Going Home: My Love Affair with Buffalo, New York

There are many people who don’t understand my obsession with Buffalo, New York, and I get why. Buffalo is a rust belt city, never quite reaching its full potential for the last 50 years, a mere shadow of its original 1900’s glory. If you live in or around Buffalo, you’re fully aware of its struggles, the poverty, the sagging politics, the snail’s pace of urban and waterfront development, the twenty-year argument over a new Peace Bridge, and obviously, there are the endearing, forever-underdog sports teams. Oh and, PS, it snows. Especially if you’ve lived there your entire life, never leaving to see anything new, you may even hate Buffalo. Those who’ve never visited or adorably think Buffalo is located down the street from New York City, they too, may never understand its appeal.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I left home six years ago, I was more than ready to go. The idea of not knowing every third person at the grocery store, not driving the same path downtown to work everyday, the thought of experiencing anything new filled me with excitement. Living in a smallish town will get to you after a while. Leaving is a good, good thing. I think everyone should do it. It’s only when you leave the place you’ve known your entire life, that you can fully start to appreciate all it has to offer.

You’ve heard that Buffalo is among the most affordable places to live in the US, best places to raise a family, and more importantly, the only acceptable place to eat chicken wings in most of the world. This is true, I’ve done the research. But what you don’t hear, is that despite all the challenges it faces, Buffalo does, in fact, have everything. For many of us, including me, it has our family. It has our friends, our histories, our memories, and our legacies. If you should find yourself wandering around as a stranger in some other town, attempting to set up a life, you may come to realize the average Buffalonian has something you might not find everywhere else. They possess a blue-collar charm, a welcoming, open-armed enthusiasm for newcomers, a passion for local issues (whether it’s a happy passion or a frustrated one,) and a spirit that cannot be broken. Buffalonians care for each other. The ‘City of Good Neighbors,’ (go ahead, Google it,) was built on the common thread of wanting to help and support its community. And when you come home, you’re in. You seamlessly transition back into the embrace of the warm, Western New York mentality.

Sorry, but this is a feeling I never got in Halifax. I never got it in Ann Arbor. I never quite felt it in Irsina, Italy (although I did feel something there, it definitely wasn’t a clean, neighborly love.) The feeling I get in Buffalo is one that I can’t wait to immerse myself in after six years away. It’s one I hope to raise my family with and share with all of the friends I’ve met along the way. This week, I return to the city I’ve grown to love more than I ever imagined I could.

There will be cranky, cynical Western New Yorkers who read this entry and roll their eyes. “She’s out of touch and overly idealistic,” they’ll tweet. Perhaps I am erring on the side of blissful, visitor’s ignorance. All I know is that I can confirm, from experience, there are plenty of great cities in the world. Some of them are larger, some of them have great ideas, programs, and innovations, but none of them are perfect, or better than the other. None of them are my home. You never fully appreciate what you have until you don’t have it, and you never see a place’s full potential until you leave. Finally, I’m coming home.

"I never saw my hometown, until I stayed away too long." - Tom Waits (smart guy)

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51 thoughts on “Going Home: My Love Affair with Buffalo, New York

  1. Frank Comisso says:

    Well done Lindsay. I had an opportunity to leave Buffalo but chose to stay. I suspiciously thought that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. Like you, I have travelled, mostly throughout our great country and Canada. I also have been to Italy and the old Yugoslavia. Include Mexico in that group.I had a taste of ‘outside’ life but like many good vacations, it’s good to come home. Sure it’s my opinion but my daily interactions with clients that move from out-of-town to Buffalo confirms what I always believed. Buffalo is a good city to live in and raise a family. Best part is that our old rust-belt ways are finally leaving WNY. Decades of stagnation is turning to growth, starting at the waterfront.

  2. Hank Kaczmarek says:

    I was born in Buffalo in 1957. I left in 1976 to join the military. Since then I’ve spent one year living in the city (88-89) back in my home hood of Riverside. In June, July, August, September…..It can be a paradise. The rest of the year–forget it. It’s not a welcoming place if you’re a devout Traditionalist Catholic, or a Conservative Republican, and I’m both. The taxes are obscene, the Politics the stuff of tomfoolery. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have left. 30 leave every day according to one source. The sports teams are no longer underdogs, they are the jokes of their respective leagues. The Bills last Championship was 49 years ago, the Sabres have never had one in their 44 years of existence.
    All of that being said, and all of it fact, when I stand on River Road at Riverside Park, or at the foot of Hertel Av, or at the Foot of Ontario street in the summer and watch the sun set into the West Niagara River, I know for just that moment I’m closer to heaven than I’ve ever been.
    The farms and fields of western NC is where I live, and where I’ll die. My heart remains in Buffalo, aching for what was, and what it could become.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      Thanks for your message! My parents were born and raised here around the same time. They have many great memories of those days as well. There are many obstacles this city faces (not unlike other cities,) but I do feel like we’re on an upswing, and am looking forward to being a part of making it better. I hope you come back and visit sometime to enjoy all the new great things going on here.

