Drawing people downtown for 90 years and counting

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CW-23) – You don’t have to be a big theater fan to appreciate what Shea’s Performing Arts Center means to the Western New York community.

The anchor of Buffalo’s theater district has been drawing visitors downtown since long before Canalside, HarborCenter, and other new attractions even existed.
A trip there is usually a special occasion for members of the audience, and that’s exactly what’s taking place there this weekend.

With it’s thousands of plush red seats, grand lobby, and dazzling marquee, the building is one of the Buffalo’s most recognizable and beloved landmarks. To mark its 90th anniversary this weekend, the theater will go back to its movie house roots and show a silent film.

The presentation of Sherlock Homes will feature live music on the original Wurlitzer organ.

Shea’s first opened its doors in 1926, and the first crowds of theater goers gasped when they saw the inside. Nine decades years later, not much has changed.

“They walk in, and their jaw drops,” President Tony Conte told News 4. “If you stand on the grand staircase and watch people come in, you can pick out the people that have never been in the building before. They walk in, they take two or three steps, and they gasp.”

Conte will retire at the end of this season, but he’s leaving the theater in some of the best shape of its life. It was in disrepair and in danger of closing in the 70’s. But now, a massive restoration project is almost complete, and ticket sales couldn’t be better.

No longer a place for silent films, the recent box office success is built on live musical theater. Buffalo is one of the top markets for touring Broadway shows, like Pippin, which will be here later this month.

“We’re in a position where they know we have a high season ticket base, but we sell a lot of season tickets as well,” Conte explained. “They know if they come to Buffalo it will be a success.”

Tickets for another new show, Dirty Dancing, are already getting scarce months ahead of time. The show doesn’t stop in Buffalo until May. Ninety years old, and this historic theatre is still in time of it’s life.

“I’ve heard it called the wow factor. When people walk out the door, they say, what a great experience. I want to go back. That’s what we want. We want people to always want to come back to Shea’s,” Conte said.


The Sherlock Holmes silent film showing will take place Sunday at 2 pm. For ticket information, visit www.sheas.org.

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