Donald Vidler and Cliff DeFlyer

Owners, Vidler’s 5 & 10

Don Vidler (left) and Cliff DeFlyer (right)

Vidler’s has been a family-owned business for over 90 years. Please share some historical highlights.

Don: When our granddad opened in 1930 up through the early ’50s, we were just a local 5 & 10 – very much just for the village. Back in the ’50s, virtually every little town in the U.S. had a 5 & 10 store, whether it was the big chains like Woolworth’s or stores like ours. So, for a long time it was just local people coming in to get their shoelaces or a frying pan. In 1960, Grant’s, which at one time was one of the biggest variety chain stores in the country, came into East Aurora. That really set us back, but they closed just two years later.

In the late ’60s, we really started to highlight being the old-fashioned five-and-dime. There was a local graphic artist in town named Rix Jennings who suggested playing up the old five-and-dime theme. So, they redid the whole storefront. Then, in the ’70s, my father and my uncle Bob started going after bus tours, trying to be more of a regional draw, and that started to work pretty well.

Also, we had never really done any advertising to that point. But in the late ’70s they did a TV ad with Liberty Bank of Buffalo, which was running a series of ads called “Good Partners.” At that time, their spokesperson was Peter Graves, who was the original star of the “Mission Impossible” TV show. It was the number-one show in the country, and everyone knew who he was. He walked through our store and talked about the old five-and-dime. That really put us on the map, because more people from Buffalo and Rochester and Western New York said, “We want to go see the old 5 & 10.”

Then Cliff came in the ’80s, which is when we did the biggest physical expansion. From 1950 to 1980, it was pretty much the same size store.

Cliff: We put the addition on and we doubled the size of the third building. And then in the early ’90s we purchased the building next door, the fourth building. We went from two and a half to four buildings in a couple-year period. We’re around 15,000 square feet of selling space. We started at 800 square feet in 1930.

Don: It’s roughly 20 times larger than when our granddad first opened the store in 1930. By the way, Fisher-Price was founded in East Aurora, also in 1930. We were the first store to carry Fisher-Price.

Vidler’s is the world’s largest 5 & 10 variety store. What makes Vidler’s so special?

Don: A lot of it is the history and the nostalgia. Whenever we hire a new employee, I tell them, 90% of the people who come here are happy when they come in, and we want them to leave happy. They pick everything up and play with it. Probably the parents are worse than the kids [laughs]. They’re putting on hula hoops and putting on novelty hats and having sword fights with Styrofoam swords. People concentrate on the fun stuff, but we do have day-to-day necessities like housewares, office supplies, crafts, cards, paper, books and puzzles. So they know they can get all the things they need, and all the fun stuff.

Plus, our employees are terrific. When we had to shut down for two months because of COVID, a lot of people didn’t go back to their previous jobs, but every one of our employees came back. They want to work here. That’s the difference between us and a big box store – employees know the merchandise, they can help people, they can make recommendations.

Cliff: We empower the employees to do as much as they can do. They do the merchandising, the purchasing, the display work. They get a lot of joy out of doing that, rather than just sitting on the register waiting for someone to walk up.

Don: Right now, we have about 25 employees. During Christmas, we have about 30 with seasonal help. Other than Tops [a grocery store], we’re the largest retail employer in town.

There aren’t many third-generation businesses around. Usually, they fade dramatically from first to second and second to third. People like the fact that we’re physically here full-time. If a bus tour comes, Cliff or I will get on the bus and give them a five-minute welcome – they love that. They’re not used to having someone who owns a business, a family member, come out and talk to them. We’re proud of that.

Tell us about coming in second place (out of over 15,000 entries) in Quick Books “Small Business/Big Game” contest.

Don: That was a lot of fun. It was in the summer of 2015. It was just a little blurb I saw online, so I sent in a write-up and they contacted us and asked for more details. We made a video and sent it in. They said they had over 15,000 applicants. In the fall they said we made the next round, and then a few weeks later they called and said we were in the top 10. I flew out to California, where their headquarters are. It was a big production. Oprah Winfrey was there as one of the guest speakers. That day they announced who the final three businesses were going to be for the nationwide voting. They announced Vidler’s as the third one. There was online voting for two months. We lost out to Death Wish Coffee, another New York retailer. They are great guys – we sell a lot of Death Wish Coffee in the store. Alas, we came in second, but we had a good run. It was tremendous publicity, not only locally but nationwide. We were very humbled and honored.

Cliff: That was the support of Buffalo and Western New York. People came out of the woodwork voting for us. It was a big news story. We’re actually the last suburb from Buffalo, about 20 minutes from downtown, so we’re right on the edge before you get up into the hills and rural areas. We’re at the crossways of three major highways, so we’re fortunate to get a lot of traffic through here.

Watch the video here.

What has been the biggest change the business has gone through over the years?

Cliff: We merchandise a lot. We know we can’t compete directly, price-wise, when it comes to big box stores. So we try to find a merchandising mix that works well and draws people here. We’re paying a lot of attention to that.

