Tonawanda News

December 26, 2013

TOP TEN No. 4: Budwey to sell stores after decades in town

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — After nearly 90 years of Budwey’s stores in North Tonawanda and other locations in Western New York, the community was stunned in October when word emerged that owner Frank Budwey planned to sell his stores to Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative.

Budwey, who represents the third generation of his family to be involved in the grocery business, cited a wish to spend more time with his grandchildren.

“I’m going to miss seeing all the employees, all the customers and all that stuff that goes with business,” he said in October. “I want to thank the public in Erie and Niagara counties for supporting us for the last 86 years. Without the customers and staff we wouldn’t have been able to survive these many years.” 

While Budwey said in mid-October that control of the stores would change in the next 30 to 60 days, he said in a recent message that it was going to take a little longer, due to “a little delay with the attorneys” but that the deal is still on.

“It looks like I will be finishing the deal by the end of February,” he said.

The history of Budwey’s grocery stores in the area began in 1922, when Saltonia Budwey opened a small store at 452 Oliver St. in North Tonawanda. As the years went on, her son, James Budwey, took over the business and grew it — moving the store and opening two more stores in the City of Tonawanda and Amherst, as well as a restaurant.

When James Budwey died suddenly in 1952, his wife Flora Budwey found herself a business owner while caring for four young children. Rather than selling, she consolidated and kept the Division Street, North Tonawanda, store going, eventually expanding again.

“She’s my hero,” Budwey said of his mother. “Back then, it was a man’s world in business. She stepped up and kept the stores running.”

In 1971, one of those children — Frank Budwey — returned from service in Vietnam and took over the family business. There were changes — the store became independent, then joined the Super Duper chain, then Bells again, expanding and remodeling along the way. In 1995, Budwey sold the store to Jubilee, and for the first time since 1922, there wasn’t a Budwey-owned grocery store in North Tonawanda.

It didn’t last. By 2000, Budwey bought the store back and by 2002, it took the family name again. In 2005, the Kenmore store opened, followed in 2009 by the store in Newfane. Along the way, he was a main player in the sometimes bitter fight against superstore Walmart coming to the area, with the battle ultimately lost when the chain store opened on Niagara Falls Boulevard in 2012.

Now, though, Frank Budwey says it’s time to do other things.

“It’s time for me. I think I’ve done everything I could do in the food business. I don’t have an heir to take the business. I’d like to spend time with my grandchildren,” he said. “I’m not moving to Florida. I’m remaining here in NT. I just want to do a bit more recreation.” 

He plans to keep an advisory role at the NT store, and has said he believes the company intends on keeping the more than 400 employees currently working at his three locations. However, shoppers and community members still have some qualms about what changes are on the way.

Shortly after the changes were announced, Carole Barnard, a volunteer at the Historical Society of the Tonawandas, said that she understood Budwey’s reasons for retiring, but said he’s going to be missed. 

“It’s sad because we know it’s really not going to be the same,” she said. “No matter what.”

THE LIST SO FAR • NO. 10: Niawanda Park pavilion opens • NO. 9: Kiddieland opens at carrousel museum • NO. 8: NT marina gets a boost • NO. 7: Joe Hollywood perishes in blaze • NO. 6: Malone's bar owner slain • NO. 5: Bills, Sabres seek new directions