By Bob O’Connor
My wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to Buffalo’s Broadway Market. Since it was a few weeks before Easter, the place was crowded, but not wall-to-wall people like it would be in the coming days. Every spring we trek into town to buy Miller’s Famous Horseradish, rolls from the White Eagle or Chruscki’s Bakery , and of course a butter lamb.
As we turn into the ancient parking lot, I always think I’m entering a movie set for a gritty cop drama. The ramp to the second floor is tight, so you have to take it slow. Up top, it is dark and dank, but somehow charming. There are massive columns probably every fifty feet holding up a concrete roof that was poured when Ike was in the White House.
Inside, the one floor layout is filled with vendors selling Polish eggs, fresh produce, pierogis, sausage, and handmade jewelry. From the back you can hear the guy from Malczewski’s yelling out numbers looking for the next customer: 63, 64, 65. He seems a little frustrated, probably because the lines are long and people wander off to shop. The sign over the butcher shop says: “HEADQUARTERS for the BUTTER LAMB”.
We eat at a little restaurant called Pott’s Deli and Grill; we go with fried baloney because we aren’t sure what golumpkis are. An old fellow sits a couple of stools down and asks the waitress how the czarnina is today (duck blood soup). She says it is fantastic and he orders a bowl, I get the feeling this is a daily routine between them.
The guy selling Lewiston jellies and jams recognizes me and calls me over. “You should write about this place, “he says. “ The market reminds me of an old actress who is past her prime, but still manages to clean up for one more show. I understand the metaphor. The Broadway Market is a grand dame who is no longer pretty but still attracts a crowd. She is an old trouper who refuses to retire.
I look online and read the comments visitors have made about the jewel of the east side. Those who visit at Easter time are universally positive. They rave about the great foods and the European atmosphere. Negative comments come from the off season visits that don’t see what all the fuss is about and complain that the place is a ghost town. One guy remarked that it is on a “death watch”.
There is no question that she is in her dotage. The market is old and a little rough around the edges. The neighborhood has seen better times and the legendary Sattler’s department store at 998 Broadway has been closed down for years. Yet, one gets the sense they have travelled a half century back in time to an era when few could afford cars and immigrants from Eastern Europe took the trolley to the biggest and best market in the city to shop, drink strong coffee, and hear the latest gossip.
There are open markets in cities throughout the country that are thriving. You wonder if an institution that was established in 1879 can make a comeback. It would require a substantial investment and region-wide support. In an age where people buy just about everything online’ is there a place for an old world market with specialty meats, cheeses and dry goods?
What is likely is that this tough old broad on Broadway will hang on for a few more holiday seasons to the delight of the faithful. Then she will fade into history; a warm memory of a time gone by.
Bob O'Connor still likes the attractions of the Broadway Market.