Defying naysayers, Robert S. Vidler, Sr. launched his five and dime in East Aurora, N.Y., in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression. The store continued to defy the times by surviving the depression and then the market trends that snuffed out dime stores across the country.
Vidler's 5 & 10, with its old-timey bona fides, still occupies its original location, although it’s expanded over the years into adjoining buildings. Over nearly 90 years of operation, only a pandemic shuttered the store for more than a day or two. COVID-19 was a greater existential threat to the business than the Great Depression, said Don Vidler ’78, whose grandfather founded the store. In turn, Vidler’s father and uncle took over the business, which Vidler now runs and owns with his cousin.
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The pandemic forced them to close the store in March and cancel plans for a 90th anniversary celebration. Reopening June 2, the store is chugging along and adhering to COVID regulations. Vidler clocks in by 8:15 a.m. to prepare for the 9 a.m. opening.
His dad never pressured him to be part of the family business, and was proud when Vidler earned a four-year degree. After college Vidler, a history major, took a job in the textile and apparel industry in New York City. When their two daughters were in college, Vidler and his wife were drawn to East Aurora, which is near Buffalo, and the store. His dad was slowing down.
Vidler already knew the ropes. He’d worked in the store as a kid, and he slid into the job, working for some years with his sister and then with his cousin. His father died in 2019. The third generation doesn’t mind doing the kind of corny TV ads that Vidler’s dad and uncle used to do, although Vidler targets an audience on social media and has a YouTube channel. The operation employs some 26 people and draws tourists and hometown regulars who have known the Vidlers across generations.
“I see a lot of old friends. I see high school buddies, I see neighbors and family. And anyone who comes through town who grew up there usually stops in so it's just nice to reminisce and see people,” Vidler said. He enjoys watching first-timers react to the nostalgic environment and to the scale of the place, which has tens of thousands of items: candy, kitchen goods, goofy hats, toys, and more. Hamiltonians often stop in, and when they do, Vidler takes their photo.
The holiday season is upon him, and he expects it will be busy even with the pandemic. Busy, but different, with masks, plexiglass, and staff at the door to keep count of customers. Christmas, the most important time of year for business, is the one time of year the busy and focused Vidler finds himself conscious of the family history contained in the store.
“The last night we close at Christmas I might stand around and look about for a little bit and say, “We did it for another year and got through," he said.