Don: Up until the early ’60s we were a little local five-and-dime store. Now we’re much more. We get a lot of customers from Rochester, which is an hour and a half drive. It’s a good day trip. We’re fortunate because East Aurora has a lot of other attractions, so a lot of people come here. Expanding our reach in terms of customers has been a big change. Anything in a three-and-a-half-hour radius, whether it’s by bus or car, that’s our wheelhouse. That’s a day trip.

Cliff: We made us a destination. We’re working on not just being a store but a destination, for everyone from Toronto to Rochester to Erie, Pennsylvania.

You have an impressive 24,000+ likes on Facebook. How do you keep such a large audience engaged?

Don: We do a lot of silly videos with the merchandise in the store, and we like to have fun with that. If I said, “This pencil is on sale for 19 cents this week,” the post would only get 10 views. If I make a video and pretend to shove the pencil in Cliff’s ear, I’ll get thousands of views. People like to see silly fun stuff.

Cliff: We made a commitment to not really get into pricing on social media, because then we start setting ourselves up for price wars or comparisons, which is tough with big box stores. We don’t want people driving here for the price. We want them to come for the entertainment value. There’s something here for everyone. We admit we can’t always be the best price, and people don’t really have a problem with that.

Don: We might do a fun contest, like we’ll ask a trivia question and whoever gets it right gets a $50 gift certificate. That’s popular. People love that.

Vidler’s is often featured in made-for-TV holiday movies. What goes on behind the scenes to prepare for a movie crew?  

Don: They usually give us only about two weeks’ notice, but we’re very accommodating. Most of the movies have all been done by the same director. We work closely with the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission. We don’t shut down while they’re here. We’ll tell them you can film here during the day, but you’ve got to be cognizant that we’re staying open. That’s another draw. If we post that they’re going to be here filming a movie, we’ll get people who want to see it and see if they can walk through the background. Last summer, a couple from Maine drove here and they said they came just because they wanted to see the town where the Christmas movies are made.

When is your busiest season?

Don: Definitely fourth quarter, Christmas.

Cliff: We also do well in the summer. A lot of people come to the area. Buffalo has made a nice comeback the last 20 years. And having the Canadian border back open has been nice. It was very difficult traveling back and forth to Canada during COVID, and we lost a lot of traffic because of that for a couple of years. We’re only 30 minutes from the Peace Bridge border. We missed that Canadian traffic.

What items are best-sellers?

Don: People ask that a lot. It’s really department by department. Fortunately for us, there’s not one item that carries the store. Kazoos sell really well, especially the metal ones made in Eden, New York. That’s where the original, all-American classic kazoo was started. In housewares, we sell a lot of enamel cookware and roasting pots. In crafts, we sell a lot of little odds and ends. We try to stock things that not many other people have. Toys are big. Puzzles are big, especially during COVID.

Cliff: We have a 40-foot wall of puzzles. And candy is huge – that’s the “recession-proof” item. We sell a good amount of [Buffalo] Bill’s merchandise. We used to just put it out seasonally, but now we have a whole year-round Bills section.

We love the “Vidler on the Roof” installation. How did that idea come about?

Don: That was in 2009. It started with the TV ads they did with my dad Ed and my Uncle Bob. They were really corny, cheesy ads, but everyone loved them. The punch line was that my dad was the “Vidler on the Roof” – a take on Fiddler on the Roof. So my dad said, “I want to put a Vidler on the Roof up there.”

It’s immense. It weighs about 400 pounds. From the bottom of his sneaker to the top of his head, he’s probably 8 or 9 feet. It had to be hoisted and placed by a crane. It’s like a roadside attraction, a landmark. It sounds very Norman Rockwell-ish, but little kids go by on the school bus and wave to the Vidler on the Roof.

The East Aurora Carolcade has become a huge event. What is the story behind how it all began at Vidler’s?

I give full credit to my dad for that. This is going back to the late ’60s. As the legend goes, a local girl scout troop, maybe four or five of them, came in the store around the Christmas season and asked if they could sing some carols. So my dad said sure, and when they were done, he gave them a box of candy. And the next year he encouraged more. Any group that came and sang carols, he’d give a box of candy to. The third year he put in an ad with the local paper. A year or so later a bunch of other merchants said, instead of a little thing, why don’t we make it more of a community sing-along?

It’s nice because it really is a community event. The local paper prints and hands out for free the booklet with all the Carolcade songs in it. It’s gone from just those first few kids to a couple of hundred and kept growing. Some years we’ve had close to three or four thousand. It’s become known not just in East Aurora, but as a Western New York tradition. This year was the 50th Carolcade. It’s a nice, feel-good night.

What plans do you have for the future of Vidler’s?

Don: I’d like to say that my father, my uncle and my sister were here 150 years combined. Cliff and I have only been here about 60 years combined, so we have a ways to go. And every one of our kids has worked here. High school and college, they’ve all worked here at some point.

On a serious note about retailing, I always tell the kids, you might go on to be a surgeon or a rocket scientist. But the basic skills you learn at this store are good. You meet people, you have to be polite, you have to be prompt, you have to know your schedule. Those are soft people skills that’ll help you in any job that you take. We’ve seen kids blossom. We see kids come in here who are kind of sheepish and quiet and shy, but after a year or so they’re very outgoing and working with people.

Cliff: It’s fun to watch the change.

Visit Vidler’s website.


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