When I moved to East Aurora from New York City in 1985 — just married — it was a thrill to find an affordable old farmhouse with a barn, pond, and acres in the town of Aurora, four minutes from the Village. While I’d loved New York City, the crime rate there had become high, and my fiancé and I hoped to raise a child in a kinder, simpler place—in the Southtowns of Buffalo near my family’s home.
I came to love East Aurora, for many reasons, including several that were unexpected and different from my first impressions. Here is why it was and is a great place to live and visit — then and now.
Vidler’s 5 & 10 on Main Street
At first the differences were shocking — giant contrasts between big city and small town life — some great, some surprising, and some annoying. The multi-ethnic dining, stylish department stores, and public transportation complete with a soundtrack of many accents and languages of New York was replaced by many alternative pleasures — including Vidler’s 5&10, the Roycroft Inn, farmers’ markets, fields and woods, horse people, yard and estate sales, and the Cooperative Extension that taught me gardening.
The move produced an unexpected psychological change, too. City people learn street-smarts and self-protective ways: everything locked, purse clutched tightly, money tucked in two places just in case, and awareness of where to walk at what hours. In East Aurora one night, after about three weeks of settling in, I found myself walking alone in an alley next to the movie theater, in the dark, with my purse swinging loosely and my shoulders and chest at ease — and I realized, “Whew, not much to worry about around here!” It was decades before my family even bought locks for the doors.
The Roycroft Campus
The social interaction also took some adjustment. People think that New Yorkers are abrupt, clipped, and rude, but it is really something else: When you live at a fast pace with constant input — smells, noise, sights, impressions — you can’t afford to interact and relate to everybody along the way. In East Aurora, the banker, pharmacist, gas station guy, and horsefeed store owner — all know your name and much of your business. And they chat—how’s your mother, daughter, garden, new job, that dog you took in? (I am embarrassed to admit that at first I found it annoying! But I was the one going too fast.) And that very pace, with the underlying friendliness, is a great reason to spend time in a place like East Aurora.
East Aurora is mostly as I found it — the friendliness, easy pace, the proximity of natural spaces (although natural habitat is rapidly diminishing.) Vidler’s, the restored Roycroft Campus, Wallenwein’s, the Bar-Bill, the Globe, Riley Street Station, and a wealth of other services, boutiques, and eateries remain in character, providing comfort, welcome, and fun. Many business names have changed —Tantalus (where I met my husband Jack and was married) became the Griffon Gastro Pub. New places have emerged — 42 North, the Irishman, and 189 Burger. But the village has managed to own the same words: Charming, Warm —and a great place to raise children.
42 North Brewing Co.
Like most people, wherever they call home, I have my personal happy places:
The East Aurora Library: I took my daughter here every week from age two until some forgotten middle school year. Even on a sad day, I am always happy when I walk out of the library with books and CDs for the car, having enjoyed easy conversation with intelligent librarians.
The Elm Street Bakery: Healthy food from local sources, great coffee, stimulating talk, and lively courtyard events in winter and summer. (Across the street, the Kornerstone Juice Bar and Blue-Eyed Baker won’t disappoint, either.)
The Old Orchard Inn: Buffalonians have come here since 1931 for the chicken pot pie and lemon angel cake. Today my family and friends as well as romantic millennials find the highest quality cuisine and cocktails in the unchanged, idyllic setting. Other classics I number among my favorites are the Colden Country Inn and North Star Tavern.
The Bookworm: The independently-owned bookstore that every village needs, with owners and staff eager to help you find what you want.
The Aurora Theatre: Comfy restored seating, stunning wall murals, a popcorn shop, and first-run as well as vintage films. It’s a classic, deserving of your support. What a pleasure it was in my early Mommy days, with an infant at home, to go to a movie alone at 7 p.m., then rush home in five minutes so that my husband could hurry to town to catch the 9 p.m.— a great movie date with no sitter required!
The Roycroft Inn: Wine tastings, evenings on the portico, and jazz nights in one of the most beautiful rooms in America. Thank you, Elbert Hubbard and all the Roycrofters past and present, who have kept this monument to the Arts & Crafts Movement alive.
Aurora Players’ Theatre: Located in lovely in Hamlin Park, this company provides consistently excellent theater.
Gardens, woods, fields: These are my personal happiest places and spaces. Knox Farm State Park makes everyone — people and dogs — very happy. Another favorite is the incredible unobstructed view of hills and habitat on Mill Road preserved by the Western New York Land Conservancy.
Wings from the Bar-Bill Tavern, Knox Farm State Park and Roycroft Inn
Proximity to everything else: in just thirty-five minutes you can travel from real countryside around East Aurora — with cows and forests! — and reach all the excitement and culture of Buffalo.
East Aurora works for me, even if I still sometimes miss the many pleasures of New York City. (But for those, I can travel!). I hope you visit and linger long. I may even see you in one of my happy places, or you might just find your own.