By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Washburn Street Meat Market has served Lockport and the surrounding community for more than 100 years. For 40 of those years, Don Kaufman served customers as both the store’s owner and operator.
“I bought the business from someone else who was here probably 40 years,” Kaufman said. “When I first bought it, they were selling very little prepacked or cooked roast beef for parties.
“Of course the demand then wasn’t what it is now,” Kaufman said, noting how that area of the business has “increased 10-fold” during his time as owner.
The roast beef, and particularly the beef on weck sandwiches, that are sold at the market are quite popular.
“We’re pretty known for our roast beef, and some days the sandwiches just fly out of here,” Kaufman said. The sandwiches were also a product addition he made.
With 40 years of community service behind him, Kaufman recently made the decision to sell the business. Former customer Gabe Szell closed on the shop this week, and along with his son, Gabe Jr., will take over the Washburn Street Meat Market full time.
“It was time to sell,” Kaufman said. “I’m not getting any younger. This opportunity came along, we started negotiations in mid-June, and we came to an agreement.”
Szell said the sale was a long time coming.
“Don and I spoke about this years ago, but it just wasn’t the right time,” Szell said. “He approached me a few months ago to see if I was still interested because it was time to retire, so everything just collided.”
Szell pointed to Kaufman as someone who has become a friend over the years. He also praised the reputation Kaufman built for both himself and the market.
“This may not be the biggest store on the block, but the meat here is superior; we sell a higher grade of beef,” Szell said.
The quality product and reputation of the market convinced Szell to keep the community staple open.
“I felt it was my duty,” he said, adding he did not know who else would step up.
For the past month and change, Szell has been working full time under Kaufman to learn the ropes at the Washburn Street Meat Market. He said the training he has been receiving from Kaufman is critical to maintaining the market’s success.
“You can fake it in some jobs, but this isn’t one of them,” he joked.
Szell said the reputation of the market is one he looks forward to maintaining, and possibly expanding. For example, after 109 years in business and only three total owners, Szell said he plans to keep the shop in his family for the next 60 to 80 years.
“We want to keep the quality in the store exactly the same until I’m dead,” he said. Knowing that maintaining the store cannot happen without customers, Szell said it was his goal to win over Kaufman’s regulars.
“People around here rely on Don, and I hope is that they can rely on me and my son,” he said. “The customers love Don, and we need to win them over, because if we don’t we’re sunk.”
Kaufman said the customers will be fine with Szell.
“He’ll do fine,” he said with a grin.
Kaufman said the customers are one aspect of the business he will miss. “Some customers have been with me for 40 years,” he said. “I’ll miss that interaction with them, because I know most of them personally.”
Szell said there could be an increased opportunity for customers to know him in the future, as he hinted at possibly expanding the market. He also said a retro-fitted 1937 jaguar with a working kitchen in its trunk will be used to showcase the market at local events.
The car, Kaufman, and Szell will all be on hand this Saturday in front of the market to celebrate the change in ownership from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Also being celebrated is Kaufman’s 75th birthday. There will be live music, and a hot dog and pop will be available for $1. Those who show up in a classic car get the hot dog and pop for free.