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Broadway Market is like no other In fine holiday tradition, landmark shines with old and new vendors, visitors

Atlanta may have many attributes, but it doesn't have the Broadway Market.

So when Buffalo native Ginny Fuller flew home this week, she and her two sisters hit an East Side icon they've been visiting since they were kids begging for marshmallow Peeps.

That was several decades ago, before scores of empty buildings marred the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. It was an era when the market was still thriving.

As the three sisters enjoyed a wine-tasting Friday, they said they were thrilled to see the market buzzing with activity. But it's the Easter shopping season -- a time shoppers flock to the market for everything from pierogi and pussy willows, to butter lambs and holiday hams. Except for another sales uptick during the Christmas holiday, the market struggles to lure customers about 10 months of the year.

"I wish it looked like this every week," said Phyllis Dusel of the Town of Tonawanda. "But it doesn't, unfortunately."

Thomas A. Kerr believes he has some ideas that will lure more shoppers to the market year-round -- at least on weekends. The former senior manager for the Internal Revenue Service was hired as the market's executive director last fall. He disclosed several plans aimed at luring more people to what city officials call the longest continually operating public market in the nation.

The new plans include:

* A rooftop garden where neighborhood residents will be encouraged to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs. They would be able to take their harvests home or sell them at the market. Gardening experts would be recruited to hold sessions on effective growing techniques.

* A farmers' market on Sunday that would cater to hundreds of people, including many suburban residents, who attend many churches in the neighborhood.

* Saturday cooking demonstrations that could include a focus on ethnic foods.

* Other events aimed at luring diverse groups, including art shows, classic car exhibits, sessions on healthy living, musical performances and dancing displays. The market recently hired Amanda Beale to serve as a special events coordinator.

Kerr knows what skeptics are thinking.

"The community and the people in the market have been promised things for years, and a lot of those things haven't transpired," Kerr said. "We want people to know that, this time, the change is happening."

He points to some recent accomplishments. Several new vendors have moved in this year. They include Niagara Popcorn, a company that makes cakes, lollipops and other treats with popcorn; East-West Cafe; Chuckie's Texas Hots, and Indian Cuisine, a vendor that specializes in vegetarian Indian food.

The market is also offering more flexible rentals to better accommodate vendors who have other full-time jobs and want to have a market presence on weekends and during the holidays.

Kerr would like to see the market's hours expanded, an idea that has faced resistance from some vendors when it previously was suggested. The market is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, although there are special hours during the Easter season. Visit www.broadwaymarket.org for hours.

About $1 million in infrastructure work is planned, including heating and air-conditioning upgrades and safety improvements. Interior and exterior lighting already has been improved. City officials have signaled a desire to make additional investments to improve the market's appearance, Kerr said.

City and market officials are dissecting a study released last month by a team of design students from Rochester Institute of Technology. They've made dozens of recommendations for improving what they described as the market's cluttered look and confusing floor plan.

A vendor who has been selling cakes and other bakery items in the market since 1978 is convinced the facility is moving in the right direction. Melanie I. Krygier-LaMastra of Melanie's Sweets Unlimited thinks food-focused cable television channels, cooking contests and other dynamics could work in the Broadway Market's favor.

"People are looking for gourmet foods, and they like activities that center around food," she said. "The new manager is more focused on bringing in new food vendors. I think that's the key to the market's rejuvenation."

But shoppers will find far more than food at the market. Wood sculptor M. Cousin Kelly set up shop Friday in the market's parking ramp, showcasing his carvings that embrace environmental themes.

Martha Nealon, a retired Erie County sheriff's deputy, was selling hand-painted glasses, custom-made baskets and other wares. Grandma Martha's Closet is only a seasonal tenant, but Nealon hopes to open a permanent shop. Kerr said the goal is to attract vendors that offer unique items, as opposed to "trinkets" that can be found anywhere.

The curator of the Iron Island Museum, which has operated a booth at the market during the holiday season for 16 years, said she has mixed feelings about recent changes.

"I think they're trying to do something good," said Marge Thielman Hastreiter. "But I think the new management has to be a little more friendly to vendors."

She echoed the views a few vendors have voiced privately, saying the new management is occasionally a bit heavy-handed.

"Change is hard," Kerr replied. "But it's not done without a plan. There's a vision."

The new manager conceded that the neighborhood surrounding the market is in dire need of rehabilitation. In fact, many shoppers interviewed Friday complained about blight. Ginny Fuller said one house was so wrecked, it was crooked.

"It looked like the fun house at Crystal Beach," she said.

But many patrons said the neighborhood decay hasn't deterred them from visiting the market once or twice a year.

"Look at the atmosphere," said Alden resident Barry Kassirer as he sat at a table, eyeing flower vendors, food merchants and crafters. "You don't see this at Tops or Wegmans."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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