Reader call: Your West Side Market wish list

There are a few open produce stalls at Cleveland's West Side Market. What would you like to see there? In fact, what events, amenities and other good would you like to be able to see there?

What makes a great grocery shopping experience? Certainly the lures are everywhere, from wines on tap at Heinen’s, to food demos at Giant Eagle’s Market District stores, to the nearly all-local inventory at smaller shops such as Ohio City Provisions in Cleveland.

I ask how you love to buy your food because our venerated West Side Market, striding into its second century of existence at Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street, seems to be at a crossroads of what it offers.

Granted, that’s true of most markets trying to answer their customers’ pressures of time and money, food allergies and an increasingly sophisticated desire to taste something new, local and organic. But the market is not just any grocery store. It’s our temple of Cleveland food, past and present.

What about the future? On a recent Saturday, about a third of the 83 available spaces in the city-owned public market’s produce arcade were empty. Vendors there say the arcade has been hard hit by a spate of retirements and deaths, by an overall dramatic increase in competition for our food dollars, and by last winter’s parking lot re-do. The lot is finished, and some vendors say they’re seeing an uptick in business. I went during peak times on a Saturday and Wednesday. It was tight in the parking lot, but I found a spot fairly quickly.

Instead of seeing the arcade as one-third empty, maybe the time is ripe to see it as one-third available. Dig deep into your food passions. What should we put in those stands? For that matter, what should we put in any of the indoor stands to make the market an even more superior food shopping experience and one that continues to say Cleveland behind the glass of every refrigerated case?

Is the market just a grocery store? Or, could it be a place for regular events that would make it much more than that? What should be done to the place to increase visitor space and make more gatherings possible?

How should the market get the word out to let us know what they’re doing? Who should do that work, given that the city is in this rare partnership with the retail food industry? And, at a time when the city is facing financial cuts from state and federal sources, how do we get money to make the market stronger?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about all this as I begin a series of stories on the future of West Side Market. No other city has a food market this beautiful and so authentically Cleveland. Let’s share some ideas on not just protecting it, but also pumping it full of life for new generations. Leave a comment on this post or email me at dsnook@plaind.com.

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