cookbooks for housewives, bags of flour, boxes of ‘short cut’ spaghetti. Tins of coffee, boxes of pudding mix, extracts, and pieces of Buffalo Pottery, all produced by the Larkin Company. And there are many, many more. Absolutely amazing how much of this stuff still exists.
The gallery is funded in large part by the Larkin Center of Commerce. But it’s also made possible by various donations. Donors include Mary Larkin, great-granddaughter of John D. Larkin Sr., Jerome Mead, an art professor, as well as Sharon Osgood, Jerome Puma, and more. Also, Peg Meisenbach was able to fulfill her deceased mother’s (Raeanne Roy) wish that her entire collection of Larkin items be donated to a Larkin Museum. Jerry tells me that some of the larger items in the gallery were among this collection.
Jerry also tells me he checks ebay daily for Larkin items. After scoring a couple of Larkin items at local antique shops myself, I too have started checking ebay occasionally as well.
And the Premiums!
Not to mention the premiums! These items are unbelievable! In case you haven’t read Part 1, premiums were the items ‘given’ to customers who spent $10 on Larkin products. Here are some of the items in the museum.
Check out this video. The Larkin Company made the cabinet, the workings, and the records! Symphonola Records. I don’t know why I love this so much, I just do! And that’s Jerry Puma demonstrating the volume control. I love it!
It would seem to me that local schools should tour this gallery as part of their history classes. It really brings Buffalo history to life. Maybe an urban hike to see the buildings and a quick lesson on architecture. Complete with lunch in Larkin Square afterwards. Sounds perfect doesn’t it?
The Larkin Center of Commerce
Thought I’d better talk about the building we were just in, ha!
The Larkin Center of Commerce doesn’t have one date associated with when it was built. Rather, it was built between 1895 and 1907. It’s actually 12 separate but contiguous buildings. The Larkin Company simply kept adding to the original building in order to accommodate their needs for manufacturing, retail and administrative support. The original brick was covered with a cement-like material in the 1960s, giving it that bright white look. Honestly, the finish could use a bit of work at this point, but for the most part it still looks pretty decent.
The building is currently owned by Seneca Larkin Holdings LLC. Most of it has been opened up and joined together, creating well over a million square feet of usable space. Over 100 tenants now call the Larkin Center of Commerce home.
The Larkin U Building
I’ve veered off of Seneca Street, and on to Van Rensselaer in order to get a better look at The Larkin U Building, which was built in 1893 for industrial scrap recycler D. Ullman Sons Recycling. The Larkin Company bought the building in 1911 for use as a factory. Interesting factoid, the building housed a bowling alley in the basement for use by members of the Larkin Men’s Club. The building was used by two other manufacturers before Larkin Development Group bought the U Building in 2011.
The building underwent extensive restoration and renovations since, and now serves as Key Corps Regional Headquarters. This is another example of the Romanesque Revival Commercial building that was so prevalent in this district. It’s my humble opinion that the work the Larkin Development Group did here is excellent. I’m drawn to this building for some reason. It’s similar to others in the neighborhood, but there’s just something about this one. As my father would say, it’s very well appointed.
The LCO Building
Just a ways down from the Larkin U Building is what is now called the LCO Building, formerly known as the Larkin Warehouse, or the Larkin R, S, T Building, or the Larkin Terminal Warehouse, or Larkin at Exchange. Suffice it to say that this building has undergone many changes over the years. None, I don’t think, is better than it’s current look and use. And while I want to dislike the parking ramp that is adjacent to the building, if I worked in the LCO Building, I might just use it.
Let’s Continue the Hike
As I head back to Seneca Street, I find myself wishing it was summer. The first thing I see is The Filling Station. This building was an actual gas station run by Gulf until the mid 1990’s or so. Hence, it’s name. It’s since been converted into a casual dining space specializing in lunch items, to serve the workforce in the area. It’s also host to smaller events like paint nights, local artisan markets etc.
Adjacent to the Filling Station is the now famous pavilion where all sorts of events take place in the warm months, and sometimes in the cold months as well. It is also here that Buffalo’s Food Truck Tuesdays take place. There are food trucks here almost every night in the summer. But on Tuesdays, this area is packed with the most popular mobile food establishments the city’s got! And being the foodie city that we are, Buffalonians come out in droves to partake. Let’s hope we can do this again soon.
The Kamman Building
This building was completed in 1884, built by John Kamman, a German immigrant who settled in the Hydraulics around that same time. The Kamman family trade was butchery, and their meat markets and grocery chain had at least 30 stores in the area, including this one in the Hydraulics. Note: it was right across from the Winkler & Sons grocery store! Must have been plenty of business to go around.
The building is another Romanesque Revival Commercial design that was typical in the Hydraulics. The architect was Franklin W. Caulkins, who was well-known in Buffalo. See more of his work here and here. The building is owned by an out of town company, Kamman Group LLC with an address in Rochester, NY. It’s a mixed use building with offices and apartments.
Moving Right Along: Custom Canvas
Custom Canvas has been in the area since the 1960’s and is still here. I know Tim and I have bought several awnings from them for various projects and we’ve always been happy with their work and their service. They do everything from repair to custom tarps to cab enclosures, pool covers, military installations, party tents and many more.
Love it that they’ve been here this long. Hope they stay.
Mill Race Commons
Next I come to this. Mill Race Commons. It’s to be a mix of retail on the first floor, and apartments in the rest of the building. Not sure whether I like this or not. I know what the original plans looked like. It’s always interesting to see what these projects look like when they’re completed. This project is being done by Larkin Development Group as well. Looking forward to the finished product.
As I cross Lord/Griffin Streets, I come upon this. It’s a shrine to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the 1950’s by a barber named Joe Battaglia, who lived on the property with his family above his shop. He claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, and that she asked him to build this shrine to her. After Joe’s death, the shrine fell into disrepair. The city took possession and was going to demolish it, but some neighbors fought to preserve it, a few of them bought it and now maintain it. Sweet.
But I do have one question. Why is this shrine listed on Google as “Our Lady of the Prom”? Anybody?
This is where we come upon a smattering of residential homes. The yellow brick home has a double lot and is meticulously maintained. Would love to see the inside of this place. It appears to have been a storefront at one time.
