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West Side Market vendors applaud schedule change; city hopes to hire consultant this fall

West Side Market. Courtesy of Unplash.com
Posted at 4:51 PM, Aug 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-05 20:07:14-04

CLEVELAND — A small but often-requested change has taken place at Cleveland's West Side Market, as the venerable institution has altered its operating hours, opting to open later in the morning in order to stay open later in the day. The change comes as vendors have clamored for more than a year for the market to stay open later in order to accommodate potential customers in the early evening.

On Monday, the market's new hours went into effect. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the market will open at 8 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Operating hours on Saturdays have also changed as the market will open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.

The later opening time on weekdays will allow vendors to better capture potential clientele leaving work in the early evenings while also helping to maintain vendors' quality of life, said Tom McIntyre, the owner of Kate's Fish.

"Pretty much every day that the market is open at 7 a.m., the market is pretty dead if not completely dead," McIntyre said. "It's not the change that we were looking for -- at least the change that I was looking for. I was hoping we would open until 6 p.m. during the week and maybe open the building at 9 a.m. instead of what they ended up with. It was sort of a compromise...I really want to give people a chance to shop with us after we get out of work. That was our main goal there was to do that as well as improve the quality of life for the tenants."

McIntyre said he and other longtime tenants have been pushing for the change for more than a year.

"The number one issue for the market from what you hear on the street is, 'I love the market but it's just tough to shop there because of the hours,'" McIntyre said.

Another longtime tenant, Minnie Zarefoss, who owns Jim's Meats, echoed McIntyre's sentiments, saying succinctly, "We want to be there when the bulk of the people are there."

Although admittedly a small change, vendors say the altered operating hours is a psychological victory of sorts for them, who have also raised concerns with the maintenance and management of the architecturally significant, century-old building. Those concerns were coming at a feverish pace toward the end of 2019 and the first few months of 2020.

"The conversation about the West Side Market being run by a non-profit was at a fever pitch before COVID hit. We had a town hall at Market Garden Brewery. It was a hot button issue in the press," McIntyre said. "There was a significant amount of momentum for the market to be run by something other than the public works department of the City of Ceveland. COVID happened; that momentum sort of died."

City leaders pointed to the extensive capital assessment they had completed on the facility, including earmarking $5.5 million in planned improvements. As much as $2 million was allocated for 2019. The plans included addressing electrical improvements, lighting upgrades, building envelope improvements and other needs.

In February, just weeks before the first positive COVID-19 case was reported in Cuyahoga County, the city issued a request for proposals for a consultant to review the management and growth opportunities present at the market. City officials said Wednesday that they hope to have a consultant selected and under contract this fall.

"The WSM is a national treasure. The building will save us in the long run. It was built for centuries," McIntyre said. "I always tell people that the building was built in a fashion that it's like the Roman Coliseum and it will stand and stay beautiful so long as it is maintained and up-kept for centuries."

Don Whitaker, the owner of Whitaker's Meats and the president of the West Side Market Tenant Association, applauded the city's decision to change the operating hours, as well as commend market management for implementing a curbside pick-up option through the pandemic. The city also offered vendors rent assistance. The market has remained open throughout the pandemic, offering vital access to fresh food and meat, which often ran in short supply at other big-box grocery stores.

"We really want to keep it going, keep it preserved," Whitaker said. "It's showing that it does serve the public. When COVID really hit, we had meat, we had food. People were going to empty grocery stores and then all the sudden, they thought, 'let's go back to the market.'"

That change in consumer spending habits could make for a ripe opportunity for the market to capitalize, vendors said. Whitaker, Zarefoss and McIntyre all said that business at their respective stands increased dramatically during the first two months of the pandemic. Zarefoss said it's longtime, veteran vendors that will help keep the market a desirable place to shop and experience.

"To get more poeple to come down to actually come to the market and shop, you have to make it exciting," Zarefoss said. "We can't argue or fight with each other and be against the city. That's just my opinion. I feel people should just keep that beautiful place going."