Torn-Down Tuesday: The Elk Street Market

By Steve Cichon

Time and circumstance has nearly eliminated knowledge and memory of one of the city’s great institutions.

West Market Street, Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

In 1904, the Elk Street Market was “the largest fruit and garden truck market in the United States.” The traffic in commodities sold rivaled any similar market on the continent.

Buffalo Stories archives

The market’s size and success was attributed to so many of Buffalo’s immigrants holding onto centuries-old ways and their “adherence to village customs.” German, Italian, and Irish traditions played out all over the four-block long market that ran parallel to Michigan Street, in an area now largely taken up by the Buffalo Creek Casino.

Trying to understand where the market was offers up several red herrings. The first is the name. The market is nowhere near today’s Elk Street.

The part of Elk Street where the market stood is now South Park Avenue. Elk Street once ran from Seneca Street almost to the foot of Main Street. In her blog about Buffalo Streets, Angela Keppel writes that in 1939, South Buffalo businessmen thought it would be a good idea to have a street that runs from South Buffalo to downtown. Elk Street was one of five streets that was carved up to create South Park Avenue.

Buffalo Stories archives

Another red herring is the Elk Street Terminal. Famous now as one of Buffalo’s early reuse condominium projects, it was built at the northern tip of the market and used for the loading and unloading of trucks and trains. The actual market stretched several blocks into the First Ward from the back door of the terminal.

Buffalo Stories archives

It’s actually a double red herring because not only was the terminal a small part of the market away from most of the buying and selling the market was famous for, it’s actually several blocks away from where Elk Street was. It was named after the market (which no longer exists) which was named after the street (which no longer exists.)

Buffalo Stories archives

Thousands of wagons laden with fruit and vegetables paid 15¢ or 25¢ for a spot on the market or took their wares to the terminal to be loaded on trains to be sold around the country. The farmers themselves came from as far as Orchard Park or further south, or as far north as Clarence — but rules prevented Niagara County growers from selling at the market.

During the height of the fruit season, 10,000 bushels were sold a day.

Buffalo Stories archives

The main building also was home to a meat and poultry market, and the fish market was the city’s busiest.

Michigan Avenue just outside the Elk Street Market. Buffalo Stories archives

A fire in the late 1920s and then railroad maneuvering to have most of the larger business of the Elk Terminal moved to the Clinton Bailey Market mostly spelled the end of the Elk Street Market, which continued to hang on as a farmers market through the 1930s.

These views show a 1906 and 2016 view near what is now South Park and Michigan avenues.

Buffalo Stories archives

What It Looked Like Wednesday: How Buffalo bought a turkey in 1928

By Steve Cichon

Usually, a smart shopper can find a relatively inexpensive turkey that won’t bust the family’s bank while still allowing everyone to share in late autumn’s all-American communal meal. But before the days of shoppers’ cards and even freezers, a Thanksgiving turkey was a much more expensive proposition.

These three boys each bought their family’s bird at the Elk Street Market from Barneth Satuloff, poultry merchant on Elk Street on the Sunday before the holiday, but sales usually hit their peak on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the Thursday celebration. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Leading up to the holiday, Buffalo’s public markets “pushed Thanksgiving fowl into the limelight” with the sale of live turkeys — all to be butchered and dressed while you wait. You couldn’t buy a turkey until the few days right before, but for those days, a cacophony of gobbles filled the air around the Broadway, Chippewa and Elk markets.

While having a turkey for Thanksgiving has been the holiday’s hallmark for almost 400 years, the price hasn’t always been in everyone’s reach. In 1928, the price for a turkey at one of Buffalo’s public markets was between 50 and 55 cents a pound, which adjusted for inflation, is about $7 or $8 per pound.

Buffalo Stories archives

The “buxom twenty-pounder” one poultry man described to a reporter would cost as much as $140 in 2016 dollars, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics price calculator.

It wasn’t just turkeys — meat, as a commodity, was much more expensive in general. Ducks were 30 cents a pound, chickens around 33 cents. A goose could be had for 25 cents, and the most affordable meat for your Thanksgiving table would have been rabbit at a reasonable 20 cents a pound.

The essentials for cooking the bird were on sale leading up to the big day in 1928 — Weed & Company, Buffalo’s biggest hardware and bric-a-brac store, had plenty of Thanksgiving utensils available for sale.



Torn-down Tuesday: In 1945, the Market Terminal Warehouse near today’s HarborCenter

By Steve Cichon

The area is now the parking lot next to the HSBC Atrium on Perry Street, but in 1945, it was the home of the Market Terminal Warehouse.

Buffalo News archives

The building’s name referred to the Elk Street Market, which was across Michigan Avenue from the building. The Market Terminal Warehouse filled nearly an entire block bounded by Perry, Mississippi and Scott streets.

The building had been, for generations, the home of a sheepskin tannery owned by Jacob Schoellkopf. Schoellkopf used the fortune he made in tanning to invest first in milling and brewing, then railroads and banking, before becoming the “King of Electricity” after buying up several firms that were trying to harness the energy of Niagara Falls to make electricity.

He eventually also started the Schoellkopf Chemical and Dye Co. along Elk Street and the Buffalo River, which was eventually bought out by National Aniline.

After years of back taxes piled up, Schoellkopf & Co. sold the building in 1945.

The building was also one of many Buffalo industrial scenes photographed by abstract painter Ralston Crawford, who grew up in Buffalo and attended Lafayette High School before going on to capture industrial scenes like Buffalo’s grain elevators, bridges, trains, and aircraft. Considered one of the innovators of Precisionism, Crawford’s work graced both the covers of magazines such as Fortune and the halls of such great museums as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The exact demolition date of the building is unknown, but dates to sometime before the opening of the then-Marine Midland Atrium in 1991.