And then there are these two. Reminds me of something out of the wild west. Both have great architectural details. The one on the right has those decorative window surrounds and a nice decorative top. The brick one with the cast iron facade, pilasters, and its rounded windows and corbelled brick is lovely. It’s another, smaller scale Romanesque Revival Commercial building that we’ve seen throughout the neighborhood. I really like these.
Both of these buildings were rehabbed by the Larkin Development Group several years ago now, and have been brought back to retail or office space on the first floor with apartments above. They’ve since been sold.
In 2016, Buffalo Distilling Company moved from a barn in Wyoming County, into this building (see below). It was built in 1890 for Duchmann and Son’s, who ran a carriage factory. They used to build carriages here, and now Buffalo Distilling makes incredibly good whiskey, brandy, gin, vodka and krupnik here. I’ve tried all but the brandy (not my thing, but I’ve heard it’s good) and this group knows what they’re doing.
Buffalo Distilling first leased and eventually bought the building from the Larkin Development Group. All their liquors are made on site, in their self-designed, engineered and installed stillhouse. That’s impressive.
They’ve (of course) opened a cocktail bar and tasting room up front. When you’ve had enough One Foot Cock Bourbon, walk around behind the building and go left on the path. It leads you right to…
Flying Bison Brewery
This place. What can I tell you about Flying Bison Brewery that you don’t already know? They have become a veritable Buffalo institution. I say they, because this brewery is people. When you enter their tasting room you are welcomed as if you’ve been a regular for years, even if it’s your first trip there.
But that’s not all. Without getting into too much detail, let me give you a little bit of background on Flying Bison. Tim Herzog and Phil Internicola, along with 25 other individual investors, started selling beer in 2000. Their goal was to bring the once thriving, locally owned brewing business back to the city of Buffalo.
Opening their first brewery on Ontario Street made them the first stand-alone brewery in Buffalo since Iroquois Brewing left in 1972. And their beer was good. People loved it. But around 2010, the rising prices of ingredients caused them to slow production while they figured a way to survive.
In the end, they sold the company to Saranac Brewing (remember Utica Club?), with the stipulation that Flying Bison would always be made in Buffalo. Tim Herzog continues as General Manager. And he manages the brewery very well. I don’t even know if he realizes it, but Tim Herzog is the brewery.
Helping Out Along the Way
If the company’s vision was to bring the craft brewing industry back to the city, then the vision has been realized. Flying Bison has collaborated with other startup breweries from the beginning, helping, organizing and working together for the common good. Which in this case is to bring Buffalonians (and beyond) good quality craft beer. Staying true to who Buffalo is as a city.
Flying Bison works with other local businesses too. Have you tried Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter? Or Fowler’s Chocolate Cherry Porter? Come on, this is true community stuff! In addition to the regular – all the time beer, the beer list changes with the times and their creativity is seemingly endless. Who would think to brew a peanut stick (which is a Buffalo thing) porter?
Twenty one years later, I would say they’ve succeeded. Look at the craft beer industry in Buffalo. It’s everywhere now! Even all the corner bars carry local craft beer on tap… I get it that this is happening in a lot of cities around the country, but Buffalo has a rich history in brewing. I for one am happy to see it return.
And it may never have happened without Flying Bison. Gee, do you think I should do a whole post about Flying Bison?
Check out the label on Flying Bison’s Larkin Lager bottle. That’s the Larkin Administration Building. Nice touch! Photos used courtesy of Jerry Puma.
In the beginning of this post, I said there is a lot going on in this neighborhood. There sure is. And there is so much more I could have written! There is more to say about the Larkin Company, and family. Not to mention the story behind the Larkin Development Group and Leslie and Howard Zemsky. They’re the faces behind just about all the development in Larkinville. Their story would have to be a book though! Hey…
I’ve heard people say that Larkinville is contrived. Maybe so. But look at the good going on here today, compared to what this area was like just twenty years ago. It was not a place most people wanted to hang out. I’ve recently heard from several people, some no longer in WNY, who stated that this area is horrible, one person actually called it a ‘rat hole of a place’. They’ve obviously been gone for a while, because as you’ve seen, this area is absolutely taking its place in Buffalo’s renaissance. If that is due to the vision of a handful of people (companies) then so be it. Real growth in an area always happens because of the vision of a few people, willing to take a risk.
Think About It
The story of Larkinville is long and somewhat checkered. Buffalo’s rise to greatness, it’s fall in the mid-twentieth century, and it’s return as a dynamic, vital American city has been felt deeply in the Larkin District. Anything that helps a community move forward, while simultaneously looking back and learning from the past, is a good thing for a city. Without knowing them personally, I cheer the Zemskys for their efforts here. I see their role here as somewhat the same as the role John D. Larkin and family played back in their day.
To paraphrase something Jerome Puma of the Larkin Gallery said to me at some point, anything that highlights and establishes a sense of history in Buffalo, is a good thing. I agree wholeheartedly.
Don’t forget to stop in at the Larkin Gallery in the Larkin Center of Commerce. It’s free to go in, although donations are gratefully accepted. They’re open Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm. Tours are available by appointment.
Hopefully, it’ll be spring soon and you can go out on a patio at the Hydraulic Hearth for one of those artisan cocktails I told you about. Or to Flying Bison for a Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter or a Rusty Chain. (They’re both open for indoor socially distanced service, but it is entirely up to you whether you want to go. They both also offer take out services.)
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
Back in November and December, I was able to make it to a few urban trail runs hosted by Flying Bison Brewery. Now, I’m not a runner, but walkers are welcome too, so I’ve been to several of these. It’s one of the few things I can do with friends, while keeping a good distance from each other. (Another reason urban hiking is awesome!) For those of you who are thinking it, social distancing and masks are required at these events. This gives me a chance to urban hike around Larkinville of course, because Flying Bison is right there on Seneca Street.
With all the recent changes going on in Larkinville, I got to thinking about what used to be here. What it was like in the more recent past. But also long ago when this area was referred to as ‘the Hydraulics’.
Shortly after I published a post about the Medical Corridor, I received an email from Jerome Puma. During our email exchanges, he offered me a tour of the Larkin Gallery. Well, you know I never turn down the offer of a tour of anything Buffalo related! So, off I went to the Larkin Gallery. More about that later.
