With Easter just a week away, people filled the aisles of he Broadway Market on Saturday, eating pierogi, buying butter lambs and taking in the spectacle of Polish dancers, polka music and everyone else.
“I love to see it come alive like this,” said Lisa Florczak, who came to the market when she was girl. “I wish it could be like this all of the time.”
Florczak, a teacher with the Harmony Polish Folk Ensemble dance troupe, said nostalgia for the past, when the East Side was a thriving Polish neighborhood, is part of the attraction of the old market during the Easter build-up. Observers this year also say that the local Polish holiday traditions that seem to emanate from this Broadway intersection are attracting new people, too.
“It’s just a great slice of Western New York life. It’s a joyous thing. You see all cultures now,” said Eddy Dobosiewicz, owner of Forgotten Buffalo tour company and website, who manned a Broadway Market table featuring Dyngus Day – the Mardi Gras-like celebration the Monday after Easter.
To Dobosiewicz, Easter has become like a two-week-long festival with events and experiences leading up to next weekend. It is distinctive, like other local traditions – the Allentown Art Festival and the Taste of Buffalo – but it’s longer.
“It’s Buffalo’s first annual festival,” he said. “Winter has ended. Spring is here. The warm weather is upon us. People are just happy to be out and moving around.”
Gene Thibault and his wife Kim made the hour drive from Franklinville so their 13-year-old niece, Sabrina Claus, could experience the Polish Easter traditions. His must-do list at the market included buying Polish sausage with marjoram, a traditional painted wooden egg and sugar-sprinkled fried dough.
Sabrina laughed when he told her about the Dyngus Day flirtation tradition using pussy willows.
“I told her she was going to learn a lot before the day is over,” Thibault said.
Sabrina was impressed.
“It’s really cool,” she said. “I didn’t really know a lot of this stuff before.”
Everyone at the market seemed to be smiling. “It just seems like a really happy place,” she said.
As the Harmony dancers stepped and turned, women and girls in bright red dresses, men in striped pantaloons and caps with peacock feathers, Mohammed Kahn looked on curiously. A native of Bangladesh, he now lives near the market.
He hadn’t realized it was Polish dancing he was watching. It reminded him of traditional celebrations of the harvest in his home country.
“I like it,” he said. “This is a surprise.”
Chiamesha Mixon stopped to watch the dancers after taking her 4-year-old great nephew for a picture with the Easter Bunny.
“This is his first time seeing a Polish dance,” she said. They live in the neighborhood and she liked having an opportunity to show him another culture. “It’s neat to watch,” she said.
For Alex Verdi, who described herself as half Italian and half Irish, coming to the Broadway Market at Easter was a beloved tradition growing up.
“I associate this with being so Buffalo,” she said. “We’ve eaten our way through the whole place this morning. ... You can’t be unhappy when you’re eating pierogies.”
Now a law school student at the University at Buffalo, she made a point of bringing a Toronto classmate along with her to see the market Saturday.
Butter lambs and sponge candy had been among the highlights for Vagmi Patel, who spends most of her time at school.
“We’re usually so trapped in the buildings,” she said. “It was nice to come out and experience the culture of Buffalo.”
While most leave the market with ingredients for an Easter feast, one family dancing in bright red and blue folk outfits, credits the market for bringing them together.
Curiousity about its modern Easter traditions led Peter Liebzeit, of German heritage, and his wife Lisa, Italian, to come to the market on a whim four years ago.
The couple had already been in the midst of working to adopt when they noticed an information table about Polish adoption and stopped to learn more.
Eventually, the connection led to a trip to Poland and the adoption of four children, ages 3 through 13, in need of parents. The Liebzeits assured the Polish judge that they would connect with Buffalo’s Polish community to help their new daughters and son learn their heritage.
“I used to come here with my grandma,” said Lisa. “It’s a very special place for us.”