Cushman Market: Where creativity and breakfast are served all day

November 3, 2015

Customers bustle through the back door of the colorful Cushman Market. Students study at their laptops, sprawled over decorative tables while blue-collar workers from local businesses order sandwiches to go. Older customers enjoy each other’s company and a cup of coffee to the tune of sitar melodies that complement the sounds of the sizzling grill and hissing espresso machine. Past the register, coolers packed with beer, milk, and a collection of wine and other beverages welcome customers to the market, filled with groceries and snacks.

Customers waiting in the café to place their order during lunch time.

Customers waiting in the café to place their order during lunch time.

The North Amherst market and café offers residents a taste of New York’s famous “beatnik” neighborhood, the East Village. The neighborhood, home to a community of lower-class immigrants and the birthplace of contemporary artists Andy Warhol and Jean Basquiat, was a haven for artists, musicians, and working class people in the 1980’s. The art scene boomed and, due to its affordability, many artists flocked to the East Village. According to a New York Times article published in 1987, the neighborhood was flooded with galleries, marking the beginnings of the lucrative neighborhood that persists today.

Although Cushman is not as gritty as the East Village and its surrounding areas, the creative atmosphere of the neighborhood is revived in the market. The walls are lined with photographs and artwork from artists in the area, curated by owners, and husband and wife, Pete Sylvan and Rebecca Schwartz. The pair bought the empty market space in 2003.

“We were originally going to turn this into a Two Boots pizza restaurant,” Sylvan said, “But a pizza place just opened down the street, so we decided on a café specializing in breakfast foods.”

He recalled time he spent in New York, where one could go to a bodega and pick up bacon, egg and cheese served proudly on a New York bagel.

This hallway, filled with refrigerated goods such as beer and a wine collection on the right, connects the market and the café.

This hallway, filled with refrigerated goods such as beer and a wine collection on the right, connects the market and the café.

Sylvan, a New York native, hoped to reflect the East Village aesthetic in the decor of the market. Schwartz designed and made the market’s decorative tables, which feature photographs as well as newspaper and magazine clippings. A wall in the back is covered with old packaging labels of items sold there, what Sylvan said is an example of the beatnik culture of the East Village. Cushman features far more than just visual art, hosting local and traveling musicians for Jazz Brunch on Sundays.

The market sells many locally-produced goods, including milk from Mapleline Farm and local craft beers and wines.

Assistant Manager Guy McGwinn said the atmosphere at Cushman Market is “welcoming.”

“I know most of the customers’ names that walk in here,” he said. “There is a good mix of locals and students.”

Amherst residents sit in the booth area and enjoy their breakfast.

Amherst residents sit in the booth area and enjoy their breakfast.

Tony Appleton, a regular who would often enjoy breakfast with her grandfather at the café, recalls her grandfather’s memory of the market.

“He would tell me about how this used to be a feed store way back when he was a child,” Appleton said. “He worked here, and where the food is now used to be where all the feed was stored and [he] would shovel it to trucks as they bought it.”

The café that used to feed the thriving agricultural industry in the Valley now serves to feed local creative minds.

David Shepherd, a longtime customer of Cushman Market and co-founder of the Playwright Theatre Club, expressed his gratitude for the café.

“I cannot explain it. I love the people here; it is a friendly place to be,” said Shepherd. 

Email Frank Dutan at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @FrankSDutan. 

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