By Andrew Brozyna
I was talking to a friend recently when she mentioned that her grandmother was a butcher. My grandfather was a butcher, and his father was too. Since this is food-related I thought it might be an interesting story to post on The Spunky Coconut.
My family is not exactly sure when my great-grandfather Joseph Brozyna started his meat business. We think it was sometime after he was married in 1923. Isn’t this wagon photo great? I am tempted to say the man standing there is my great-grandfather. After all, “Jos. Brozyna” is painted on the side. However, the standing man doesn’t quite look like Joe’s other photos. We think this may be his uncle Joe in Pennsylvania around the turn of the century. In any case, it shows how far the meat business goes back in my family.
Joe opened a market in the Bellevue area of Rotterdam, New York (a suburb of Schenectady), on the corner of Laura Street and Guilderland Avenue. In upstate NY people say “market” instead of grocery store. Kelly used to make fun of me for this, insisting the word is only appropriate for farmers market type places with lots of vendors. But no one ever says “grocery store” up there. My great-granparents sold typical grocery items, and they had a very popular meat counter. Joe brought in high-quality meats from beef cattle out West. Back in the 1920s and 30s the other butcher shops tended to only offer meat from tired old New York dairy cows.
Despite the Great Depression, the Brozynas’ market did very well. Family lore has it that Joe’s business was so successful that the local struggling banks pleaded with him to take out loans (he didn’t). When people in the neighborhood weren’t able to pay for their food, he helped them out by letting them put it on a tab. He never collected on that debt. The whole family worked in the store. My great-grandmother Leola worked the register, and she was in charge of nuts, candies, and novelties. My grandpa Harold and his brother Paul learned butchering. Joe was able to open additional locations around Schenectady.
Joe’s meat was supplied by a wholesale company run by the Golub brothers. In 1932 Benjamin and William Golub opened their own retail market in Green Island (by Albany, NY). With that success they wanted to expand into the Schenectady area. Joe Brozyna’s meat markets were well known and well liked. Rather than compete directly with him, the Golubs hired Joe to manage the meat department in their first market in Schenectady. Central Market opened on 1639 Eastern Parkway. It was named after Schenectady’s nearby Central Park.
I suspect that this Eastern Parkway Central Market was one of Joe’s stores, which was sold to the Golub brothers. It was around this time that Joe sold off his stores so that he could focus on his original more profitable Guilderland Avenue market. Being the original owner of the Eastern Parkway market (by Central Park) would explain why Joe’s Guilderland Ave. market (in Bellevue) took on the same “Central” name. I found a record showing that Joe continued to own the Bellevue store after the Golubs opened their Eastern Parkway market. Yet, these two separate stores appeared in the same newspaper advertisements. Maybe running the Golub’s meat department meant Joe was also co-owner of their store.
After WWII Harold returned to work at the butcher counter. However, Joe realized that neither of his sons had the interest to continue the family business. Sometime in the late 1940s he sold his Bellevue market to the Golub brothers. After the sale Joe stayed on as store manager. On February 29, 1952 my great-grandfather was held up at gunpoint! (click on newspaper clipping at left) This was only a few days before his first grandchild, my father, was born. We think this event was what convinced him to finally leave the business altogether. Joe Brozyna had saved for decades, and he was able to retire comfortably early in his mid-fifties. Harold left to start a tile business.
My family’s connection to the market was briefly picked up again in the late 1960s. In college my dad got a job as a bag boy at one of the other Central Market locations. He says that once in a while the Golub brothers would come by the store, and they would always ask my dad how his grandpa Joe was doing. The Golubs had been expanding their chain of grocery stores. In 1973 the Central Markets were renamed Price Chopper, which is now a well known grocery chain, still headquartered in Schenectady. When my great-grandfather passed away in 1978 almost the entire Bellevue community came to the wake. The biggest bouquet of flowers came from the Golubs.
A few years ago Price Chopper came out with an upscale line of food products. They named it “Central Market Classics”. The logo features an illustration of my great-grandparents old store. My dad says that the two kids with the bikes are my grandpa Harold and his brother.
Joseph Brozyna brought the business idea of “value added” to his market. He believed in offering his community high quality foods, rather than the cheap, but unhealthy alternative. If he were around today I think he would appreciate what Kelly does with The Spunky Coconut.