By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News
A normally sedate antiques and vintage clothing shop in the village has had a busy seven weeks.
Miss Josie’s Antiques, painted purple in the Delaware Avenue business district, has become the preferred fashion outfitter for many of the 8,000 people expected at tonight’s “World’s Largest Disco” event in the Buffalo Convention Center.
“We sold about 1,500 outfits last year,” said proprietor James Walaski, standing between racks of polyester shirts, pants and dresses and greeting a clientele steadily streaming through the door in search of appropriate gear for an homage to an era many are too young to remember.
The annual party has become famous for its glitz as much as its magnitude. The idea is to attend in clothes fashionable during the early 1970s, when patterns mixed with stripes and checks, boot heels were high and a notable expressiveness in personal style was the vogue. Mass-production polyester had just been perfected. The attire was the perfect compliment to the music of the era, eminently danceable but otherwise forgettable. Thus does the Saturday disco serve as a costume party for most and a hustle down memory lane for others.
At Miss Josie’s (named for the owner’s mother), the customers are generally young in need of fashion advice, Walaski’s specialty. “Le Freak,” a disco anthem by the band Chic, is on the radio, and a well-thumbed copy of a book entitled “Official Guide to Disco Dance Steps” is on a store counter as Tim Violanti of Buffalo, 25, tries on checked brown pants, a wide-lapelled brown sport coat and a thin silver neck chain — and suddenly he’s ready for the Gerald Ford Administration.
“I’m in a group of 60 (people) going to this,” he said. “I’ve got to YouTube some disco dance moves,” using the online video service as a verb.
There is much more to this than an era-specific Halloween party.
“I’m here for helpful advice,” said Walaski, a Tonawanda resident. “I’m the resident person who lived through the disco era. The World’s Biggest Disco is actually the world’s biggest 70s party. Some people dress for Studio 54 (a cutting-edge New York City disco of the time), to the Brady Bunch. The 60s and the 80s too. And no, I’m not going. I’m like Cinderella’s fairy godmother; I dress them up but I don’t go to the party.”
As he spoke he stood by a rack of clothes that included a short canary yellow dress perfect for Carol Brady.
“We’ve worked hard, the last two months” as the Kenmore shop evidently becomes the world’s epicenter of these remarkably out-of-style clothes. “We’ve done 80 hour weeks, seven days a week, doing laundry until midnight.”
Miss Josie’s Antiques has been a Kenmore fixture for the past 5 years, but in October and November the glassware and candlesticks are moved to one side of the store and rolling pipes of vintage polyester (“The fur coats have sold out”) occupy most of the floor space. He explained the men’s shirts, something that truly need explaining.
“The shirts are tight. Butterfly collars, great patterns, long sleeves. You find a shirt, then go for matching pants. Some of these shirts are vintage Kmart and J. C. Penney, and others are from Triumph and Joe Namath.”
Joe Namath, the football star?
“He was in the fashion business, too. Great shirts,” explained the expert.
Clearly the party is a night for laughter, if not memories. Begun in 1979, tickets sell out by August, and it has become a not-to-be-missed event for the many former residents of the area who return for the Thanksgiving holiday. While the list of visiting celebrities has not been announced, previous celebrations have welcomed luminaries from the era, including Gloria Gaynor, Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, Leif Garrett and various Bradys, Partridges, Trammps, CHiPS and Hansons. The list of corporate sponsors grows every year, and money raised supports the local Camp Good Days and Special Times.
A knowledgeable customer walks in with friends, and she shares some stories of World’s Largest Discos past.
“My husband always wears platform heels,” a shoe style exactly what the name implies. “He falls every year.”
Contact freelance writer Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.