by Chris Clemens
The Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood in the lower east section of Buffalo, New York was once known as “Polonia”. In the late 1800’s the region was mostly settled by Eastern European immigrants, the majority of which hailed from Poland. With more and more folks moving in, there became a need for more and more infrastructure like churches, schools and shopping markets. The neighborhood looks a bit different now than it did in the early half of the twentieth century, but it isn’t just names like St. Stanislaus Church and Soblieski Street or the local Am-Pol Eagle newspaper that are the last vestige of Eastern Europe in Buffalo. The local Polish community is still very strong, and during Easter they flock like white-tailed eagles to the Broadway Market.
First established in 1888, the indoor market allowed locals to shop for their meat, poultry, vegetables and pierogi making supplies while not having to go very far, but also while supporting their own family and neighbors who worked the stands. Similar markets appeared and disappeared over time, but the Broadway Market is still a destination–and not just for the Polish who still live in the region.
Three different structures have housed the market, the most recent of which was built in 1956 and has received a few renovations since. The 90,000 square foot facility houses butchers, bakeries, fish and produce stands alongside small eateries and gift shops. The standard vendor list is strongly Polish with a few other cultures represented, but during the month of March, and particularly the days approaching Easter Sunday, the market becomes a celebration of food, holidays and bright red-and-white culture.
I’ve been to the Broadway Market a few times before, but never during the Easter holiday. Wanting the true Polish Buffalonian experience, I made the trek out on Good Friday and coerced my mom to ride along to buy me a traditional butter lamb!
I knew it would be a madhouse on the Friday before Easter, but I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for our encounter. It’s such a to-do that the section of Broadway right in front of the market was closed off by police! Meandering from stand to stand amidst what I estimate to be thousands of people, we made our way from the bakeries, butchers, pickled things stands and the live music and took in the entire festive event.
While the butter lamb is traditional for a lot of Eastern Europeans at Easter, it’s a particularly noteworthy custom in Buffalo that signals the beginning of spring–regardless of the temperatures outside. The Malczewski stand never had a line with less than 20 people the entire time we were there, but the wait was worth it and our Easter table this year will be just as if our last name ended in a vowel!
With plenty of sights, sounds and smells, the Broadway Market during Easter is a really festive way to spend a few hours!
Resources and Additional Reading
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens