The West Side Market is one of the nation’s oldest and most admired public markets, and it ranks near the top of the list when it comes to Cleveland’s most identifiable attractions.
But with that age and history come issues of deterioration, turnover and vacancies, both inside the main terminal and outside in the attached produce arcade. Nowhere are the problems more apparent than in the north-south leg of the produce annex, where the bulk of the stands are bare.
Recently, entrepreneur Alan Glazen has begun floating a transformational plan for the portion of the produce arcade that connects to Lorain. The nonprofit concept, which is being developed in partnership with the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen
, is dubbed the Makers & Farmers Hall at West Side Market.
With the stated goal of reinventing the shopping experience, the plan calls for converting “the least rented, least visited, least productive part of the iconic West Side Market into a must-visit, vibrant hall where visitors can shop for Cleveland-made food products, locally raised and grown meats and produce, with ample opportunity for sampling, socializing and learning while roaming, relaxing, having a sandwich and completely upgrading the experience of visiting the West Side Market.”
To better compete with area grocers such as Heinen’s and Whole Foods, which have begun offering farmer's market-like experiences built around prime produce and local foods, the Makers & Farmers Hall will help transform the practice of visiting the West Side Market from an act of tourism to one of shopping and socializing.
The initiative calls for replacing the linear, raised stands with “kiosks, floating displays, product sampling stations, roving sales/advisory staff, flexible presentations spaces, convenient community seating, access to the outdoors, and opportunities for special events, education and entertainment.”
In terms of content, “the focus will be on food products made and manufactured in the region, from pickles and sauerkraut to sauces, salsas, snacks and more – and a farmer's market selection of diverse, specialty and locally grown, raised and produced products all meeting a high level of quality, whether entirely organic or grown and raised by similar artisan standards.”
For now, this is simply a proposal, explains Glazen, who recently submitted the plans and architectural drawings to City Hall, which operates the market. Additional copies of the plan were submitted to local stakeholders like Ohio City Inc., the local councilman, and the West Side Market Tenant Association.
Don Whitaker of Whitaker Meats, president of the Market Tenant Association, only recently received a copy of that plan. And while he’s eager to evaluate any initiative for change and improvement, he’s not ready to comment on this specific plan.
“We have a board meeting next week and maybe by then we can get some more details in time to put this on our agenda for discussion,” Whitaker states. “As a board, we have to get some more details so as to protect the interest of our current membership.”
Local business owner and Ohio City resident Sam McNulty has seen the plan and agrees that the time for progressive thinking is now.
“I think it's time for West Side Market 2.0,” says McNulty, co-founder of Market Garden Brewery. “In order for the market to meet its full potential, we need the mayor to hand over the management to an entrepreneurial group that has experience running a public market. Then visionary entrepreneurs like the Alan Glazens of the world will flock to the market and breathe new life into all the many vacant stalls, and in the process will uplift the existing businesses and all the hard-working vendors that are the backbone of the market.”
We'll continue to follow this story if and as it develops.