Cleveland West Side Market: The Dinosaur in the room

whyposter1I have a love for Cleveland’s West Side Market that is going on the better part of 40 years. I think many articles have been written praising the history of the market.  I think a lot of these articles, and even books are amazing from a nostalgic perspective but they focus on the past.  Yes, the market is a great place for cheap produce and affordable meat options.  However the market is stuck in a time warp minus a couple new specialty shops and those who choose to sell organic produce, local produce, and farm raised meats.  The problem is the later are few and far between with many vendors selling absolute garbage that might have fallen off the truck.  I say it is time the market cleans up before it goes the way of the dinosaur.

I get the reason the market is there.  I understand the prices are great but the world is getting away from factory farmed meats and from chemically altered fruits and vegetables.  For those who don’t care, which I agree are many, the market continues to be a place of a weekly pilgrimage.  However for those who do there is pretty much one or two produce stands to hit up and a handful of meat purveyors.  The chats of “Hey lady!  Hey lady! You try!” from the produce stands as a 5 foot long stick with a pineapple poke out at the unsuspecting.  The three days overripe fruit tastes sickly sweet and has a shelf life of about 3 hours after you get it home.  That is unless of course you get a switcheroo and come home with a half rotten bag of goods.  It has happened to me, and I am sure it has happened to many of you.

Some vendors will buy one beautiful box of produce that is used as a display and then buy a bunch of junk boxes that are kept out of sight and those are the ones that go into your brown bag.  If you ask to have the produce from the display you will undoubtedly get rejected 80% of the item from the more crafty vendors.  While this wasn’t the norm back in the day or even just a few years back it is turning into the norm today.  For the unsuspecting a first trip to the market these days could turn into a last trip.  It takes some time to cultivate a relationship with many of the vendors.  Myself?  I am relatively safe just for the simple fact I have been going to the same stands since I was 12.  However that doesn’t make me immune from getting some crap from time to time.

west-side-marketInside the market is absolutely overwhelming.  Beef, poultry, seafood, pork, and some specialty products like lamb, or bison beckon you with bright neon lights and sterile white coolers.  There are a couple of cheese stands that sell pretty boring cheeses and one standout out of them is Mediterranean Imported Foods tucked away in the Northwest corner of the building.  Awesome cheese selection and a very knowledgeable staff.  While I still grab a cottage cheese from one of the other vendors I know it’s not organic, I know it’s loaded with chemicals and antibiotics, but the stuff is like crack.  So I give in every so often.  But back to the meat.  Who do you go to?  What stand sells Ohio raised, humanely slaughtered and grass fed?  Good luck finding them because your choices are very limited.  The Ohio raised should be relatively simple, but it is not.  The majority of the stands sell the same product you would find in any grocery chain.  It might be a couple days fresher I guess, but it truly is no better than what you can get at Giant Eagle.

The way of society is moving the path of eating a more local and healthy diet.  It is doing away with the hormones, antibiotics and pesticides but just like Cleveland itself many things remain the same in this time warp.  The slow growth of the market and the lack of change to keep up with food trends is making what once was great somewhat lackluster.  I think there are some locals who do it right.  I love Ohio City Pasta, I love that Chef Sawyer has his stand, I love Basketeria and I love that I can get Ohio beef at Foster’s.  There are many I truly love but with poor hours of operation the West Side Market makes it very hard to love them as a whole.  Finding the good stuff is like finding a needle in a haystack at the market.  The stamp “Ohio” doesn’t mean it is necessarily what I am looking for either.  I am just glad I know where to go when I make a trip.

Overall the market serves the community.  However as a landmark it is from a nostalgic perspective only.  Large markets in other cities are overshadowing our diamond in the rough because we refuse to keep up with the times.  If you want cheap, yeah they have it.  If you want quality they have to an extent, but nowhere near where it could be.  Local farm markets are the way to go if you want the best of the best.  If you can afford it joining a local CSA is an even better way to go.  I just wish the market would expand itself to be something truly special.  I want something like the West Side Market, the local farm markets and the Columbus North Market merged together like some sort of foodie paradise.  Rather than going that route the Market seems to keep getting more trash behind the vendor stands.  There is a demand for what I am looking for.  I know I am not crazy.  So why is our market stuck in 1987?



10 thoughts on “Cleveland West Side Market: The Dinosaur in the room

  1. Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly… I have lived here almost 4yrs and come away disappointed every time. I was apalled at the produce selection after growing up with Findlay market in Cincinnati, and the river quay in kansas City, which have become both trendy and interesting Destinations for folks who love going regularly. I would love to see the (millenial?) set of entrepreneurs and clientele who are running new businesses and populating neighborhoods nearby pick up the challenge to lobby for a renewal.

  2. Totally agree with everything, except I don’t even find the market that inexpensive. It’s no bargain, and every time I’ve gone, I’ve gotten the mushy produce from behind. It’s really weak. Great falafel. Terrible bread, boring cheese and some decent meat. Nothing organic, very little local. I’ve stopped going. A shame, because it could be heaven.

  3. I love the WSM, but I’ve also stopped buying produce there; I kept coming home and discovering boxes of rotted berries and bunches of moldy tomatoes. I wonder if there is a way for the WSM vendors to police themselves with secret shoppers?

