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What Cleveland’s West Side Market shoppers want: Reader call answered

August 26, 2018

What Cleveland’s West Side Market shoppers want: Reader call answered

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about the future of West Side Market. I’m not trying to be folksy here: When I asked readers to suggest what our nationally recognized, city-owned market needs as it moves into its second century, the number one topic among nearly 100 responses was additional seating.

“Lack of seating or poor seating options keep me away, now that I have kids,” said market shopper Maria Holmes on Facebook. “As an adult, I could manage nibbling a crêpe standing against a wall, but kids need a place to sit when they eat. If the weather is nice, we can find a spot outside, but Cleveland has a long winter.”

“My sisters and I live in Norwalk,” Anna Bristol wrote in an email. “Driving to the market is an outing, which includes eating food purchased on-site. There is nowhere decent to sit and eat. We sit on make-do benches between buildings where vendors schlep produce and toss garbage. The birds have a merry laugh at us.”

Some readers suggested removing some of the arcade’s empty produce stands and putting new seating there, especially considering that the popular, narrow balcony is often filled and inaccessible to those with disabilities. More than one reader mentioned the potential for seating and events in the former men’s locker room, which sits unused and unrenovated on the second floor.

“People ask all the time if they can host weddings and fundraisers at the market,” said Sam McNulty, owner of Market Garden Brewery next door. “It could be a big source of revenue.”

Facebook commenter Doug Fulton was a rare, but not lone, voice who doesn’t see seating as an issue.

“You don’t go to the market worrying about sit-down meals,” he wrote. “There are plenty of dining places in and around the market to sit and rest.”

Beyond seating, readers clamored for more local food, especially produce; better produce; more prepared foods; better marketing; renovation of that second-floor space; and non-city management with more retail experience and a better position to attract grant money for programs. Many cities still own public markets, but given the necessary swiftness and expertise for retail, few continue the task of managing them.

There were only a few requests for free parking or more parking. That issue seemed more prevalent in the past, before the recent parking lot renovations. Faced with non-market shoppers taking up parking spaces in an increasingly popular neighborhood, the city this year added 100 spaces and a pay system that kicks in at $1 an hour after 1 ½ hours of free parking. Does this mean the new system is working? Many vendors said business was painfully down during winter parking lot construction, but some are seeing an uptick. It will take a year for the first measurable results.

I also put out the call to readers because about one-third of the stands in the produce arcade have been empty lately. As I’ve written, there are many reasons for this, from fierce competition for our food dollars, to the deaths and retirements of vendors, to consumers put off by a few unscrupulous sellers. The time seems ripe to consider how to freshly fill those stands.

Lauren Profitt would like to see more than food in those stands.

“I really like the Pike Place market in Seattle,” she wrote. “They have many vendors with beautiful flowers at very cheap prices. Also, they have vendors that sell handmade jewelry, soaps, wood carvings, etc. I know this is going outside of tradition. I just know when I travel to other markets I usually pick up some fruit and cheese, but I love looking for something to have as a keepsake.”

Timothy Del Papa lives in the neighborhood, shops at the market and hopes there’s a middle ground.

“One of my fears with the market is that it will end up like the public markets in New Orleans [French Market], Charleston [City Market] and Boston [Quincy Market] in that they are essentially tourist traps without fresh produce and meats,” he said in an email. “My two favorite public markets are The Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, and The Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.  Both have ample selections of fresh meats, produce, prepared foods and counter-type dining options.”

Market fan Nina McCollum would like the city to take “a real hard look at the people who come to this market every week. It’s less some little old ethnic mom in a babushka getting food for her family for the week (though she’s there, too) and is more about younger families and traveling singles and couples who want to see what Cleveland is about and get a taste of it. If it’s going to survive, it needs to serve both the Old World and the new world.”

Bea Del Papa, Timothy’s mom and also an Ohio City resident who loves the market, sent us a list of suggestions including the establishment of a citizens’ advisory committee; trips to other markets for city officials to see what works “and to see what a treasure we have;” a full-time social media employee and training for vendors; and volunteers to greet first-time visitors.

Other suggestions from readers: Better signage, “Best of Cleveland” take-out meals, food demos, better cleaning, more repairs, lower prices, greater ethnic food variety, more vegan and gluten-free offerings, better vendor attendance, adding air conditioning, a tasting booth, food trucks, and the sale of the market to the tenants association.

I’ll be exploring all these suggestions, and more, as I continue my coverage of the market’s future. Feel free to respond to this story in the comments section or by emailing me.

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