CLEVELAND — Longtime vendors and ardent supporters of Cleveland’s venerated West Side Market remain cautiously optimistic following Thursday’s announcement by Mayor Justin Bibb that the historic indoor market would be transitioning to a non-profit management structure. Although having a non-profit run the indoor market is a major change, Mayor Bibb said the city will retain ownership, as it has for more than a century.
The transition to a non-profit management structure is expected to take a year or more. Over the next 10 months, city leaders will be working in concert with a leading public market consulting group, Market Ventures Inc., to develop a comprehensive master plan that will help guide the new non-profit once it is established.
“The West Side Market is obviously a place that is so near and dear to Clevelanders. It is an institution and it is just brimming with opportunity, right? It it place that we love and we just see and appreciate as it is but we know it can be better,” said Jessica Trivisonno, the city’s senior strategist for the West Side Market. “That’s part of why we are transitioning to non-profit operation so we can have a very solid foundation to build upon to make all of these improvements that we want to see in the market.”
As part of the master plan, the consultants will examine every facet of the market and its operations, including the mix of vendors; how stalls are laid out; building infrastructure; the market’s finances as well as the development of additional programming to bring in more people.
Trivisonno said non-profit management is the leading best practice for public markets because of the opportunities such a structure can create, namely the increased access to funding through grants and donations as well as a more precise focus on day-to-day operations.
“We need to focus on the market and we are planning for its future because as much as it feels ingrained in Cleveland we have to make sure that it continues on,” Trivisonno. “I think the changes are going to happen gradually. There is going to be a lot of change management that we go through. I hope that tenants feel it quickly and they have more responsive [management] and better facilities in relatively short order. We [can] have things like events and more capacity to market the Market.”
Minnie Zarefoss, the longtime owner of Jim’s Meats, said she remains cautiously optimistic that the change to a non-profit management structure will prove beneficial for the vendors at the West Side Market, some of whom have occupied the hallowed halls for decades.
“Of course, we are always nervous when somebody new comes in but we are interested in hearing what they have to offer because in the past we didn’t get that [opportunity],” Zarefoss said. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t a little bit scared or nervous because it’s of the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But, hopefully, it benefits all of the people of the city and especially the vendors of the West Side Market.”
Trivisonno, who has been in her role as senior strategist at the West Side Market since Mayor Bibb took office, said she and other city leaders are keenly aware that any sort of change at the market will create some anxiety for the dozens of small business owners that operate in it. Vendor input will be an important component of both the master plan as well as the market’s future operations, she said.
“We take very seriously that this is their livelihood. This is how they make their money for their families. This is a key part of their identity. This is where they come to conduct their business,” Trivisonno said. “Change is always scary. A couple of vendors have told me, ‘oh, 10 months that feels very fast.’ But in context, vendors have been advocating for this for 7 years, maybe more.”