As I sit down to write about Larkinville, I realize that this will have to be a two part series. One, about the Hydraulics and the Larkin Company. And one about what is happening in Larkinville now and how the Larkin Gallery is preserving the history of the Larkin Company.
Let’s get this party started.
In 1827, Reuben B. Heacock founded the Hydraulics Business Association, bringing together several business owners from this immediate area. The Association was responsible for bringing the Hydraulic Canal to the area in that same year. It was fed by the Buffalo Creek and was later connected to the Erie Canal by way of the Main and Hamburg Canal. This is how the name ‘Hydraulics’ was coined.
This was Buffalo’s first use of industrial waterpower. By 1832, the same year Buffalo incorporated as a city, this area was flourishing as the center for business and industry. There was a saw mill, a grist mill, a shoe last mill (shoemaker), a hat factory, a pail factory, and, of course, a brewery. Always breweries, this is Buffalo after all.
There were also many smaller mom & pops who supported these businesses. These would have included ‘garage’ businesses where small parts were supplied to and repaired for machinery used by industry. There would have also been churches, general stores, bakeries and other food service, messenger services, barber shops, taverns and more. The Hydraulics also contained homes, boarding houses and apartments for the many people who lived and worked in the area.
By the early 1840’s railroads came into the neighborhood and served both the people and the companies in the area. Shortly thereafter the canal was no longer used and was filled in by 1883.
The Hydraulics would have been a bustling, thriving area of Buffalo.
The Larkin Company
It’s important to note that the Hydraulics was already well established by the time John D. Larkin and his wife’s brother, Elbert Hubbard, brought Larkin’s two year old soap company into the district in 1877. But his company grew so fast that it would become a major force in the hydraulics for the next 60 years or so. He added on to what is now the Larkin Commerce Center several times in order to accommodate the growing business. He built several other buildings in the district as well for the same reason.
The Larkin Company pioneered several business practices, including but not limited to, catalog sales and the practice of giving rewards for purchases. The “Larkin Idea” put simply was that by selling directly to customers, the cost of the middleman was avoided, including their own sales force. This made it possible to create what was referred to as ‘premiums’ or in other words, a reward for purchasing Larkin products. Hubbard originally came up with the idea of including little decorative cards and postcards with each order, as a little ‘thank you’ for the purchase. Within a few years, Larkin and Hubbard decided to stop using salesmen altogether. They began marketing directly to the customers in their homes with catalogs. The money they saved by not paying sales commissions were spent on ‘premiums’, or rewards.
In the 1890s, Hubbard left the Larkin Company and established the Roycroft Movement in East Aurora.
How Did ‘Premiums’ Work?
Here’s how it worked. When you purchased Larkin products totaling $10, you would receive a ‘premium’ of your choice. The soap and other products that Larkin sold (eventually totaling more than 900 widely varied items) were highly regarded. The company was well respected for quality. The premiums were also good, quality products. They ranged from lamps to desks to living room chairs, to phonographs, dining room furniture, china, silverware and more. In fact, The Larkin Company formed Buffalo Pottery (later Buffalo China) in order to keep up with the demand for premiums.
Larkin products were eventually everything from soap and shampoos, to food and food additives, condiments, shoe and furniture polish, oils, perfumes, painting supplies and wallpaper. Picture frames, manicure sets and nail polishes, hosiery, clothing patterns and clothes! The list is seemingly endless! It would not be difficult to spend $10 when you page through a catalog with that many items. But you might be surprised at how many items you could get for $10 back in the day!
The Larkin Company recruited women (mainly housewives) to start ‘Larkin Clubs’ made up of ten women who would get together monthly. The ten pledged to spend $1/month on Larkin Products, and the women would take turns choosing a ‘premium’ item. Some clubs were larger than 10, some smaller. The women would each receive a premium every 10 months or so, depending the number of women in the club. The ‘secretaries’ would receive a nominal commission. And the company would be assured regular customers. It was genius really. A total win win.
And of course, if you could afford it, you could place an order for a $10 purchase whenever you wanted. Like in this video below, produced by the Larkin Company.
It’s a fantastic look into the history of the Larkin Company, but there are also other things to note as well. The hand wrapping of the soaps, but also how mechanized the factories actually were for their day. I’m pretty sure OSHA would have found the Larkin Company to be in violation of several regs! Haha! Also, the mail truck and other vehicles! The writing of the order in letter form seems so quaint today, but I’m sure that’s how it was done.
This video was brought to you courtesy of Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery.
The Larkin Idea was a Huge Success
By 1920, the company employed 2,000 people, and had $28.6 million in sales (worth roughly $372,500,000 in 2021). That, my friends, is a lot of bread. Absolutely incredible.
The success of the company allowed Larkin to hire Frank Lloyd Wright to build a state of the art, and a work of art, administration building on Seneca Street across from the Larkin Commerce Center. Completed in 1906, the building was noted for its many innovations, including rudimentary, but effective, air conditioning; built-in office furniture, much of which was metal and very unusual for the time; and state of the art public bathrooms.
It was built of red brick with pink mortar, featured two outdoor waterfalls, and that wrought iron! The interior was, in typical Wright fashion, stunning. It held a five-story atrium in the center and open work spaces on the outer walls of the building.
The company eventually topped out at 4,000 employees in the 1920’s. The Larkin family, along with all of the employees, celebrated the company’s 50th Anniversary in 1925.
The Beginning of the End
As early as 1915, John D. Larkin Jr. was getting more involved in the managing of company policies. William Heath (John D. Sr’s brother-in-law and Office Manager) retired in 1924. Darwin D. Martin, long-time and trusted company secretary (probably would be equal to a V.P. today) retired in 1925. It is reported that they had differences of opinions with Junior on how to move forward with the future of the Company. Just what those were, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. After these two left, several other high ranking employees who had been around for a long time followed suit.
This is never good for a company. When so much experience walks out the door, there is bound to be trouble. Not always insurmountable, but definitely a sign of trouble to come.
In 1926, John D. Larkin passed away at the age of 80. John D. Larkin Jr. took over as president. The company struggled through the stock market crash and the ensuing depression that followed.
All of this came at a time when regular folks had better access to automobiles, and retail department stores became more and more common. It was no longer necessary to order products through the mail. Customers could now walk into a store and purchase items that they could actually look at before buying, and take home with them that same day.
