Where: Near west side of Cleveland, Ohio
What’s in store: Fresh produce, flowers, cheeses, meats, and breads from local independent family farmers
Go there for: Colorful scenery, people watching, and great falafel
A walk down the crowded isles of Cleveland’s West Side Market will tell you that it is more than a place to buy chickens and sauerkraut; this is a social center. Mothers push children in strollers, couples zigzag up and down isles visiting their favorite stands, fellow shoppers and vendors greet each other with nods, smiles, and hellos.
During the summer months, the Roman basilica and accompanying 137-foot clock tower that houses the market pulses with energy as shoppers taste fresh fruit and enjoy the sunshine. On Saturdays, local bands play in the courtyard outside where artisan vendors sell paintings and weavings. Shoppers sit in the shade to enjoy the sounds, the smells and the scenery before tackling their shopping list.
History of West Side Market
Established in 1905, the West Side Market was the answer to Cleveland’s scattered food markets. Food preservation and refrigeration were uncertain and people shopped daily for fruits, vegetables, and meat. But like today, the market in the early twentieth century was a social center for the city.
Although owned and operated by Cleveland, the market is a business for families, often of immigrants from countries like Italy, Germany, former Czechoslovakia, and Poland. As a result, fellow immigrants who had recently poured into the city and were looking for relief from the strain of speaking English shopped at this culturally diverse market where they could speak in their native tongue.
With the development of refrigerators and freezers in the 1940s, the market suffered a severe blow-customers no longer needed to shop daily for their groceries. Chain grocery stores began to appear, but the families that ran the market clung together and continued to compete with the growing industry. By the 1950s, when Americans moved from cities and into the suburbs, the West Side Market became an anachronism.
But today, this anachronism is alive and kicking because it refused to adopt traits of its competitors – the linoleum-floor supermarkets. Instead, vendors established relationships with loyal customers, and through word of mouth, the isles crowded with shoppers who appreciated the personal charisma unique to the West Side Market.
West Side Brand Names
It’s not so much the food but the tradition that makes locals proud to visit the market-a tradition in ethnic diversity and acceptance. Today you’ll spot counter names Schilla Produce, Edward Badstuber & Sons, and Ehrnfelt Meats – names of families that once were new to the city and the nation who gradually made a name and niche for themselves in the heartland of the Midwest. And the market continues to find counter space for new citizens to the United States. With recent additions of Arab-American vendors, the market now offers some of the best falafels in town.
What’s in Store in West Side Market
The market is open until mid-afternoon, but you should aim to arrive early for the freshest produce. If you’re there early enough you’ll witness vendors arriving and arranging their goods and the sunrise warming the clock tower-a favorite photograph among Clevelanders. You’ll want to bring a canvas bag to hold all of your individual buys.
Vendors sell everything from fresh pineapple to mango, potatoes to leeks, and parsnips toasparagus. Inside, fresh cheeses, meats, and pastas are favorites among shoppers. If you’re just browsing and work up an appetite, never fear. Many counters specialize in sandwiches made with the freshest of ingredients. The market is also surrounded by independent coffee shops anddelis.
Several fresh flower vendors arrange massive bouquets for an attractive price-and offer special deals for couples celebrating anniversaries. Inside, isles are lined with butcheries, delis, cheese shops, and fresh fish counters.
You’re bound to overhear vendors and shoppers asking about each other’s families – regular customers that over the years have befriended their grocery suppliers – a rare occurrence with the modernity of anonymous supermarkets. It’s the antithesis of the approach of Wal-Mart.
Cleveland’s West Side Market offers more than just a complete grocery list – it’s a colorful experience that provides the traveler with an insight into the city’s history, ethnic diversity, and tradition.
By Mary Fitz