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 at West
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 to asparagus.
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 and delis.
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,