People A-Z / Anne Bunis
Entrepreneur, Founder, Philanthropist
Born in Russia in 1901 as Anna Wiener to parents, Morris and Dora Wiener, Anne as she would become, arrived in Rochester as a six-year old immigrant child. As the eldest of eight children, she left school at the end of eighth grade. Dreams of becoming a designer were put aside, even as she was creating and sewing her own clothing from her early teens. Her work in sales also meant giving up an apprenticeship because it was unpaid, and the family needed her income to support her siblings. Yet Anne found another way to learn the elements of design while working at a high-end women’s retailer, B. Forman Co., in Rochester. She eventually became a seamstress at the store while learning other aspects of women’s fashion retailing.
Soon after she married Louis Bunis in 1924, they moved to North Buffalo. While Louis worked as a traveling salesman, and in other jobs, Anne Bunis, took up needle and thread and began sewing while raising a family. In the first-floor apartment at 1631 Hertel Avenue, Anne created outfits for her friends and family. With some money saved, she went on buying trips to New York City and began selling clothes on her front porch. She used samples – one of kind dresses, in what ever size they came – to obtain orders for the manufacturers. The samples were higher quality, with embellishments and were sold close to the buying price but still with a profit. In 1929, she formalized the business, and “The Sample Dress Shop” was born. She continued to put her skills to work, doing her own fittings and alterations. The business was so successful within its first year, that she had to hire help and Louis, her husband, left his job selling heaters and joined the newly formed company.
The shop created new way of selling quality clothing at lower cost. It used discount pricing, special “pup” sales and introduced other innovations including evening opening hours and live models in the display room (initially the front parlor). By the late 1930’s, The Sample or The Sample Shop, as it was also known, had expanded down Hertel Avenue, adding several more houses. In 1947, the homes were connected under one frontage and two of the homes were demolished to create a flagship Sample store. From 1929 to 1979, the Sample grew into a major business with two generations of Bunis family members and extended family members. They operated the expanded 14-branch chain that generated a revenue of $19 million-a-year at its peak. As the business grew more complex, numerous sub-specialties within the store developed, and each family member had oversight of a particular division. Anne ran the bridal shop and the alterations room true to her own beginnings.
In 1979, Anne and Louis both retired, splitting their time between Sarasota in Florida and Eggertsville, NY, while handing over the day-to-day operations to their sons, Maer and David. Always civic minded, Anne was active in several local community organizations, as well as multiple Jewish organizations notably, Temple Sinai, the first Reconstructionist synagogue in Greater Buffalo that she and her husband Louis, founded with other members. Anne was also a supporter of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation and Israel Bonds. Anne’s creative interests and her passion for the arts persisted throughout her life, in music, drama and education. She was a supporter of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Friends of the Lockwood Library at the University of Buffalo, and several local theaters among other organizations.
Anne Bunis died in 1999 and is buried in the Temple Sinai section of White Chapel Memorial Park, Amherst, Erie County, New York.
- A small collection of business papers covering mainly the 1930s-1950s are available for research at the Buffalo History Museum Research Library, Buffalo, NY
- C2012-01, Bunis Sample Shop Papers
WNY Women's Hall of Fame
Anne Bunis was posthumously recognized by the WNY Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003.
Michael F. Rizzo, Nine Nine Eight: The Glory Days of Buffalo Shopping, Lulu.com, 2007.
Although the business closed in 1991, one of the buildings remains and eventually became a Law Office. You can view the historic marker on the Buffalo Architecture website created by Chuck LaChiusa.
Anne Bunis, c.1960s
Bunis Family Scrapbook, Pup Sale
Bunis Family Scrapbook, Bridal Shop Advert
The Sample, 1631 Hertel Avenue, 1970s
The Sample, 50th Anniversary Celebration, Reading the Proclaimation
The Sample, 50th Anniversary Celebration
Neon at Night, The Sample Shop, c. 1950s
Women’s Dressea, The Sample Shop, c. 1950s
The Little Shop, Inside The Sample Shop, c. 1950s
The Sample Store Sketch of Expansion 1947
The Sample Shop, c. 1930s
The Sample Dress Shop, 1929
Our thanks to David Bunis and the extended family for their assistance in creating this profile. Our thanks also to Hope Dunbar, Archivist at the Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State, Buffalo, NY, and Chuck LaChiusa.