In September 2018, the photography collective Buffalo Obscura invited me to propose a photographic series interpreting the expression “Buffalo’s Main Street.” The resulting work was to be presented as part of a group exhibition at 389 Main Street, an unoccupied commercial building in downtown Buffalo, a site that housed the high-end department store Adam, Meldrum, and Anderson’s—AM&A’s—from 1930 until its permanent closure in 1995.
AM&A’s as a destination and institution was in many ways an embodiment of middle-class aspiration in the decades following World War II. Its flagship store was a destination for shoppers from around Erie County, projecting a finely tuned balance between sophistication and thrifty pragmatism. Luxury goods and Sports memorabilia, an elegant bistro on one floor, a bustling cafeteria on another.
These same decades saw the rapid expansion of commuter and retail culture in Buffalo and many cities. In a word, suburbanization. Significantly, the more affluent, overwhelmingly white demographics were moving to larger, single-family homes well away from the city, and likewise preferring to spend their money in convenient proximity to their homes.
AM&A’s recognized the opportunity—or necessity—of expanding their own reach. Starting in the early 60s they opened a new location on average every two years, each at a new shopping mall or plaza, each situated within a thriving, buoyant suburban district.
Guy DeBord described these new towns as such: “their motto might well be ‘On this spot nothing will ever happen — and nothing ever has.” But the suburban landscape has always been a promise of stability (stasis) more than a reality. Like cities, they expand, contract, decline, are re-constituted and re-defined, are abandoned and repopulated. So as these forces made their way through Buffalo’s suburbs, AM&A’s met the same fate as many other institutions, closing, relocating, renovating, abandoning. Most locations survived in one form or another until the company closed in the mid-1990s, subsequently bought and operated by once-rival Bon-Ton, slowly closing doors for two more decades until it too filed for bankruptcy and closed.
These images catalog the former sites of AM&A’s as they stand in 2019.
“By the time the AM&A’s at 389 Main Street permanently closed in 1994, the store was operating ten satellite locations in various shopping plazas and malls throughout Western New York. While the downtown store was known for decades as a destination for travel from the surrounding suburban neighborhoods, this series of photographs documents the journey of Main Street itself, away from the changing urban geography and outwards towards new kinds of cultural and social centers.” [text from exhibition]