The Larkin company, under John D. Jr, tried several different ways to keep up with the changing times, but in 1940, a restructuring of the business took place in order to avoid bankruptcy. Harry Larkin (John D. Jr’s brother, and son of John D. Sr.) took over as president, and John D. Jr. retired that same year. The company was broken up into smaller corporations in order to salvage portions of the business for the stockholders.
What about the Administration Building?
The Frank Lloyd Wright designed building was eventually sold to a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania contractor hoping the back taxes owed on the building (amounting to just over $104,000) would offset huge profits he was making elsewhere. When the federal government denied the tax break, the building sat empty for many years.
The city took possession, and half-hearted attempts were made at selling it, but being removed from the downtown core made it a difficult sell. In the end, the Western Trading Corporation purchased the building for $5,000, promising to tear it down and infill with new builds creating a new tax base for the city.
The Administration Building was taken down in 1950. The materials were used to fill in what used to be the Ohio Basin, now Father Conway Park, between Louisiana Street and Ohio Street. New infill, creating that promised tax base, never materialized.
The video below is a stunning look at both the exterior and interior of the building we have now lost. The Video is courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
In speaking to Jerome Puma, Director of Acquisitions at the Larkin Gallery, I was surprised to learn that The Larkin Company continued to sell items until 1962, and never went bankrupt. Like most, I thought the whole thing ended in the 40s. But Buffalo Pottery continued to operate, with Harold M. Esty, Jr. (John D. Sr’s grandson) as president from 1964 – 1970. It was sold to Oneida in 1983. Good to know.
The story of the Larkin Company is obviously much more complicated than I’ve just laid out for you. But I would have to write a book, and that’s already been done. The best one I’ve seen is John D. Larkin: A Business Pioneer by Daniel I. Larkin, John D’s grandson. There is a lot of history in this book about the man, his family, and the company. It reads like a novel at times, and is extremely well written. When I read it, I felt like I had traveled back in time, and you know how I love that.
All that said, I get a real feeling in this area of the city. Of days gone by, of history, of industry. Of Buffalonians going about their daily lives experiencing the joys, the struggles, the hopes and dreams for the future, just like we do today. Perhaps I get this feeling because it is once again a growing, thriving part of our city, with people staking their futures on success in this same area where The Larkin Company once made its mark on the history of Buffalo.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, Larkinville – Part 2, where we’ll discuss what’s happening in Larkinville now. Who are the people and the businesses that are already here, and we’ll take a closer look at the Larkin Gallery, located in the Larkin Commerce Building. One trip to the Gallery, and you’ll know why so many people are still fascinated with The Larkin Company, and indeed the Larkin family, today.
I’m one of them. See you next week!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in reading about where the Larkin family lived here in Buffalo. Spoiler alert: their homes were (and some still are) spectacular! Enjoy!
**Special thanks to Jerome Puma – couldn’t have done it without you!
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
As I sit down to write this post about the Town Casino/Ballroom I find myself reflecting about music in general. It’s meant so much to me over the years. Music runs through my veins.
My Grandfather was a drummer; my Father played the saxophone. Ever since I can remember, music has been a big part of everyday life and every family celebration we’ve ever had. As a child, I watched my Dad choose albums to load onto the turntable to put on during a party. My Mother played her albums during the day while she worked around the house. As kids, 45s and albums were among the first things we bought with our paper route money.
Later, I met and married a man whose family loved music as well. Throughout our marriage, going to see live music has been and continues to be, one of our ‘things’. We both love a good live show. Whether it’s a big show, like Paul McCartney, or happening upon a jazz trio at Hot Mama’s Canteen. We love it.
Lockdown on Live Music
So when a friend suggested that I write about the Town Ballroom, I thought, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” My very next thought was that I haven’t been to the Town Ballroom in far too long. And I’m not talking about quarantine long. Longer. It’s been a few years. Right now, I’m thinking that I wasted some of my previous freedom not doing some things that I wanted to be doing. Does that make sense? Not being able to go anywhere or do anything gives you a real clear idea of what freedom is. And how you’ve (maybe) wasted some of it.
Like a lot of Buffalonians, I’m really going to miss live music this summer. For those of you not from here, Buffalo is a great place to see live music. Always has been, and I hope it always will be. The music scene as a whole has been part of Buffalo’s history for a long, long time. Part of that storied history involves the Town Casino. Or the Town Ballroom, as it is now called.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Town Casino
Founded and run by Harry Altman and Harry Wallens, the Town Casino has seen some amazing musical history. Between the 1940s and the 1960s this restaurant /nightclub, which were known at the time as supper clubs, was the place to be in Buffalo.
Picture this, you’re watching an old movie set in the ’40s. The main characters live in a Delaware Avenue type mansion. At the last minute, she throws on a gown, and he a tuxedo, and out they go (at midnight) for a late dinner and dancing featuring live music. Well, if the movie was set in Buffalo, they would have gone to the Town Casino.
White linen tablecloths, waiters in suits, hat check and cigarette girls (sorry ladies), a big band up on stage playing whatever was hot that week. Three shows a night, 7:30, 10:30 and 1:30! And big-name entertainers. The biggest. Nat King Cole, Lena Horn, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Les Paul, Dizzy Gillespie, not to mention the entire rat pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Comedians, dancing girls (sorry again ladies). And many, many more.
There were rumors of mob activities in the famed ‘basement’ bar. Men played cards downstairs, Al Capone among them. Although the rumors extend to illegal firearms being stored, bought, and sold in this basement, we’ll never know the whole truth. It is, however, a generally accepted story that Frank Sinatra liked the Town Casino and traveled to Buffalo more than once for the express purpose of going there to hang out. Even when he wasn’t ‘playing’. That I can picture. But you know my propensity for daydreaming…
The 50’s and 60’s
Things became a little less formal in the ’50s and ’60s as far as fashion goes (still dressy, but no more gowns and tuxes). But the big names were still on the marquee, there were still three shows a night, and it was still, the place to go.
I asked around a bit with a few older friends and relatives about the Town Casino. These people would have been there in the late ’50s and ’60s. They agreed that it was a great venue. One gentleman told me that if he wanted to impress a girl, or her father, he would take her there. It was expensive, he told me. Worth every penny, he also told me, if he really liked the girl.
