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Many West Side Market Vendors In Unheated Main Hall Close Amid Deep Freeze

On a day when the temperature plunged below zero, most of the vendors at the West Side Market decided not to open shop. [Adrian Ma / ideastream]
A shot of the interior of the West Side Market. A vendor selling meats is on the left, a row of empty stalls on the right. The ceiling is very high and curved.

Around noon on Wednesday, Cleveland’s West Side Market was unusually quiet. 

The temperature was a few degrees below zero, and over half of the vendors had decided not to open for the day, due to the same arctic conditions that had shut down schools, suspended city services, and forced many government offices to operate on a skeleton staff.

“There’s no amount of money that’s worth my employees having to work in extreme situations like this,” said Denise Kahwagi, a co-owner of Cake Royale. She decided to keep her stand at the market closed because of the weather. “I can’t imagine the market will be bustling today.”

Despite the deep freeze that began Wednesday morning, many business owners braved the cold to open shop including, Don Whitaker, owner of D.W. Whitaker Meats at Cleveland’s West Side Market. 

“Some people didn't feel safe coming to work and you can't blame them,” said Whitaker, who heads up the West Side Market Tenants Association, which represents market vendors. His stand was among the couple dozen that were open.

Whitaker said he's glad the city didn't close the market. “I got five full-time guys, you know, I can't pay 'em if I'm not open.” Plus, with less competition, he said he’s had a pretty busy afternoon. 

Vendors are required to be open on days that the market is open (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), according to their lease agreement with the City of Cleveland. However, under that agreement, vendors are allowed take up to 12 days off a year, Whitaker said. 

The West Side Market’s manager, its media representatives, and the Cleveland Department of Public Works did not respond to ideastream’s request for comment on whether vendors who chose to stay closed on Wednesday would be expected to use one of their allotted days off.

However, Whitaker said an extreme weather day like this shouldn't count against them. “I do not think they're going to be punished,” he said. “That would be ridiculous.”

Currently, the main hall of the West Side Market has practically no heating, said Kahwagi, which means many vendors are working in frigid temperatures. For the sake of safety, she would like to see the city invest in a real heating system. 

Asked if he agreed with that idea, Whitaker paused, then said, if the city is willing to spend the money, “I would rather have air conditioning.”