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As happens every Easter season, the Broadway Market was a frenzied scene this weekend, with thousands crowding the marketplace for Polish music, tasty ethnic Easter treats and a feel-good atmosphere.

There were smiles all around, and none bigger than on the face of 97-year-old Helene Filipowicz McLoughlin of West Seneca, who took it all in while also enjoying her sweet memories.

As she listened to “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” played by a nearby organ grinder, McLoughlin thought back to the old days, when she grew up just a few blocks away.

Her parents, who ran a small food store, first took her to Broadway Market as a young girl. She enjoyed later visits as a young woman, then became a mother herself and took her children.

Now, she’s a grandma and great-grandma.

“I’m thinking about the good times … all the boyfriends who brought me here,” McLoughlin said with a laugh. “It used to be busy like this every day of the year, not just at Easter. In the old days, it wasn’t just Broadway Market. We had Neisner’s, Sattler’s – all kinds of stores in this neighborhood.”

McLoughlin, a retired hair salon operator who wore a brown fur coat and a “Polish Princess” crown decorated with little plastic bunnies and flowing multicolored ribbons, went to the market with Janet Marynowski, one of her 11 grandchildren, and Marynowski’s husband, Scott Stephans. They arrived shortly after it opened at 6 a.m. and stayed until noon.

“It makes me happy to see her here. I’m so glad she is healthy enough to still enjoy this,” said Marynowski, 52. “And it brings back a lot of memories for me, too.”

She was hardly alone in that sentiment. An estimated 200,000 people have visited the market to enjoy “Easter Festival” activities that began 16 days ago, according to city officials.

Those visitors include city and suburban residents who make an annual pilgrimage to the market to buy Easter goodies and take in the atmosphere.

“You come here, and you see that it’s pretty much the way it looked when your parents brought you when you were a kid,” said Thomas Przybala, 52, a Lancaster lawyer who had just danced the polka with his wife, Mary.

“We came to get Polish sausage and flowers for Tom’s mom,” Mary Przybala said.

Kathy Sheldon, 59, of Buffalo, said she has been coming to the market, usually around Easter, for at least 30 years.

She smiled as she filled a huge black shopping bag with collard greens, kielbasa, poppy seed rolls and rye bread.

“I love the ethnicity of Buffalo. I love the sounds, the smells of the food,” Sheldon said. “Everyone is nice to each other. It’s the real Buffalo spirit.”

For Rani Salemi, 31, of Lewiston, it was her first visit to the market. She arrived with her 10-month-old daughter, Anya, and her mother, Darryl Somayaji, also of Lewiston.

“This is wonderful. It reminds me of some of the markets I’ve been to in New York City,” Salemi said. “I decided that we would come this year and start a new family tradition.”

A Buffalo institution that has seen its ups and downs over the decades, the Broadway Market is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

The original market was built in 1888 by immigrants who flocked to Buffalo for jobs and new lives, but who still wanted to enjoy the foods and customs of their homelands. The original building burned down around 1900, and it was replaced by one twice as large, but without heat. That was replaced in 1956 by the big building that still stands at Broadway and Lombard streets.

Today, with the exception of a few holidays, the market remains open all year long, Monday through Saturday. There are 30 permanent tenants, but at Easter time, that number jumps to 90.

“We do well at Christmas time, but nothing compares to Easter for us,” said Kathy Peterson, the market manager. “Friday was one of the busiest days we’ve had in years. … We had two vendors who totally ran out of food. There was so much traffic coming in that the police had to shut down a section of Broadway. That hasn’t happened in years.”

“We have two stands here. It was so crowded on Friday, that it took me 10 minutes to get from one to the other,” said Alan DeMartin, 25, a worker at Grim’s Fudge & Candy. “It’s great to see it like this.”

Peterson said she hopes the visitors who came for Easter foods will return and patronize the market.

To celebrate the 125th anniversary, at least 13 special events will be held between now and the end of August, including a lecture series, a flower-cutting workshop sponsored by the South Park Botanical Gardens, cooking demonstrations, a barbecue blues bash, a car show and a peach cooking contest. Peterson said the events will be listed on the market’s website, http://broadwaymarket.org.

For 97-year-old McLoughlin, Saturday was a blast.

After noticing that she was being interviewed and photographed by The Buffalo News, many people walked up to her, shook her hand and treated her like a celebrity.

“Are you the queen of Easter?” one young woman asked. “You’re just beautiful!”

Today, the good times will continue for McLoughlin, as family members congregate in her small West Seneca apartment to enjoy a sumptuous Easter meal.

“We’ll have about 35 people,” she said. “We’ll have so many people, we’ll have to put some tables out in the hallway. I can’t wait.”

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com