My father told me that he and my Mom went there just once. They had a great night, but they both preferred the smaller, more casual clubs on the East Side.
In our conversation, my father mentioned the Glen Casino in Williamsville, also owned and run by Harry Altman. He opened it in 1934, and it seated 1500 people! This club featured big-name acts as well. On the same property, they had kiddie rides in addition to the music, food, and dancing. Both he and my mother had young sisters, and they would take the girls out there and spent the day listening to music and watching the kids enjoy the rides. I looked it up, and at the time the rides would have been a nickel, and pitchers of beer were a quarter. Not gonna impress anybody’s father at those prices, but most could afford a day out like that every once in a while. The Glen Casino in Williamsville has been transformed into the now familiar Glen Park.
Whatever Happened to the Town Casino?
With the decline of the city in the ’60s and ’70s, so too the Town Casino suffered and eventually changed hands. Studio Arena operated there for a while, and UB’s Pfeiffer Theatre did too. In the early 2000s, a night club was opened there again as the Sphere. Not like the Town Casino. More of a concert venue. The Sphere was short-lived.
That’s the story in a nutshell. Short and sweet, as they say.
The Town Ballroom
In 2005, Artie Kwitchoff and Donny Kutzbach took over the building and began the transformation back to the glory days of the Town Casino. Even the name they chose for their premier concert venue harkens back and is a nod to those days.
In 2007, The Tragically Hip played two sold-out shows at the Town Ballroom which really put the venue on the map as a serious concert venue in the city. Our son was there as part of his job (at the time) at a music store the first night. The second night we managed to wrangle some tickets and were able to be there. A-mazing. Excellent show, equally excellent venue.
Those concerts are memorialized on the Ballrooms’ marquee, as are photos of the Buffalo skyline.
Take a look at this quick video, by Rory Allen of Zoom Copy, showing the installation of the new marquee.
The Town Ballroom has been alive and well, and thriving on Main Street in Buffalo ever since. They are busy showcasing a variety of music geared towards young people who are always eager to come out to see up and coming bands, along with well-established bands that will attract the older set as well. Of course, you can’t really pigeonhole music like that, but you get the idea, there’s a good variety of live music happening here. Or, should I say, will again. Soon?
If you’ve been watching the Town Ballrooom website like I have the past few weeks, some shows have been canceled, but some, especially further out into the fall, are still listed, and I am sure there will be more to come in the future. Looking forward to it.
Thinking about the Covid-19 pandemic makes me wonder what the future will bring as far as live music goes in the Queen City. Most of our regular concert series have been canceled.
I’ve taken part in some online ‘live’ concerts in the past couple of months, and I know the musicians mean well, but for me, it’s just not the same. Standing, as I prefer to do at a live event, in the middle of a crowd that loves the music being performed as much as I do, just moves me. I get that choked up, swept away feeling. I’ve actually cried at a few concerts, and I’m not the kind of girl who cries easily!
I just don’t get that sitting in my kitchen looking at a screen. So, I for one am looking forward to the return of live music, any night of the week, at any one of the literally hundreds of music venues in Buffalo, whatever that will look like in the future. Some indoors, some outdoors. No more wasting my freedom not doing the things I love. One of my quarantine lessons, I suppose. And I’m certainly looking forward to heading over to the Town Ballroom again. It’s got that intimate atmosphere that feels so good at a live show. One of Buffalo’s best. Go see it, or go back. You’ll be glad you did. Be careful though, live music is addictive.
March is Women’s History Month, and on social media, you may have noticed that I’ve been highlighting Buffalo women who’ve made history, all month long. For my blog posts though, I’ve highlighted women in Buffalo who are making history right now. This week’s woman is Cathy Lanzalaco, CEO of Inspire Careers, LLC.
Cathy’s Early Career
Cathy is Buffalo born and raised, and began her career as a registered nurse. She worked in various capacities at Sisters Hospital here in Buffalo for 15 years. She loved her work in nursing. But as so often is the case, opportunities presented themselves and Cathy found herself working for Tops Markets, in their human resource department. She began developing wellness and return-to-work-programs for them, utilizing her knowledge in the health care field.
In order to develop her new found career, Cathy went back to school, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in business, and a Master’s degree in Human Resources.
Cathy was soon offered a senior level human resource position with American Sales Company (Ahold USA), a sister company to Tops, in Lancaster, NY. Not just any position, it was the top HR position at that facility. She was to hold that position for 12 years. And she loved it. Helping the company and people get along in the workplace. In Cathy’s own words, it was the “best job ever”. She states that she would have retired from this position, that’s how much she enjoyed her work at American Sales.
All Good Things…
But in 2016, the company chose to close their Lancaster location, and take the operation elsewhere. 600 people, including Cathy, were now out of work, and it was up to her to facilitate the closing. If you’ve ever known ahead of time that you were going to lose a job, then you know that this was not an easy thing for Cathy to do. These were her coworkers. And it was now her job to inform them that they were losing their livelihoods. All the while knowing that as the sole breadwinner in her family, she too would soon lose her livelihood.
But it was also her job to help her coworkers transition to new positions elsewhere. This was when she realized her next calling. Cathy has a unique perspective on the job hunt. Having seen thousands of résumés herself, she knows what a perspective employer is looking for.
During this difficult time, Cathy not only helped her coworkers create current résumés for themselves, but also helped them realize their own value, from an HR professional perspective. Recognizing their skills and abilities, along with their unique personalities, Cathy taught them to search for a job that would suit them. While at the same time communicating to their next HR department exactly why they are the right person for a certain position. In short, career coaching. But, as Cathy has learned, there is so much more to it than that.
Cathy Starts Write-Résumé-For-The-Job
So, in 2017 Cathy started her own business, Write-Résumé-For-The-Job. She began as a résumé writer and career coach. Work came in pretty steadily in the beginning months, but in order to supplement her income she worked as a sub-contractor for Inspire Careers, a business started in 1990 by Beth Stefani. Beth was nationally renouned in the résumé writing community. She mentored Cathy in the business, and after over 25 years in the career coaching field, Beth recognized Cathy’s value. Prior to her passing in March of 2018, Stefani chose Cathy to carry on her legacy.
