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The Market and The Mission

Monday, May 1, 2000 at 10:14 AM

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Later this month Cleveland City Council is expected to vote on a renovation project for the historic West Side Market. The Market's a haven for gourmets and bargain hunters alike-offering fresh fruits, vegetables, homemade ethnic food and meats often at bargain prices. The eighty-eight year old building housing the market also plays an important role in the city's cultural life. As planning for the five million dollar project continues, city officials are trying to decide just what the market's mission should be in coming years. 90.3's April Baer reports.

AB- Anyone who’s ever elbowed their way through the crowds at the West Side Market on a busy Saturday morning can tell you - there’s a need for some improvements.

A customer comments- “They really ought to put some money into this market....seems like it’s been a long time since they’ve put anything into it.”

Vendors chatter at Anselmo’s produce: “You want that muscatel today? I dunno, how much...Here let me weigh that...”

AB- Beneath the produce arcade, shoppers are elbow to elbow, prowling a long aisle flanked by mountains of produce. You can find everything here, from Ohio-made cider to hybrid purple carrots, to tall green stalks of sugar cane.

Vendor: “You wanna taste? Here you taste that.”

AB- And everywhere you look, vendors are offering slices of tomato, small wedges of melon, anything to get the customer’s attention. The place is packed today, thanks to the good weather, but every winter people on both sides of the counter suffer as the wind whips through the open-air arcade.

Inside the Markethouse, it’s warmer, but there are other pressing concerns Vendor Lori Minit looks up from a fifty pound barrel of pickles to say all she really wants is a real refrigeration system on the Market’s main floor.

Lori Minit- Because we have to take all our containers, put lids on em’ put em on a cart and take it downstairs and the stuff downstairs has to be kept at a certain temperature-you’re reaching down in there to get pickles and stuff....you’re gonna get glove stuff on your olives and sauerkraut!

AB- As they lay out their trays of fresh strudel and homemade sausage, the seventy indoor vendors are also thinking about the best way to improve the market’s business. At Dennison’s Specialty Pie stand, home to five hundred varieties, Manager Melody Kitt has a few more ideas.

Melody Kitt- I’d like to see more counters or better counters....I’d like to see them change the parking....Maybe some automatic doors…

AB- These are just some of the ways the city might decide to spend the five million dollar market renovation package-or as Mayor White calls it, the Millennium Gift. But even as customers and vendors agree the gift is both overdue and welcome, they’re more than a little anxious about what change could mean.

During the past few decades, several of America’s public markets have gone through major renovations, sometimes changing in unexpected ways. Take Columbus’ North Market, for example.

During the early 90’s, the city of Columbus spent millions to move the North Market from a dilapidated Quonset hut to this stunning, renovated warehouse. Following the lead of markets like Pike Place in Seattle, the North Market has reinvented itself as a hip, destination spot.

But the faces at the North Market have changed, too. More vendors here seem to be trying to appeal to yuppies - selling food that’s ready to eat. Market records do show a clientele that’s younger, and more affluent than in the past. Nancy Duncan Porter is the project manager who steered the North Market into its new incarnation.

Nancy Duncan Porter- The North Market is very different than the West Side Market for many reasons; every market needs to be a representation of its own community. And Columbus does tend to be a young town...I think change is hard.....but it can be really worthwhile if it’s structured in the context of making the businesses more successful.

AB- Porter says while vendors have come and gone over the years, she takes pride that the North Market is still a thriving, independent outlet for small local entrepreneurs.

The North Market was one of several places Cleveland city officials visited last winter as they worked on plans for the West Side Market. Tony Pinzone, Vice President of the West Side Market Tenant’s Association went along on the trip. While he was impressed with what he saw, he says he can’t imagine displacing the old-time butchers and bakers in Cleveland with vendors who sell prepared food.

Tony Pinzone- That’s what we try to avoid here...what happens is ...in an effort to fill vacancies they throw whatever works­whatever can to pay the rent...and there is a good variety of fast food in here, but we’re not overwhelmed by it.

AB- After months of research, the consensus at City Hall seems to be that it’s better to play up the West Side Market’s strengths, rather than risk turning it into a giant food court. Nick Jackson is Cleveland’s director of Parks, Recreation, & Properties, which oversees market matters.

Nick Jackson- Our goal is to maintain the market in its historical way that is has been - to be the kind of market where you can go in and buy your various produce, your poultry, your meats, your fish. Not as much having that kind of “sit-down-eating” type thing...What we’ve done is make sure that at every opportunity that we maintain its heritage that means staying with the things that made it successful, and made it the historical landmark that it is.

AB- Jackson says you won’t see the West Side Market adding restaurant-style seating or even craft vendors. It will continue to charge slightly higher rents for vendors who specialize in prepared food. And in the coming months, he says you’ll see new walls going up around the produce arcade outside, new refrigerator cases on the inside, and improvements in the surrounding neighborhood.

In Cleveland, I’m April Baer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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