WHAT: Blizzard-themed 40th anniversary celebration at Buffalo-area Wegmans Food Markets
WHEN: 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Cake served at 11 a.m. and a $100 gift card raffled off each hour of the event.
WHERE: Ten Wegmans stores in the Buffalo area: Dick Road in Depew; Alberta Drive in Amherst; Amherst Street in Buffalo; Losson Road in Depew; McKinley in Buffalo; Military Road in Niagara Falls; Niagara Falls Blvd. in Amherst; Sheridan Drive in Amherst; Transit Road in Williamsville; and West Seneca in Buffalo.
BUFFALO, NY – Buffalo residents do know snow. Sidewalks and driveways hidden by giant snowdrifts? Car tires whirring on icy roads? No big deal. But 40 years ago, the Blizzard of ’77 struck, and paralyzed the region, closing roads, airports, schools and businesses for days. It also forced Wegmans Food Markets to postpone the grand opening of its first store in the Buffalo area, the Dick Road store in Depew.
“The Blizzard of ’77 was truly a massive storm that tested all Buffalo residents,” says Michele Mehaffy, Buffalo consumer affairs manager for Wegmans. “But Buffalo residents are resilient, resourceful, and caring. We owe a special debt of gratitude to all the people who’ve made the past 40 years such good ones for Wegmans – especially the customers who trust us to help them feed the people they love, and the employees who’ve worked in our stores. We’re glad to have this occasion to thank them.”
Representatives from companies in the Buffalo area that make products sold at Wegmans will be on hand at stores throughout the region, including those from Landies Candies, Perry’s Ice Cream, Louretta’s Chocolate Popcorn, Wardynski’s sausages, Costanzo’s rolls, Mayer Brothers’ cider, Yancey’s Fancy cheese and First Light Creamery goat cheese. Local brewers and apple growers will also attend, with Sun Orchards presenting a New York State apple called Pazazz for the first time.
All 10 participating stores will have live music, cake, and an hourly raffle for a $100 gift card from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
How bad WAS the Blizzard of ’77?
- The storm began January 28, adding to heavy snow pack already on the ground, and lasted through February 1. Winds gusted over 75 mph at Niagara Falls and wind chills reached 50 to 60 degrees below zero.
- The federal government, at President Jimmy Carter’s direction, issued the first state of emergency EVER for a snow event. Five-hundred National Guardsmen and 300 Army Airborne Engineers were dispatched to help Buffalo get back on its feet.
- Transportation came to a halt – flights were cancelled, roads were closed.
- Hundreds of people spent days at airport and bus terminals; thousands were stranded away from home.
- Factories, businesses, and schools were closed for more than a week.
- Mail delivery was suspended for a week or more.
- Ambulances could not navigate snow-covered streets; emergency medical technicians had to carry patients through drifts, in many cases.
- Nearly a dozen babies were born at home, when their mothers could not reach the hospital in time.
- And yes, some lives were lost: 29 people and 20 animals at the Buffalo Zoo
But there were also acts of kindness and support:
- The Salvation Army fed over 100,000 people and provided emergency housing to 2,430.
- The Red Cross served 50,000 meals and gave stranded people money for food, clothing and shelter.
- Many residents made sandwiches and meals for first responders and plow drivers, and even housed stranded motorists for a few days.
And what happened with that Grand Opening of Wegmans’ Dick Road store?
It had to wait until the storm subsided and emergency workers had done their job. That’s not all: A group of employees who’d been working hard to get the store ready were stranded there when the blizzard struck. For a few days, they grabbed naps when they could and made meals from food off the shelves.
Opening day came at last on February 8, 1977. The new Wegmans “appears to have everything but a swimming pool and restaurant to make it a complete day-long shopping holiday,” exclaimed a story in the Buffalo Courier Express. The 65,000 square-foot store was roughly twice the size of most other supermarkets. The cheese shop offered hundreds of different kinds of cheese. There was a bakery, a fresh seafood department, a clothing department, a cookware shop, a fabric department, a plant and flower shop, a linens department with towels and sheets, and more.
The biggest novelty was Wegmans’ futuristic checkout system that used scanners to read the Universal Product Code (bar code) on each item and enter its price on the register receipt for faster, more accurate checkouts. Today, scanners are used throughout the retail industry, but Wegmans was one of the first supermarkets in the country to install scanners in checkout lanes.
It was a very big day for the new Wegmans store. One 40-year Wegmans employee remembers the crowds and long lines as customers waited for a look at things they hadn’t seen before, like the live lobsters for sale in the seafood department. Also, partly because of the extra spending power some customers had thanks to emergency food vouchers given out during the blizzard, the first Wegmans store in Buffalo set a new store grand opening record!