In November, 2018, Cathy bought Inspire Careers, Inc. Since then, she has re-branded the business as her own. Cathy continues to serve all clients with the personal integrity Stefani always insisted upon. Cathy considers it an honor to be able to serve Beth’s legacy clients as well as her own new clients.
And how’s business? It’s flourishing. Cathy has a unique ability to look ahead and anticipate what her clients will need to know in the coming economic climate, learn it herself, and teach it to them. When she sees a need, she fills it.
Take her Student Professional Launch Program™ for instance. Cathy knows how daunting it can be for a recent graduate to navigate the job market. So she created a system that, one on one, walks recent grads through the entire job search process from beginning to end.
Cathy tells me she’s working with a student right now who would like to work in Los Angeles as a sports announcer. She’s working with him to develop his own podcast related to the job he wants. It gives him experience, and he learns through the process of doing it. This is the kind of thing that makes Cathy so great at what she does. She teaches people to develop their own skills to set them up for success right from the beginning.
Too often, new grads settle for the first job offered to them. Then they’re so busy trying to make it work at a dead end job to be able to work towards the position we really want. Cathy sets new grads up for success from the beginning. She not only does this with recent college grads, but professionals, executives and recently retired people seeking to reinvent themselves.
How Cathy Gives Back
From the beginning, Cathy has repeatedly gone back to her high school, the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, to teach classes in résumé writing and career coaching. She works with their internship students to teach them the basics of navigating a career path for themselves. Cathy shows them options they likely wouldn’t have thought of for themselves. She finds this work very rewarding, as she sees herself in this young students, as they attempt to figure out their career paths.
But Who’s Hiring During this Current Pandemic Climate?
I asked Cathy what she was doing to help people through the pandemic crisis. Of course, she already has a plan. She is increasing the content she regularly puts out on LinkedIn to help ease people’s minds through this very stressful time, letting them know their options, and there are options. Cathy knows firsthand that businesses are still hiring. She had three people this week alone land the jobs they began searching for shortly before the pandemic hit. And these are well paid positions. In the middle of all that is going on in the world. So there is hope!
At the moment, Cathy is busy creating free webinars to help people affected by the crisis transition themselves in to new careers. I sat in on one of those webinars last evening. It was supposed to be an in person seminar at The Establishment, an online learning platform focused on finances. Instead of cancelling, Cathy chose to go ahead and learn the technology she needed to learn to do it online. Because she knew that there would be people who have lost their positions due to the pandemic, and she didn’t want to let them down.
She spoke about résumés, what’s in and what’s definitely out. Cover letters, how we all love to hate them, including Cathy. Interviews, what answers to give, what not to say. Negotiating salary, how to go about it. The information she is teaching in these webinars will prove to be invaluable to job seekers in Buffalo and beyond.
She almost made me wish I was looking for a job. Almost.
First, let me say that Cathy is an old friend. Well, she’s not old. Because if she’s old then I’m… well never mind. The friendship goes way back. But how often do you get to see your friends in action at their jobs? I’ve seen Cathy in action a few times now, and she has impressed me with her knowledge each time. When people ask her questions, the answers roll right off her tongue. She speaks eloquently and with authority.
And knowing Cathy as well as I do, I can honestly say she considers herself a dream maker. On a daily basis, Cathy receives calls and emails from people who feel helpless to deal with the loss of a job, or worse yet, have lost hope of ever finding the right job. Cathy works with people to help them figure out their dreams. She helps them to see their value and to communicate it effectively in order to achieve those dreams, and land that perfect job.
Don’t live in Buffalo? No worries. Cathy is fully equipped to help you no matter where you live. She has clients from all over the world!
Look for Cathy’s free webinars within a couple of weeks on her website.
Missed my other posts about amazing women in Buffalo? Check out the first one here, and the second one here. These are all incredible women doing some really cool things!
**All of the photos in this post are compliments of Cathy Lanzalaco.
March is Women’s History Month, and on social media, I’m continuing to highlight women from Buffalo history all month long. For my blog posts though, I’m highlighting women in Buffalo who are making history right now. This week, it’s Kerry Planck, owner of Alpine Made.
Kerry is on my list for a few reasons.
Her company, Alpine Made, crafts the most gorgeous goat milk products on her certified organic goat farm in Wales, NY. And, if you read Part One in my Goats series, you already know a little bit about Kerry. She spoke at that networking event that I attended in January where I met Jen Zeitler from Let’s Goat Buffalo.
Anyway, when I sat down with Jen and she told me her story, I immediately knew I had to meet Kerry too. I mean, it’s not every day you hear about someone willing to share so much with someone else.
How It All Began for Kerry and Alpine Made
When I asked Kerry how it all began, she responded that it was when she bought three goats at the Erie County Fair. But it couldn’t be as simple as that. So when prompted, Kerry said that she already had chickens she kept for organic eggs and as organic meat birds. She explained that she and her two sons eat almost completely organic. When she bought the goats, she began making cheese and soap products for her family, both to save money and to live sustainably.
Kerry has a Bachelors in Environmental Forest Biology and a Masters in Biology. She worked for a number of years for the USDA, where she spent her days helping dairy farmers keep their herds healthy and teaching them how to manage a herd effectively. Kerry liked her job, but felt like there was something else she should be doing.
Enter those three goats. She was already using their milk to make cheese and soaps for the family. To her, the next step would logically be a value added farm enterprise. Which Kerry explained is the process of using a farm product to create and sell another product. She experimented with soaps and other skin care products made from the goat milk produced on her farm. Her education taught her the importance and the patience required for experimentation. In the meantime, she worked on getting her farm certified as organic. And also in the meantime, her little herd grew.
Fast Forward Ten Years
Ten years later, with a ton, and I do mean a ton, of hard work, Kerry’s business is really taking off!
There are now 40 goats in total. 12 are owned by Jen Zeitler and Let’s Goat Buffalo, which Kerry boards in the off-season. Kerry tells me there are 8 babies expected this spring, and there will hopefully be 8 more in September. Some will remain with Alpine Made, some will join the goat grazing crew.
There are now 20 different goat milk products, and many more if you count the different scents, oils etc. All are either certified organic or classified as natural products. There are soap and shampoo bars and a good assortment of lotions, creams, a salve, lip balms, beard oils and a sugar scrub. All of the goat milk used in the products is from Kerry’s goats, and is certified organic.
