The Germans gave us the Easter Bunny. But the Polish gave us the Broadway Market.
And the two are one, thanks to a crazy Western New York springtime ritual.
In the weeks before Easter, the hip hop to the Broadway Market, a massive, industrial-strength edifice near the corner of Broadway and Fillmore. That corner anchors the section of the East Side called Polonia, where the Polish settled. Though the Poles have scattered now, once a year they come back, reliving the Easters of their ancestors. They bring everyone else with them.
A party atmosphere reigns as all kinds of folks swarm the market in search of Polish delicacies long associated with Easter. Kielbasa. Fresh horseradish. Pierogi. Rye bread. Chocolate bunnies. And butter lambs -- a local tradition previously explored on our 100 Things odyssey.
Like good Polish chocolate, the occasion is bittersweet.
The Broadway behemoth doesn't see much of a crowd for the rest of the year. A German Christmas market has started up there in December, with some success. Otherwise, though many vendors are there, attendance is slim -- perhaps because the neighborhood is struggling, but more likely because it's no longer convenient to the families who moved away. They have different shopping habits now.
Enjoy this unique destination while you can. A trip to the Broadway Market at Easter time is like a trip back to the 1950s, when this building went up.
It replaced the outdoor Broadway Market, which had been on this spot since the 1880s. It has three tiers of parking. Park on either of the higher levels, if it's your first visit. Take the escalator down into the market. Feast your eyes on what's spread out before you -- a jam-packed Polish panorama.
Customers are five deep at the butcher stalls. The Famous Horseradish stand, wreathed in tantalizing and pungent aroma, is the center of a crowd. Color is everywhere, in the jewel-toned hand-painted Polish Easter eggs, in the ribbons on the dresses of Polish tots, in the flower stands brimming with daffodils and hyacinths.
Lewandowski Produce is ready for the deluge with row after row of gleaming jars of jams and relishes. Chrusciki Bakery displays case after case of pierogi and pastries. Strawberry Island, the long-running candy shop, is ready with big bars of sponge candy, a Western New York specialty explored earlier on our 100 Things list. The shop also has big slabs of Charlie Chaplins waiting on carts, ready to be carved up.
"When I was a kid, we used to buy it," proprietor Cindy Dawidowicz said nostalgically. "It's sort of like Rocky Road, only different, with coconut."
If you're new, walk around and get your bearings. Talk to strangers, in time-honored Buffalo tradition. When you're ready to buy, a jar of horseradish is a good place to start. It's cheaper here than anywhere else, and it's freshly made on site by Wanda Skup and her staff.
Stop by Broadway Seafood, with fish laid out on ice, close enough to you so you can give it a sniff. Buy some rye bread at White Eagle Bakery, a lamb cake or a bunny cake at Mazurek's Bakery, or anything at Chrusciki. Wangle a seat at Potts Deli. Ask for duck soup. Feeling bold? Join the crowds at the butcher counters. Take a number and speak loudly as you order your kielbasa. Whatever you do, don't forget your butter lamb.
If your purchases grow heavy, tote them back to your car. Try not to look at the folks jockeying for your parking spot. Return to shop some more. Pause to admire the delicate blue and white Polish pottery at the Broadway Market gift shop, Enchanted Market Gifts and Cards. Say hello to Monika Poslinski, behind the counter. Born in Gdansk, Poland, she has been here 30 years, long enough to know Buffalo ways.
"The Broadway Market brings back the memories," she said. "When people come here with their parents, they're keeping up with the tradition."
The tradition transcends time. As the neighborhood has evolved, so has the market. It now boasts a much-praised soul-food stand. And in response to the growing Middle Eastern population, you can buy goat.
All of which goes to show: This pilgrimage is not just about faith and ethnicity. It is a return to the era before supermarkets, when you didn't put your purchases in a big cart and do all your shopping in one trip. When you knew your butcher, your fishmonger, and your greengrocer, and they knew you.
Make a day of it. Play tourist. For St. Patrick's Day, our 100 Things journey took us to the Old First Ward, the old neighborhood of the Irish. This is the old neighborhood of the Polish. View one of the historically Polish churches. Corpus Christi, famously located at the corner of Clark and Kent, is right next door. Pop into one of the neighboring mom-and-pop taverns. Sip a Genny. Talk to more strangers.
Finally, make plans to return to Polonia for Dyngus Day, the Monday after Easter.
That's another 100 Things story, for another day.