    2. Dave Todaro says:

      Ditto all Hank. I’m hoping to convince my wife (from Florida) to make Buffalo, or at least someplace within a four or five hour drive of it, home. I left to join the military in ’79 and I get back as often as I can from “home” in the Virginia suburbs of DC. And I don’t know where it’s all going with Andrew Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” but for now, it sure is cool to see cranes and construction in & around the city again.

      Peace my friend.

  3. Camille says:

    You’re making me homesick! I moved to South Florida 4 yrs ago- happy to get away from the frigid winters & NYS taxes- but I miss my friends & family in Buffalo everyday & look forward to my next visit. I still consider it my home.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      I totally understand that. When I lived in Michigan, I would come home as much as possible- just a 5 hour drive through Canada. At least living in Florida, your family probably has more reason to come visit you. Michigan isn’t quite a vacation destination haha!

  4. Brandon Houle says:

    Lindsay,
    After graduating Buff State in 2004, I left Buffalo… vowing to never come back. I hated it here and I didn’t have a reason for it.

    While living in several cities across the country, I noticed several voids. There is no warm neighborly love. People don’t hold the door open for each other. If you don’t catch the elevator, people just look at you. Rush hour? No Buffalonian knows what that truly means (3 hours in some cities). And, there is no such thing as bumping into someone you know at the grocery store. When you first get there… you are alone and you can feel it!

    I was able to come back in 2011. The first day I moved back, I met 3 different neighbors and was invited to a house party that weekend. I now have a great circle of new friends as well as the ones I initially left behind. Coming back was the best decision of my life… how happy I am now! I’m around family and friends… people look you in the eye and say hey when you walk by. You see people helping others on the road. Everyone is on the same level here. We all work hard, we all play hard and if we get out of hand, there’s always someone that puts you in your place… then let’s it go and buys you a beer. Lastly, I’m less than 20 minutes from everything I will ever need AND want. I love this place and it’s great to see someone else love it too!

    Brandon

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      Welcome home! It’s funny you said that about being welcomed home so easily. When my now-husband moved here in the early 2000s, he said he didn’t pay for his own drink for weeks. His first stop? Founding Fathers. 🙂 People heard he was new in town and introduced themselves right away. Traffic- another great thing I forgot to mention. 15-20 minutes to just about anywhere. Can’t be beat!

  5. Janice Becker says:

    Welcome Home!!!! I get to slip out of town for the coldest part of the winter, but find myself missing home quickly…although my Florida “home” is full of Buffalonians just escaping for a few of the coldest months !! Age has its privileges!!
    Buffalo is truly undergoing a rebuilding!! (not a political person, but thank you Brian Higgins, among many others!!!). 🙂

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      Florida is full of Buffalonians. At least you have some like-minded people there! I wouldn’t mind taking a break from Buffalo winters someday down the road. Snow is obviously the weakest link- but I think it makes us tougher. 😉

  6. Chris Sidote says:

    All I wanted to do was leave Buffalo, so I joined the Marines. Once I made my rounds I realized that all I wanted to do was come back here. Western New York is a great place and I’ve become obsessed with our tradtions, history and the people that live here. Where ever I went, if I met someone from WNY there was an instant connection, like meeting up with an old friend after many years. Great article, you summed everything up perfectly.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      Thank you! I have loved hearing from so many people who feel the same way. It’s great to be able to see the world- everyone absolutely should. It’s also great to have the opportunity to come home!

  7. Dipie says:

    This sums up exactly how I felt when moving home after 7 years in NYC. It’ll be 5 years this summer and I haven’t regretted my decision for a second. Welcome home!

  8. Mark says:

    Great article. I left and moved back after 6 years, it took my leaving to really appreciate this place! Best of luck!

  9. Ed Goodloe says:

    I’m a downstate, Long Island native, who had the privilege of attending Buffalo State. I fell in love with all the things Lindsay described. They are real & genuine! Those days were the heyday of, ‘We’re Talkin’ Proud!!’. I made lifelong friends. Best of all, I met the love of life-Dana Franco. A beautiful woman from one of the great families who are rooted in Buffalo & Western New York. After graduation, moving back home, working… life took us to Olean, NY. While there, more great friends & people. I was blessed to attend Canisius College. I now live in Arizona & will always love Buffalo, The Bills, The Sabres & oh those sunsets I was able to enjoy on the horizon of Lake Erie, from the dorm’ of Porter Hall on Buff’ States Campus. Most of my friends here are transplants from Buffalo, The Falls, Southdowns, etc. No matter where I go, I wear Bills gear getting a Go Bills, Go Buffalo… even last summer, after my Son’s wedding, visiting Home, Alaska.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      That’s awesome, Ed. Thanks for the comment! I’m a Canisius alumni too and although my husband is from Michigan, we met here while he attended UB. It’s funny but I became extremely, extremely proud of wearing my Buffalo gear and cheering for my teams even more so once I left the area. Michigan didn’t seem to have many Buffalo ex-pats but I loved hearing about places all over the country that had a big group of Buffalo sports fans, meeting up to watch games. I’m glad you have that in Arizona!