Due to the space involved in creating the products, Kerry has moved Alpine Made into an old church building she purchased two doors from her house. The basement of the church is incredibly large, clean, and in fantastic shape considering the age of the building. And there’s plenty of room to grow. The former vestibule of the church is a very quaint little store for the sale of Alpine Made’s products. The soaps are of course available on Kerry’s website as well.
In addition, Kerry takes her show on the road to 20+ artisan markets in and around Western New York. These include 5 in Rochester and the Bidwell Farmers Market here in Buffalo. Her products are also available in a dozen Wegmans stores across NYS and Pennsylvania, and in 28 Whole Foods stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Kerry has registered her house as an Airbnb, due to the public’s interest in meeting her goats. She also hosts ‘Goat Yoga’ sessions in the good weather. People love these goats! It’s easy to see why too. When I met Kerry at the farm a few weeks ago, I gained a whole new perspective on them. They’re adorable and super friendly! Very easy to fall in love with.
Kerry is also busy writing grants to be able to hire help to keep up with all of this growth. She is getting help from Greg Ricciardiello, who technically handles sales, but I’m told he’s willing to help with whatever is needed. Greg is in the process of learning the business. If all goes as planned, Kerry expects to make him an equity partner some time in the future.
Have I mentioned how hard Kerry works?
Make No Mistake about Alpine Made
Kerry has a definite mission. Being an environmentalist all her life, she has put her passion into her work. She put people, animals and the environment before everything else, and good things began to happen.
Kerry believes that organic farming practices are going to become more and more important in the future. Not only for our food, but in every aspect of our lives. Alpine Made has soaps and skin care covered for us, thanks to Kerry.
Kerry deserves all the success she is beginning to experience with Alpine Made. She has worked very hard. Her success is due to her tenacity, her intelligence, and her work ethic in the predominately male field of farming. When I sat down with her, I sensed a humble, giving person. But also one that would fight for what she believes in. I like that about her.
My Impressions of Alpine Made Products
Kerry believes in her products. With good reason. They are nothing short of amazing. Let me explain. A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided that we would switch to bar soap. We didn’t like the idea of all those plastic body wash bottles going into landfills. But most bar soaps are very drying. Well, we’ve been using Kerry’s Buffalo Beer Bath Goat Milk Soap that I received at that networking event I mentioned earlier (the event was at Flying Bison Brewery so the soap she chose to share was appropriate!).
The first two times I used the soap it appeared to dry my skin. But by the third time, it was like my skin had healed. This soap is frothy, smells amazing and I haven’t used moisturizer since, save for my hands. (I’m washing them so much more, due to coronavirus warnings.)
But what I am most excited about is the Goat Milk Shampoo Bars. This eliminates the shampoo bottles too. But do they work? I was skeptical. But yes. Yes they do. I no longer use conditioner on my hair, although my hair is relatively short. Kerry tells me that some people (including her) still need to occasionally condition their longer hair on the ends. Imagine how many plastic bottles of body wash, shampoo and conditioner you’ve used in your lifetime. And now they’re no longer necessary. (!)
Look, I get it that Kerry did not invent all of these products. But she’s doing a damn good job of creating them locally, and in the most environmentally responsible way possible. And, she’s getting them into stores that we regularly shop in, putting them right in front of us. Making it easier to do the right thing for the environment and our bodies.
And Last But Certainly Not Least…
I want to talk a little bit about Kerry and her relationship with Jen. This is what I love about Buffalo businesses in general, but in this case, Buffalo businesswomen. When Jen needed someone to stick their neck out for her, Kerry did. If you haven’t read their story, read about it here. Kerry & Jen both recognize that nobody succeeds all on their own. Everybody gets a leg up from somebody else at some point. And for this, they both land on my list of Buffalo women making history.
The fact that they both continue to help each other nourish their businesses in a socially and environmentally friendly way speaks volumes about their character. The two have become friends as well as business associates.
I’ll repeat what I said last week. Meeting Jen and Kerry has been an absolute joy for me. These two get it. They understand the importance of helping each other succeed, and that the good of the community, the land, the people and the animals, has to come before profits. The profits will come, but not before these.
*Almost all the photos in this post are compliments of Kerry Planck. Thank you Kerry!
Next week I’ll tell the story of Katrina (Galla) Allen, a Buffalo businesswoman who is succeeding against all odds. Looking forward to sharing her exceptional story. Stay tuned.
March is Women’s History Month, and on social media, I’ll be highlighting women from Buffalo history all month long. For my blog posts though, I’m going to be highlighting women in Buffalo who are making history right now. This week, it’s Jen Zeitler, owner of Let’s Goat Buffalo.
In our lives, we have occasion to meet a lot of people. Some are more interesting than others. Well, in January, I had occasion to meet a very interesting woman. She was speaking at a networking event and let’s face it, some of those are more interesting than others too. This one however, happened to be very interesting.
When I wrote a post about Urban Farming in Buffalo last summer, I called what organic urban farmers are doing ‘back to the future’. By that I meant that they are farming the way it was done before we humans mucked it up with chemical fertilizers etc. I feel the same way about Jen Zeitler and Let’s Goat Buffalo.
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jen, one on one, a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what I learned.
How It All Began
So, my obvious first question for Jen was, “How did you get started as a goat herder?” Now there’s a question that doesn’t get asked very often! Jen explained that she bought four acres of land in Franklinville, with the thought of keeping bees as a hobby. The land was covered in brush, with lots of thick, prickly berry bushes and the like. She looked into clearing the land, but most options included herbicides or pesticides. Jen knew for the health of her bees to come, she didn’t want to use either.
She kept looking for a better way. In online board discussions, people kept telling her to get a goat. Whether they were kidding or not, Jen took it to heart. Because in her heart, she knew that it would be the best thing to do for the earth.
She started looking for goats to borrow. There’s another sentence that doesn’t get uttered very often. But believe it or not, there are several goat farms near Buffalo, so Jen started calling them one by one to see if they’d be willing to lend her a goat or two to clear her land. They all thought she was crazy. Some even laughed and hung up on her!
