Niagara Gazette

September 9, 2013

HIGGS: Spotlight shines on Joey's, WIlliamson Funeral Home

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Let’s go back to our Niagara Beautification Spotlight awards during this summer and see whose hard work has paid off. Since I am working backward we will visit the Williamson Funeral Home next which received the July Spotlight Award.

Sitting in one of Niagara’s historic and stately, early buildings at 635 Main St. near the Main Post Office, Williamson’s has been the source of comfort for those who have lost a loved one for many years. Back in 1922 this was occupied by Marl C. Cobler, funeral director and professional embalmer. It was formerly The Leuppie Company. By 1940 Oscar Bell and Oscar Bell, Jr. owned and operated the Bell Funeral Home at this location and Myrtle Cobler moved across the park at the corner of Main and Pine to 640 Park Place and opened Cobler’s Funeral Home. Ownership at Bell’s included Luella Bell who was secretary — treasurer during the 1950s and later Thelma Bell took that position in 1974.

Theodore and Gertrude Williamson purchased 635 Main St. in 1976 and the Williamson Funeral Home has been there ever since serving primarily the black community. Ted as he was known was very active in the community, serving on many local boards including the NFTA. Cobler’s remained across the way until the 1980s when Richard Coleman took over and opened the R.L. Coleman Funeral Home. That building at 640 Park Place is now the home of U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins and Niagara University’s ReNU Niagara.

The Ted Williamson family included five children — Theodore, Jr., Michael, Tanya, Jean and Michelle. I found a Niagara Gazette article by Crystal Boling dated March 28, 1982, all about Theodore, Jr. and Michael — two of the city’s very eligible and so far confirmed bachelors. They lived in the spacious upstairs apartment at 635 Main and she described it as furnished in the “minimal style” as it was pretty sparse. “Just a couch in the living room”, according to Michael. Both boys are married with families now. He worked alongside his dad for many years and is now the licensed funeral director taking over the business following Ted’s death on June 24, 2010. His dad was the person really responsible for the landscaped front yard and the generally beautiful appearance of the building over the years according to Michael who was thrilled about the Spotlight and said his dad would be very proud.

Michael is active in the New Hope Baptist Church servicing as a deacon. He said his grandparents founded the church back in 1937.

We at NBC are proud of the family’s accomplishments and are fortunate to have them in this very visible spot on Main Street in our city. Their public service has been an important asset to Niagara Falls.

During June the business chosen to receive the Spotlight was Joey’s Pizzeria at 8707 Buffalo Ave. I was away so I just went there to meet with owner and when I walked inside I said “WOW! White table cloths yet!” Joey Previte was at the bar and laughed when I told him that in Italy they warned you about eating in a place with white table cloths as it would be more expensive. Not the case here. While this is a friendly family place (no rowdies allowed) with the right prices, he feels it adds some class like the flowers outside. Nothing wrong with that and that is probably why his business was “spotlighted” in June. Four studio apartments are rented to long-time tenants upstairs.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s this was the Marine Grill and for a short time it was Sammy’s where Joey started his pizza career, finally taking over in the 1980s. He admitted he is semi-retired as his two sons really operate the business now and he comes in daily to start up the pizza ovens and do some extras like washing the windows, etc. The place is spotless. The menu includes Friday fish frys, wings and other items but pizza is the specialty here and the phone rings constantly with call in orders for delivery and pre-lunch orders. Three large television flat screens dominate the place and there is still a small old type in the corner all of which are usually tuned into sports which pleases the late night crowd. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and open till midnight on Friday and Saturdays.

Joey has a great personality and we had lots of fun sharing stories. He is fortunate to have his sons taking over just like at Williamson’s Funeral Home as it means the lessons learned from “Dad” will continue the business success for the son(s). And the customers will be the winners.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.