  4. This article was on point for some but since the writer wants to be such a downer, I will too: (1) “cheese stands that sell pretty boring cheeses”.. seriously? This was clue #1 that the writer is a real snob. Where do you find your plethora of “interesting cheeses” at? (2) Ohio City Pasta. Is a rip off. Tasty stuff but.. Let’s take the cheapest meal to fill you up and make it super expensive. Do they use local ingredients? Organic? What %? Like the writer is harping on other vendors for not using? OCP’s website and 4-page brochure mention neither. (3) “serves the community… from a nostalgic perspective only” wtf does this mean? Say that to people who are new to the market and would still rather go there than Dave’s, Giant Eagle, Heinen’s or Whole Foods. All places that sell crap as well, and more of it (in more packaging). Nostalgia my ass. You don’t fill up a market like that with customers just for nostalgic reasons. (4) “poor hours of operation”… if I hear this one more time I will bust a cap. Argue all you want, people who say this usually come from a place of privilege/never worked in the service industry/never owned their own small food business. If the vast majority of vendors wanted more hours, they would get them. They don’t. Suck it. (5) Only really considering meat and produce. My favorite thing is food to go–Maha’s, juice, Gyros, Crepes, brats, noodle cat… Dessert-land USA. Cheese, bread, coffee, jerky, grains, honey, spices, flowers…. (6) “stuck in 1987″…uh, it’s not? That’s tower city food court. I agree, more local, humanely-raised/slaughtered animals, etc, likewise for produce. Local farmers only got a stand what, a couple years ago? They’re still not thriving, in one of the best urban ag cities in America. That’s the consumers fault, not the market’s. There’s plenty of room for improvement, so be part of that improvement instead of complaining

    • I wholeheartedly agree. I have been going to the WSM since I was 5. I’ve grown up in this generation of self-entitlement and it simply kills me. Organic this, organic that, rotton fruit or non local meat. Really people, with regards to organic foods, they barely have to meet the government requirements to be considered “organic.” With regards to the fruit, not my fault that the vendors can smell newbies from a mile away and can pull these stunts. In my entire live, I have always been able to pick my own fruit. With regards to how the meat gets there, as long as it tastes good, that’s all I care about. Finally, everybody that complains about the WSM, guess what, I bet the majority of you are from the suburbs and only go there because it’s hip. The real WSM shoppers have been going there when OHC was non-existent and somewhat shady.

  5. Agree about the quality and freshness of produce sometimes, but honestly I couldn’t give a fig about the “grass fed, humanely slaughtered, local” whatever or “boring” cheeses. Don’t have to tell you that this sounds pretty pretentious and that there are places that will cater to your more… discerning tastes?

    Overall, I believe most people go to the WSM for the experience. That’s one thing about the market that has always been and always will be awesome. It’s rich with history and is always a great way to spend the morning.

  6. Go to the WSM regularly and you learn fairly quickly which vendors to purchase from and which to avoid. If more shoppers did that, it would eventually force the really bad ones out. As far as local, organic, etc. etc. Its there you just need to look for it and talk to the vendors, the good ones know where their produce is coming from. I am also sure if some of the local growers could stock a stand year round they would be there.

  7. In my opinion, The westside market is a haven in a world of corporate owned grocery profiteers. The prices if I buy top quality at the market, compared to giant eagle(where top quality isn’t even an option) is shockingly lower, I agree the produce side is out of control with many vendors pushing garbage wares on the unknowing or overly trusting customer. that being said there are fantastic stands to shop at , Greg’s produce is by far the best fruit , followed by Calabrese and Harbs produce. customers have many choices for veggies Bacha’s produce, The Butros brothers , Decar’o , and Basketaria . now on the topic of basketeria: wile it is a great place for organics everything on the stand is not organic, organic items anywhere will be labeled in some way organic a sticker a rubber band something and vendors I trust and have shopped with for many years have brought this to my attention as I thought every item on the stand was even some labeled organic are not. let me remind people of the old adage “if something seems too good to be true it most likely is” if you see berries priced at a $1 or 1.50 you probably have to use them that day or the day after. or a bag of peppers for $1 same thing. the people who win at the market pay the price for the good stuff you walk away with a higher quality , lower costing product from people who have dedicated their lives to knowing their product.

    The only way to rid the market of garbage vendors is by speaking up. management offices are in the Clocktower portion of the market the entrance is between the double doors next to City roast coffee shop

    meat and dairy is another matter. there is no stand I can down with the exception of the shady fish guy near maha’s café . purchasing in those venues is a matter of trust “Get to know your vendors people!!!!” some are vast pools of knowledge with immense skill at their craft , others just sell meat. these portions are cut from the cow so a persons skill at trimming and seeing and cutting off gristle is proportionate to the quality of meat you will get. watch them listen to what questions they ask, ask them questions , these is a few stands I will not patron because the care they took packaging my meat was horrific. if you want suggestions try fosters, Ferndangles , Pinzone for beef. ferndangles , M+M, porkchop shop for pork. Whitakers, Kauffmans, , or wiencek for poultry.

    every dairy shop will take good care of you they have all been there a long time and know what they’re doing, keep in mind there are only four and they each sell different items

    now organics, and grassfed farm raised local food. understand that true organic produce are almost entirely only possible if grown yourself , there are 40+ criteria of what a farmer can call organic and of those 40+ only 3 have to be met. free ranged chickens are considered free range if their pen is more than 3 sq. feet.
    While yes there is benefit to eating organics , people would starve if these were the only means of feeding themselves our earth at maximum can only comfortably sustain5.6 billion people with its rate of regeneration. we currently have in the world today 7.2billion people every piece of land suitable for farming is being farmed . there are foods that provide vastly superior nutrition that can and should be grown but are not the market is not the problem is it the consumer society we live in. their are many who have tried the organic local route and they have stopped because support for it was not there the prices for those that don’t cheat are double if not more than that of a non organic product

    The market, can be a very rewarding experience, socially, economically, philosophically, artistically. I’m sorry to hear that you so completely missed the beauty of the place myself and many others have come to love!

  8. Pingback: Readers speak out on the state of produce at Cleveland’s West Side Market | Ohio news

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