She kept calling, until she called Kerry Planck, who owns Alpine Made, an organic Goat Farm in Wales, NY. Kerry crafts handmade raw organic goat milk soaps and skin care products. Kerry explained to Jen that because her farm is organic, she could not send her goats out to clear Jen’s land. You see, when a farm is certified organic, the animals have to eat organic too, and there could be no guarantees that Jen’s land was certified organic.
But instead of telling Jen she couldn’t help, Kerry invited her out to the farm for coffee. She suggested that if they brainstormed, they might be able to come up with a solution together. That first meeting would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
That day, Jen learned that on a normal goat dairy farm like Kerry’s, the males are only utilized for breeding. Often they are sold for meat as young calves. Likewise, when a female is past her milk producing years, they are quite often simply slaughtered. Well, Kerry wouldn’t do either because she loves animals. So she kept them.
Also that day, the idea for Let’s Goat Buffalo was born. Together, Kerry and Jen came up with a plan. Jen would buy the males, and the females who were past their prime. They thought that people in and around Buffalo would be interested in a goat grazing service, if you will. Another type of back to the future idea, in that the goats could clear both public and private land of invasive plants without the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. It would be a social enterprise too, because Jen would be offering a natural, and incidentally, more effective alternative.
Kerry would board the goats when they aren’t working (separate from her organic goats) and act as a mentor to Jen.
Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much.
Getting Started – The Regs
There are regulations. Or, I should say, there are now. Because Jen pretty much had to search out what she needed from the city, the county and the state. And apparently, nobody knew how to classify the business, or what types of permits she would need, because this hasn’t ever been done before. Although she ran into more than a few brick walls, she persisted.
In the end, Let’s Goat Buffalo is classified as a farm because she participates in the sale, purchase and husbandry of animals. The business also has a landscaping license from the city of Buffalo.
The Learning Curve
She also had to figure out HOW to do it. Jen tells a funny story about the first time she transported the goats. They were in a trailer she was towing with her car. Keep in mind she had never towed a trailer before, let alone one with live animals inside! Luckily, she has enough faith in herself to handle tough situations, and the ability to laugh at herself when it’s appropriate!
She also had to learn all about goats, including extensive knowledge of a goat’s ruminant digestion system. How to feed them, and care for them too. She also fell in love with them. That much is obvious when you see her with the goats.
And it’s also quite obvious that Jen has had to become an expert in plants as well. You see, there are plants that will harm goats, even kill them. For example, cherry trees can be extremely dangerous to goats. She has learned how to identify plants, and how they reproduce, in order to know the best way to remove them, and ‘manage her job site’ so to speak.
Jen views this part of her job as getting back to her roots. Her family owned and operated Brookins Greenhouses, in Orchard Park. Jerry Brookins purchased an acre of land on the north side of East Quaker Road in 1889, and by 1897 he had a thriving flower business with extensive greenhouses covering much of the original property. The business and the property grew to include vegetables as well as flowers in nearly two acres of greenhouses, on over six acres of land surrounding the original acre. Read more about Brookins Greenhouses here.
Goats Will Eat Anything!
By the way, Jen’s given me the inside scoop on goats. They will not eat everything. Goats will not eat tin cans. They will, however, chew on your clothes, but their chewing is more like ‘gumming’. I know because one of Jen’s goats ‘chewed’ my glove before becoming uninterested, and the glove and my fingers were both unharmed. My glove wasn’t even wet! I have to say, that all of this surprised this city girl! Oh, and also, you cannot have goats mow your lawn for you, because they don’t really eat grass. Sorry guys!
So How Does All This Let’s Goat Buffalo Stuff Work?
Good question. Jen explained to me that it’s not as simple as just taking the goats to a site, and letting them go. She has to carefully inspect a site for plants that could harm the goats. Once a site is deemed safe, Jen utilizes what is called targeted competitive grazing. She puts up an external fence around the site to be cleared. She then puts up a smaller internal electric fence where the goats will eat. (Don’t worry, the goats are raised with the electric fences, they’re used to them and they avoid them.) As the goats eat, the fences get moved to another section of the site, and the eating continues. Goats love to eat and so this isn’t like work for them!
In targeted competitive grazing, a goat will naturally observe the food available to them, how many other goats are present, and they will figure out their share of the food. Then they will eat, and eat and eat. Then they’ll sit down and they’ll chew, and chew and chew, beginning the ruminant process. Their digestion process actually sterilizes the plants they eat, and leaves a natural fertilizer behind, feeding the soil and promoting regrowth of desired plants, before they leave a site. It’s a win win for everybody.
What’s Next for Jen and Her Goats?
Let’s Goat Buffalo jobs typically last from several days to two weeks. Moving them back and forth to Wales was very difficult, so she bought a bus! Oh, naturally! This is one of the things I love about Jen. She thinks outside the box. Gotta move goats? Buy an old school bus, of course! She’s in the process of converting a vintage school bus to use for moving the goats. It’s perfect, because she can also let the goats sleep inside it at night on site, and there is a sleep compartment for the herder as well. Take a look at this video. It’ll give you a really good idea of how she’ll use the bus once it’s ready. If you are so inclined, you can donate to the cause as well.
In addition, Jen tells me that she now has 12 goats, and expects to have two more by summer, depending on births at Alpine Made. One herd (six to seven goats) is booked through the 2020 season, and Jen is working on booking the other six to seven. She has finally been able to hire a full time herder for the 2020 season to help her so she can concentrate on bookings, other job sites, and the endless hours of work all small business owners do just to keep afloat.
What an interesting business! Jen is a delightful person who obviously loves what she is doing, and she absolutely adores goats. As I’ve said in other posts, it’s just incredible to see someone doing what they love, and what they are so obviously meant to be doing. Jen is one of those people.
And for starting the city’s first goat grazing service, Jen goes on my list of Women in Buffalo Making History. Not only for starting a business, but for creating a true social enterprise that offers a natural and effective alternative to the use of pesticides in nature, affecting real change in they way we view nature and how to live more naturally in harmony with it. Jen’s business has the potential to affect the health of people all over the area. Less pesticides means less illness, simple as that.
Meeting Jen and Kerry has been an absolute joy for me. These two get it. They understand the importance of helping each other succeed, and that the good of the community, the land, the people and the animals, has to come before profits. The profits will come, but not before these.
Next week I’ll bring you the remarkable story of Kerry Planck of Alpine Made, in Part Two of this story about two women and lots of goats.