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Meeting with city leaves West Side Market vendor hopeful after early morning basement fire

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Posted at 6:38 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 20:15:57-04

CLEVELAND — Three vendors at the West Side Market remained closed on Monday after an electrical fire damaged goods and equipment in the basement of the historic market early Sunday morning. Although an exact determination of what sparked the electrical fire has not been determined yet, a popular butcher said the fire appears to have started in the same area that experienced substantial water leaks earlier this month.

Owners of Jim's Meats, Minnie and Mark Zarefoss, were notified by an employee early Sunday morning about the fire, which caused extensive damage to the buisness' coolers, a grinder and other equipment. The fire, which a officials said was caused by an electrical short in a piece of equipment that ignited some nearby paper or plastic, left their basement prep area under a thick coating of soot and ash.

Insurance adjusters are expected to review the damage in the coming days.

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"The results are what happens when you have neglect. This is what happens," Mark Zarefoss said on Sunday. "The conditions are unacceptable, brutal, dangerous. They are a hazard."

The Zarefosses met with city officials at the West Side Market on Monday afternoon for more than an hour. It ended with the two of them feeling more hopeful than at the beginning of the day.

"Right now [the city is] looking at a company to come in and clean and restore everything," Minnie Zarefoss said. "Obviously, all the insurance companies have to come in and assess the damage and then we’ll do whatever comes next. Everyone is going to try to do what they can to get us back to work as quickly as we can. That’s all we want."

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The Zarefosses have largely remained on the sidelines of the public criticism that many vendors have openly expressed about the city's management of the venerated market. Sunday's exasperation was a significant departure from that. While still extremely frustrated, Minnie Zarefoss said the discussions that she and her husband had with city officials Monday were positive and productive.

"I think the key is communication. If everyone communicates with each other you’re going to lead a happier life. It’s the unknown that scares you," Minnie Zarefoss said. "We said our side. They said their side. Everyone took notes. They want to see success for the vendors at the market. We don’t need any more issues here."

Sunday's fire follows months of consternation between the market's tenants and the city. In July, the market was without power for a significant portion of the day, which wiped out any chance of significant revenue for the vendors on what would have been a busy Saturday. Many vendors opted to remain closed for the day.

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Back in May, the city allocated $2.1 million in repairs and upgrades to the market, which includes the electrical system. However, it remains unclear how far along those repairs are; the Mayor's Office did not return requests for comment on Monday.

A consultant hired by the city earlier this year should be nearing the completion of his review of the market and it's operations.

A timeline for the re-opening of Jim's Meats has not been finalized but the Zarefosses have pledged to open as soon as possible. They know their loyal customers will be waiting for them.

"We already went through the loss of our son and we were shut down for two months and people rallied around us. I have no fear that I won’t have customers when we come back," Minnie Zarefoss said.

RELATED: Cooler fire shuts down operations at Jim's Meats at the West Side Market