Dad used to say that his greatest ambition in life was to live on a farm, if only he could find someone else to do the work. He moved us from Buffalo to Williamsville so we kids could grow up “in the country.” We lived a block from the old red mill on Ellicott Creek. Going there to watch them press apples into fresh cider and fill up our old thermos jug with a gallon of that nectar is one of our family’s treasured recollections. Dad’s long commute to work ended our sojourn in the country.
The other day, I walked through Williamsville. I’m not sure what Dad would say about the place now. One sign expressed my own impression: Amherst Collision. What had been country or village has collided with the metropolis.
The sign actually announces the presence of a tiny, inexpensive auto body repair shop on Main Street. It needs no announcing. It has cars in the process of repair on the sidewalk. It is the essence of old Williamsville, a casually placed small business that has been there for a very long time.
The shop sits in front of a giant supermarket and almost alongside George’s open-air market. I feel like a traitor giving away the existence of George’s, my wife’s secret. She buys green peppers the size of small pumpkins at three for a dollar. George’s was afloat in pumpkins, apples, grapes and gorgeous amber and gold chrysanthemums. The market has a dog that greets you, and a tiger cat that lies in the sun and likes its belly rubbed.
The collision effect comes on strongest when you leave George’s – with its wagon-wheeled tables and bundles of hay – and look across Main Street. There, an over-eager developer is gobbling up a village block by constructing a new six-story palace that drips balconies out over the sidewalk.
Down the street, the ancient limestone Mennonite Church has been preserved and turned into a bank. Across the way, DiCamillo’s has converted another old limestone building into a cozy bakery.
If Dad couldn’t have “the country” here in Williamsville, I’m pretty sure he would say, when he saw these preservation efforts, “Looks kind of like up-home.” He would have quite different language for the monstrosity looming across the street.
A little further along Main, another developer’s sign announced a waxing center. I crossed over for a closer look at the sign. I had to press a pedestrian crossing button to get there, but it gave me an amazing, momentary sense of control. Five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic and two bicycle paths came screeching to a halt.
I had heard of Williamsville’s plans to reuse the old red mill. Fearing that planners might have replaced the mill with another Tim Hortons – though admittedly it makes the best coffee in town – I hurried down Rock Street to Spring Street for reassurance. There, the Saturday morning farmers’ market flooded the square in front of the big, red 1811 edifice. Farmers and local merchants displayed goats, homemade bread, free-range chickens, buckets of fall flowers, corn, squash and apples by the bushel or the peck. Pretty girls were frying eggs for breakfast sandwiches and offering free samples of cheese.
Fresh apple cider was for sale in plastic containers. That is not quite like watching it squeezed unpasteurized into a real jug, but I think Dad would say, “This is more like it!”
Larry Beahan, of Snyder, remembers growing up in Williamsville when that area was considered “the country.”