By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Let’s take a little visit back to the public schools as someone called with comments on the 39th Street School article written a few weeks back and I always like a little personal touch to these moments in history columns.
Gabriel Porto told me his father, Jasper Porto, was a hard working family man employed as a furnace man at Union Carbide. He also “tinkered” in property ownership and actually owned the land where the 39th Street School was built. It was taken from him by eminent domain and he realized very little if any profits. However, he was not discouraged and went ahead and purchased land nearby on Packard Road at 39th Street which he developed into a small plaza. Lo and behold, the New York State Power Authority came along and took this property, also by eminent domain, which was adjacent to the tunnel project they were building. To get a better idea of this area today, you can find a print shop and the Ironworkers Local at 412 39th St. nearby. Mr. Porto told me the family homestead was on 1722 Elmwood Ave. across from a grocery store owned by Americo Vacca and what is now Viola’s Submarine House.
He agreed with me that during these times you mainly stayed in the area you lived in. I have admitted previously that I knew little about Falls Street and Pine Avenue as I grew up in the North End in what was pretty much a self contained neighborhood. He said that was also the case in his youth as there were three grocery stores within eye distance of his house, Trusello’s Bakery on the corner and of course the City Market had just about everything (certainly fresh poultry as I learned) with Pine Avenue’s business district a short walk away. He often walked to Falls Street with his friends on weekends while I ventured onto Main Street during these times. Most of those in our age group did not drive back in the “fifties” and we actually walked to school. Imagine that! Anyway it was fun to reminisce.
The Niagara Beautification Commission recently presented the Honeymoon Capital Souvenirs at 16 Rainbow Blvd. with its October Spotlight Award. I found out that when you are not a tourist there are several places in Niagara Falls that you missed out on.
I have known the owner Doreen O’Connor for many years and she has been active in the tourism industry most of her adult life. She was at the Comfort Inn for 20 years as general manager and also had a souvenir business there. After the sale to the Maid of the Mist she moved her store to her current location next to the NTCC official visitor center on Rainbow Boulevard near the roundabout. When she called to install telephone service at this location, she was assigned her mother’s former number. Her mother, Stephanie, had passed away 15 years previous and she felt this was a good omen about her future success. Doreen also owns and operates the Gray Line Tour scenic bus line. She said it was an honor to be associated with the worldwide Gray Line and she had formerly operated under Niagara Majestic Tours for many years. This is not her only venture into the souvenir sales business as she operates the gift shops at the Sheraton at the Falls and at the Adams Mark in Buffalo and a small retail outlet, Souvenir Outlets in the LaSalle area.
She met me at the Honeymoon store which I found to be a beautiful, well lit and inviting place with hundreds of Niagara Falls items to choose from. There are also generic items and a snack counter. Wedding items are highlighted in a special spot as she promotes Niagara as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.” In response to some of my questions, she mentioned 2013 was a good year and her best sellers remain T-shirts. Of course, her tour bus line stops here to offer a few minutes for the riders to shop. A favorite item among the Russian tourists is maple syrup and the Chinese love the calendars and post cards. Anything with a photo of the falls is what they look for. She even carries the Niagara Falls cook book published by the Boys and Girls Club.
Doreen recently opened a small patio next to the building where Louie operates a fast food counter complete with outdoor seating for the public as a rest stop and/or a quick bite to eat. She was getting prepared for shorter hours, inventory and ordering for the future. She misses the one on one with the tourist especially those from another part of the world but she has excellent staff at all locations and the four souvenir shops within her corporate structure are managed by co-managers Phyllis Wozniak and Anna Ren. During peak season, the employee level is 125-plus which encompasses all the shop and the tour bus operation and during off-season it is reduced to about 40 regular employees.
Here is a holiday shopping suggestion. Why not think of sending a Niagara Falls Christmas ornament or a themed wine glass or even a toy to out of town grandchildren? Hey — you never know what you may find for that special person this year. Be aware the store will soon have only weekend hours.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.