What's a surefire sign that business is booming at the Broadway Market this Easter season?
When the pierogi people sell out of their signature food at 10:30 a.m. on Good Friday.
"What? No pierogies?" one man asked incredulously.
Julie Czochara of Keeping Traditions Pierogi smiled politely.
"I'm sorry," she said. "We sold out a few hours ago."
Don't blame poor planning. Czochara and her husband, Greg, prepared about three times as many of their doughy delicacies as last year. They were sure they were set for the onslaught. They planned on making more pierogies to cater to Saturday shoppers. In the past couple weeks, they estimate they've sold about 24,000 pierogies.
Keeping Traditions isn't the only business at the city-owned market that's reporting a spike in sales this year. Hanzlian's Homemade Sausage has been doing a brisk business since the market's Easter season began. Michael Szukala, who helps out the Hanzlian brothers, senses that more consumers are confident the local economy is stabilizing. Conditions may not have improved, said Szukala, but they don't appear to be worsening.
A beefed-up police presence that makes people feel more secure and an expanded roster of vendors -- most of them seasonal tenants -- also have helped, he added.
"We've got about 20 vendors who have never been here before, so a lot of our customers are really excited about that," said Brandye Merriweather, the market's interim co-manager.
Entertainment has also been a draw this season, Merriweather said. The roster of performers in recent weeks has ranged from organ grinders and accordion players to Latin jazz ensembles and a saxophonist.
There was a line of more than 25 people waiting for seats at Perison's Restaurant inside the market early Friday afternoon. The crowds around some bakeries, meat counters and produce stands were five-deep at times. And Enchanted Market Gifts & Cards had to break the news to some last-minute gift buyers that they had run out their popular coffee mugs that read "I love my Polish Babcia." That's the Polish word for grandmother.
Patra Mangus works at Catholic Charities, but she takes two weeks off at Easter to help her friend run Enchanted Market Gifts. Mangus owned a health food store at the market for about seven years until she left four years ago.
Mangus said she often makes a suggestion to customers who flock to the market during the Easter season.
"I tell people that if they come back to the market just three more times the entire year, this place would be thriving," Mangus said.
By some estimates, the market attracts about 200,000 shoppers during the Easter season -- its busiest time of the year. But other than the Christmas season, the market struggles to attract customers for much of the year. There are only a couple dozen permanent tenants -- less than a third of the number of vendors who set up shop on the main floor during the hectic Easter season.
The facility hasn't had a permanent manager since last fall. The city launched a search, but it never picked a manager. There has been talk of hiring a nonprofit consultant with experience in charting the futures of publicly-owned facilities to launch a new search.
In the meantime, Merriweather and temporary co-manager Kathy Peterson said the market is getting help from energetic volunteers.
The market will be open until 5 p.m. today and from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, which is Dyngus Day. The market is closed on Easter.
Brad Rybczynski of Lake View visits the Broadway Market once a month or so. As he and his children nudged their way down the aisles Friday, he said he has mixed emotions when he sees the Easter crowds.
"It is such a great asset to this community," said the Buffalo native. "I'd love to see people come in more of a year-round type of way."
West Side resident JaszminDent was put on the spot by a reporter as she, her nieces and young cousin passed a man who was creating colorful balloon animals. What are the three best things about Easter at the Broadway Market? Dent replied that the best thing is seeing families coming together for a shared experience.
"It's bringing all of our community together. It's so wonderful to come here," she said.
The second best thing? The smorgasbord of vendors. Where else can one find pussy willows, Polish sausage and Peeps being sold a short distance from stands that offer goat milk soap or Easter baskets filled with dog treats?
The third best thing about the market at Easter? Dent was beaten to the punch by her 9-year-old niece, Jayla Moss.
"Chocolate," she exclaimed.
And with that, the family disappeared into a sea of people in search of the perfect chocolate rabbit.