  10. joseph jamie says:

    Buffalo. I tried many times to escape it’s grasp. Each time thinking bigger and better. Chicago. Nyc. Army travels. Baltimore. Arizona. Once children blessed my life a simple truth emerged in that not many places can match the fullness of life buffalo offers. I am incredibly happy to be home and finally can stop searching. Buffalo is rising….there is an unmistakable feeling that after 50 years of stagnation buffalo is moving in the right direction. Living in the Elmwood village is fantastic.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I want them raised in a place where people are warm, welcoming, (mostly) open-minded, and community-centric. I think this area has all of that.

  11. Johnny Riv says:

    Well done! I left Buffalo in 1986 when I went to college in Oswego. I never really came home but for summer breaks. Now I live in the Pac NW and while I love having water and mountains, I do miss me some Buffalo. Extended family is still there, great childhood and high school friends are there and so many memories. I’ve been trying to convince my bride to pack up our kids and move there. She always said she wanted a house on the water – what a better view than a house on Lake Erie? But alas, not gonna happen. I don’t care what anyone has to say about our Bills, our Sabres or the snow. They know not of what they speak 🙂 Enjoy Buffalo for all of us not able to be back.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      I moved for love, so I get it, believe me! I’ve never been further north than LA on the west coast, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful there. Even a year in scenic Nova Scotia just wasn’t enough to fully sell me. Beauty is great, but it’s the people that matters most to me.

  12. Dan Daddario says:

    Just got back from a 3-day trip to the urban jungle know as Houston Texas. A glitzy, prosperous monstrosity of a place were cars, highways and buildings engulf you in 600 square miles of metropolitan mish-mash. I’ve also been to Denver and Dallas were ALL houses in the subdivision have a 6 foot “good neighbor” fence and are of such a similar look to the homes that sterile is the only way to describe it. Well No Thank-you! I’ll take my Buffalo with all its imperfections any day of the week. It has soul and character. It has a storied past and a brightening future. It has all the amenities of a big city without the feeling that its problems are insurmountable like in the bigger cities. The people are friendlier than anywhere I’ve been and it has earned the nickname “The city of good neighbors”. Houston may get its warmth from its latitude but Buffalo gets its warmth from its attitude!

  13. KP East to West says:

    I just moved to San Diego this past July and I already know I’ll be back in Buffalo someday. I mean I’m definitely enjoying my time out here, and I’m grateful for escaping one of the most brutal winters Buffalo has ever seen. However your article rings true, there is no community like Buffalo, and for people who haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to put it entirely into words (although you’ve definitely done the best job by far!) Welcome home, as more people like yourself are beginning to come back I have faith that it’s the beginning of a new era for Buffalo and I hope to be a part of it someday too!

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      Thank you for your kind words! I think it’s really exciting that young people are moving back home, and it gives me so much hope for the future of the city. I hope you are able to, too someday. I had two friends (both doctors from Michigan) who lived in San Diego for 2 years and although it was beautiful and warm, they said it was really hard to meet people there. Ironically I felt that same way in Michigan. Buffalo is very special and I’m glad so many other people have experienced the magic!

  14. Dave says:

    I met a young woman at a ubiquitous Buffalo house party a few years back. She had just moved to town and had a funny observation about what it was like. “In other places, she said, I could always join the conversation, people talk about general things, current events, because chances are they are from someplace else too. But here, somebody will mention some local event that happened years ago and everybody will know what they are talking about!” Perhaps it’s that shared collective consciousness that is part of the secret to Buffalo’s warm embrace.

  15. Jason S. says:

    That man in the photo with the Sabres jersey at the Ice Bowl pumping up the crowd is me. I had no idea this photo existed and am very pleased to see it was chosen as one of the cover photos. Especially since it was taken two months after my own return to Buffalo from Vail, Colorado. This city is unique, beautiful, and inspiring. I’m lucky to call it home.

