Ten Years of Little Poland

The Little Poland neighborhood has also become a marker on the tourist map of New Britain and Central Connecticut. 

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The Little Poland Festival has become the premier Polish cultural event in the state attracting upwards of 20,000 participants each year. 

The Little Poland Festival, now in its 7th consecutive year, celebrates everything that New Britain’s Polish neighborhood has to offer: food, culture, music and song, warm hospitality and of course, Polish beer. But its easy to conclude that without the Little Poland Neighborhood, there would be no Little Poland Festival. The official designation of New Britain’s Polish neighborhood as Little Poland, which took place exactly 10 years ago, was an initiative by local Polish business owners and the Polonia Business Association. The White Eagle spoke with the Association’s President, Adrian Baron, about how the neighborhood has changed in the last 10 years to become a lively commercial and cultural hub and a tourist destination in and of itself.

Darek Barcikowski: The theme for this year’s Little Poland Festival, in addition to marking a 100 years since Poland regained its independence, is the 10th anniversary of the official designation of the Little Poland neighborhood. How did that designation come about?

Adrian Baron: I had just moved my office to New Britain at the time and was struck by an article that ran in the Hartford Advocate that described the Broad Street area a hub for drug and criminal activity full of Eastern European Gangsters waring fake leather jackets. It went on to describe Broad Street as a place full of empty storefronts all ending in “ski”. This story, although some of the descriptions were unfair, made me realize that despite the crime problem having been cleaned up, Broad Street in New Britain, which has always been the beating heart of the local Polish community, was still a place that people feared and avoided. Of course, at the time Broad Street was already changing, it was becoming a nice, welcoming neighborhood with lots of nice stores and businesses. I approached then Mayor Timothy Stewart and asked him to consider officially naming the neighborhood Little Poland. I also connected with some local business owners and we created the Polonia Business Association so that the initiative had the backing of not just myself, but also of local business owners. Needless to say, the motion to create the neighborhood known as Little Poland was passed unanimously by the city council… and here we are today 10 years later. 

How has the Little Poland neighborhood changed over those 10 years? 

I think the biggest change was that local residents and business owners took a greater interest in the neighborhood. They were not afraid to speak up when they saw something, to alert the authorities. We also started approaching businesses that had problems with crime, with graffiti. The end result was that a lot of us started to be more alert, we started communicating with each other and really took ownership of the neighborhood. There were corners on the street which were known for drug activity and today these same corners are school bus stops where parents and kids congregate in the mornings and afternoons. The Little Poland neighborhood has become a cultural center and an area people want to visit, to go shopping, go to restaurants or just take a stroll on our new sidewalks and soak in the character of the neighborhood. 

Today, the neighborhood is also a very vibrant commercial center with over 100 shops and restaurants lining on Broad Street. Do you think that in addition to making the neighborhood safer, the Little Poland designation has made Broad Street a more successful place to do business? 

Absolutely. All of that has changed since the official designation. Now it’s important to point out that it wasn’t just the name itself that lead to the changes, but it did inspire folks to take greater ownership and pride of the neighborhood. I remember times when Polmart was an abandoned bank, Belvedere Restaurant was a strip club and my law office was a bar where gang members hung out. Today, Broad Street looks very different and more businesses continue to open here.  

The neighborhood today even has its own festival. How did the idea for the “Little Poland Festival” come about? 

That again started from within the business community. In the 80’s, the Dozynki Polish Harvest Festival took place on Broad Street before it moved to Falcon Field. Part of the idea was to bring an outdoor festival back to Broad Street. Though today, and the festival is now in its 7th year, the initiative is driven by local business people such as Margaret Malinowski, Chris Rutkowski, with our former Mayor Lucian Pawlak at the helm. The first festival took place in a parking lot and was attended by maybe 700 people. But as time went on, the festival started to grow. Within 4 years attendance grew to almost 10,000 people and our record breaking year saw almost 20,000 participants. I think the festival shows the best of New Britain, especially this year as all the road and sidewalk renovations have been completed. The festival features great food, Polish beer and a day-long lineup of entertainment on two different stages. But what makes us proud is that today, it attracts everyone – people of all ethnic backgrounds who want to experience Polish culture and experience Little Poland. We know for a fact that many of these people come back after the festival. 

What are some of the attractions that bring people back to Little Poland outside of the festival? 

In addition to the shops and restaurants, there are countless cultural and entertainment events. In fact, when Polish bands or theater groups tour the US they visit New Britain in addition to New York and Chicago. For me, one of the greatest acknowledgements for Little Poland was the opening of an honorary consulate of Poland right here in our neighborhood, the first such diplomatic post in all of Connecticut. Little Poland is also home to many social clubs and veteran’s clubs and it is not unusual to hear sounds of music and people dancing coming from every single one of them on a Saturday night. But in addition to visitors, we have also seen Little Poland become a mandatory stop for politicians and candidates running for office. We hosted the last two Polish Ambassadors, Polish and US Senators and countless others. Candidates running for office come here to hear about local issues and problems which again underscores the fact that Little Poland is the heart and the beating pulse of the local Polish community in Connecticut.  

The Little Poland neighborhood has also become a marker on the tourist map of New Britain and Central Connecticut. What attracts so many visitors to this neighborhood and how do they find out about it? 

I heard that Little Poland is one of the top three attractions in New Britain next to the museum and our baseball field. First and foremost, we are the beating pulse of the state’s Polish community and are home to countless cultural events, Polish churches, social clubs. But we are also a commercial hub with Polish food stores, bakeries, gift shops and restaurants. In fact, we have one of the largest geographic concentrations of Polish businesses on the East Coast. So it doesn’t surprise me that anyone looking for Polish food, baked good, gifts and even Polish language classes ends up in Little Poland. Part of the attention is also due to media coverage. A lot of our restaurants are continuously featured in prominent media outlets such as the New York Times, on the Travel Channel or Connecticut Magazine. This coverage promotes not just the business but the entire neighborhood and makes people think of it as a destination. And we take great pride in the fact that today, Little Poland is not just a neighborhood but a destination!