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Broadway Market trying – again – to keep the Easter season magic alive

A crowded Broadway Market, bursting with butter lambs and packed with pussy willows, is an Easter tradition in Western New York.

So is what comes next, when the market loses its mojo, becoming a largely barren space that fills up with questions and ideas about how to survive the next 50 weeks.

Kathleen Peterson is on a mission to change that well-worn narrative, using lessons she learned as a force in a different city neighborhood, the experience of navigating the city bureaucracy and the success of a different kind of market.

Her goal is to make the Broadway Market a year-round destination. Slowly the plan is beginning to take hold.

"There's a nice buzz after Easter with the new extras," Peterson said. "We have new vendors: two new restaurants, a new bakery. There’s a lot of interest in the market."

The market experienced a record-breaking Easter season this year, drawing a quarter-million shoppers over 16 days of shopping, music, contests, dancing and the sensory temptations of 91 vendors hawking their fare. When Easter is over, more than half of the seasonal vendors pack up, leaving 41 year-round vendors in the space.

The transformation of a bustling shopping space into an empty-by-comparison version has vexed market and city officials for decades. A Broadway Market Advisory Task Force was convened in November 2008 at the request of longtime Common Councilman David A. Franczyk to explore new management options. The 18 men and women selected to participate on the task force represented business, food, marketing and community leaders.

Three years later, Peterson – who had previously worked for the city Office of Strategic Planning – assumed a part-time management post at the market. It was a period of continued discord among board directors, Franczyk recalled.

Attracting crowds at Easter time is never an issue at the Broadway Market. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

"It was a shot in the dark because she never did anything like this before," Franczyk said. "With Kathy, it was night and day."

Peterson was born on the West Side, graduated from Holy Angels Academy and studied criminal justice at SUNY Buffalo State before earning her master's degree in administration at Villanova University. She worked at Northwest Community Center, the Clarkson Center and served as executive director of the Parkside Community Association from 1998 to 2008.

"For a small neighborhood, it was always impacted with all these events," she recalled of Parkside. "There was always something happening."

During her time with the association, the Parkside Home Tour and the garden walk were initiated. The summer arts program for children prospered, the Darwin Martin House Visitors Center was rebuilt and the streets were re-treed after the October Storm.

Though her tenure at the association, Peterson developed a rapport with the management team at City Hall.

"I was in housing court with problem properties, or public works for a street-light malfunction or snow removal," she said. "Over a period of time you build a relationship with people.

Peterson, 65, quietly guided the market during the last eight years adding amenities that include a commercial kitchen available for lease, a satellite police station with 24-hour accessibility, and community activities such as cooking classes, rooftop gardening and summer music weekends. This year alone the city has funded $4.1 million in improvements with another $4 million expected from NYS Empire Development.

Peterson wants to improve the market's exterior to return it to a model established in 1956.

But it's what goes on inside the market that will determine its future. The 41 year-round vendors are not all food- and craft-related. Service providers include Save A Lot grocery store,  Jackson-Hewitt tax preparation, Hands-On watch repair and Broadway Opticians.

"Our surrounding community is our number one supporter," Peterson said.

On the third-floor roof, 30 raised-bed vegetable gardens are about to gear up for the growing season, Peterson said. Managed by Lewandowski Produce, the gardens are hot properties for the market with leases renewed yearly.

"We tried a Farmer's Market last year on Saturdays out front, but it did not draw people," said Peterson. "This year, we're looking at pop-up Fridays."

The new kitchen at the Broadway Market. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Excitement registered on Peterson's face when she spoke of the summer music series to debut in late June. The lunchtime event will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays.

During that same time, the market will host seven restaurants serving Philippine, Mexican, Yemeni, Somali and eastern European cuisine as well as soul food.

A gleaming stainless steel kitchen complete with an industrial-size convection oven, six-burner stove, tray stands, utility tables, freezer, dishwasher and restroom is expected to raise interest among prospective vendors. The Kitchen @ the market is waiting final review from the city Department of Permit and Inspection Services, the Erie County Department of Health and the Buffalo Fire Department, Peterson said.

"I get inquiries all the time from people who want to open a restaurant in the market, but you need somewhere to make your product," said Peterson.

The $464,000 kitchen should help develop food entrepreneurs, said Susan A. McCartney, director of the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Buffalo State. She said she sees 1,000 clients a year, and many of them are interested in food service.

"The commercial kitchen at the Broadway Market was needed in Buffalo," she said. "It would be exciting if the businesses making food would sell it there. That is a retail opportunity that could build the market.”

Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) was contracted by the city to manage the kitchen to operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The kitchen will be leased to entrepreneurs in the market as well as to others in the community, said Robert Doyle, community development director with WEDI.

Doyle managed the business support program at the West Side Bazaar, attracting an immigrant-based tenant population to operate sit-down restaurants. Doyle’s focus at the Broadway Market will be a mix of single-use clients and anchor tenants, who will use the facility 10 hours a week or more.

"In the bazaar we focus on full-service brick-and-mortar restaurants. The Broadway Market’s focus is catering, manufacturing and food production – or prepping for a food truck,” Doyle said.

The Broadway Market is trying to learn a lesson from the success at the West Side Bazaar. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Charles Lindsey, associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo, School of Management, applauded the market's kitchen initiative, as well as the management team from WEDI that will operate it. Lindsey also was buoyed by the kitchen's connection to the Westside Bazaar.

Customers of the bazaar believe they're helping small-business owners and the community. By patronizing them, the customers are exposed to a scene with ethnically distinct food. That's what the Broadway Market should have, he said, that feeling of waking up in the morning and saying to your significant other, "Let’s go to the market.”

Lindsey also pointed out that the surrounding neighborhood, whether it’s affluent or not, will affect families' desire to want to spend their Saturdays at the market.

The market is located in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood that has experienced crime, housing neglect and demolition, but proponents maintain its worst problems are over.

"The houses are gone,” Franczyk said. “It’s becoming a better neighborhood.”

McCartney, whose small business center encourages the formation of incubators, sees renewed hope for the market.

“We could incubate businesses at the market. You’ve got senior businesses there already. That’s an ideal situation," she said. "We have to stop thinking about the market as a ‘has-been’ place and think about it as the new Buffalo. We need to change the narrative.”

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