  16. Jen Page says:

    I was 15 when my parents moved from WNY to Central Florida. I was devastated and had no choice in the matter. I swore I’d come back one day. But life happened. I graduated from high school, got my degree in broadcasting and went where the radio jobs took me. I realized I’d probably never move back to the area. I lived in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and back to Florida again. Then my husband’s job took us to Japan and then to Singapore. He stayed in Asia to work and I came back to the US. Because he travels back and forth, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime: Choose where you want to live. I could have chosen anywhere in the world, really. Paris, LA, New Orleans, Hawaii if I wanted. I chose Buffalo. I chose to come home. That was two years ago. I found a link to this blog through reddit. Welcome home.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      That’s an amazing story! I too, thought I’d never have the opportunity to come back. My husband is an archaeologist, and his work has us moving all over the world- which is cool, but it gets old. We aren’t sure where the future will take us, but we’re both ready to set down roots in a place near both our families, mine here and his in Michigan. It’s so cool you chose Buffalo (but not surprising.) 😉 Thanks for your message!

  17. David says:

    I left Buffalo for a year in 2007 to work as a teacher in South Korea. I met some amazing people and had a wonderful experience. However I missed Buffalo, my friends and family every day. When I came back I felt like I had never left. However, the economy was on a downswing and I was unable to secure employment as a teacher. After subbing for a year and a half I was offered a position outside of Syracuse. I have been here since 2010 in a wonderful school and with a fantastic apartment. However, there is not a day that goes by that I do not miss wings at Elmos or Duffs, Pizza from Bocces on Bailey, Wegmans within 5 minutes no matter where I am, festivals every weekend, and mostly my friends and family. I hope one day to secure employment in Buffalo and move home to raise my daughter surrounded by all those things that make being from Buffalo such a wonderful thing. GO BILLS, SABRES, BISONS and BANDITS!!!!!!

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      As a former teacher, I feel your pain. The job economy for educators is so tough in so many places around the country, Buffalo is no exception. I’m happy for you that you found something in NYS- not too, too far from home! I hope you have the opportunity to get even closer in the future.

  18. J.R. says:

    I wish you the best, but there are some qualities about Buffalo and WNY that stand out in a negative way after living elsewhere: (1) weather, obviously, and it might be old hat, but waking up to sunshine almost every day and never having to check the weather or come up with back-up plans are incredible pluses, despite how pretty changing leaves might be; (2) small-city mindset; (3) racism – this is ugly, but it’s true: try being a non-white there v. most other places in the coastal US or Texas; (4) lack of cultural diversity (there are only so many times that you can go to Sun Restaurant, on the surface, and kids have little exposure to people who don’t look, think, act, and talk exactly the same way that they do); (5) pessimism of the older generations; (6) brain drain – the smartest people leave for NY, Boston, DC, Atlanta, Texas, and California and typically don’t come back, despite the handful of anecdotal stories that we all hear; (7) lack of professional jobs, which severely impacts career development; and (8) low cost of housing, sure, but salaries are much lower and cars, food, vacations, and retirement costs the same no matter what.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      I know not everyone will agree, and that’s okay. What it comes down to for me is that the people I love most in the whole world, mostly live here. I guess if you don’t have that attachment it’s easier to live wherever else. I’ve lived in places known for their scholars, progressive thinking, and known restaurant scene and found it to be overrated, cold, and judgmental. Unfortunately many of the things you mention are rampant all over North America, not more so in WNY versus other places. I guess we all have our own experiences and truths.

  19. Kathy says:

    If you have been away from Buffalo for a long time and are considering moving back, really think about it. I came across this blog and I get what J.R. Is saying. I also get some of the positive comments. I have been away for 29 years (I left when I was 25) and I lived in the Southwest. I was longing to be closer to family and reconnect with my roots, so I came back and purchased a home in a small town southeast of Buffalo. It was quite the experience with the seller lying about things that were in the contract, the realtor lying, and a shouting match between our attorney and realtor on closing day. (My husband is from another country and I tried to convince him this isn’t the way it really is here.) We bought “chickens” off of someone because we wanted eggs, and when they becane more mature we realized he had sold us roosters. People in this area are not all that friendly and prefer to keep to themselves. The rural roads are treacherous in winter, and the months of grey winter skies are tough to take when you’ve been used to lots of sunshine. (When you’ve been away for awhile, you can tend to remember the pluses and forget the minuses.) Being in the wellness field I find it to not be progressive, and I can still see the economic issues. On the plus side: I did enjoy the fall colors, I appreciate some of the local foods (Webers, sausages, wings, etc), visiting Niagara Falls, but at this point I’m rethinking staying in the area.

    1. The Daily Sampler says:

      A) Who is J.R.? B) I am happy you found us. I wrote this in 2014, but am honored it’s still floating around out there. C) The issues you’re having sound like they could happen anywhere, when dealing with less than stellar people- which of whom can be found probably anywhere you go. I wish you the best and hope your experience improves. I’ve been home for 3 years now, and find Buffalonians to be among the friendliest people I’ve met (and I’ve lived several places around the world.)

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