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West Side Market Vendors Say Community Going Strong, But Hoping For Change

Vendors and shoppers go between stalls in the unheated building. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
Customers shopping from several market stalls lining a hallway.

The City of Cleveland’s management of the historic West Side Market came under fire this week after a social media post by former vendor Michael Turczyk stirred controversy. But current vendors say the market community is still going strong.

The city has long faced criticism for its maintenance and upkeep of the market, including the building’s lack of heat or air and paid parking. But vendors say they’ve adjusted.

“If I didn’t love it as much as I still do, at the age of 60, I wouldn’t be here,” said vendor Diane Dever.

Dever runs a deli stall named after her mother, Irene, who started the business. She started coming to the market as a 9-year-old and over the years has learned to deal with the temperatures inside with fans, heaters and tarps, she said.

“I think over the years, because of the city’s different opinions on having heat and air conditioning, I’ve had to adjust,” she said.

The community, both vendors and shoppers, keeps Dever at the market.

“You get to know the butcher, you get to know the baker, you get to know the cheese person,” she said.

Amanda Chucray is the third generation in her family to operate J & J Czucraj Meats. She works alongside her mother, Jill.

She’d like the city to address the lack of HVAC systems.

“The no heat is probably worse than the no air, because that affects customers more than anything, because they don’t want to be in here when it’s freezing. I don’t even want to be in here when it’s freezing,” she said. “So it’s hard to get people to come in when they could go someplace that’s warm.”

The city has made some changes, including instating paid parking early last year. Some vendors have pointed to going from free to fees for parking as a reason for decreased foot traffic, but Chucray said it’s helped to move people through the area.

“The way that this area has been built up so much with bars and restaurants, it was all just bartenders sitting there and parking in our parking lot for their eight-hour shift, and it really was a hindrance,” she said. “So at least this way we get a little more turnover for actual customers.”

Chucray said she plans to continue running her family’s stall regardless of climate control inside the market.

"We're like one big happy family. And customers, too; I've seen all their kids grow up, they've seen me grow up, it's a really cool experience," she said. 

Cleveland officials are in the process of awarding a $5.5 million design contract to improve the building. Plans include lighting upgrades, new boilers and cooling systems.

“The City is committed to continuing its collaboration with the West Side Market Tenants Association to make strategic capital and operational improvements, and complete and implement new marketing strategies designed to strengthen the competitive position of our tenants, while providing new opportunities for new businesses,” the city said in a press release earlier this week.

The city has invested $5.3 million in the market over the past five years, according to the press release.