Cleveland’s West Side Market is packed with local vendors, fresh produce, and hope for an economic upswing.
CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s West Side Market is an indoor market taking up several city blocks. Smaller than Seattle’s Pike Place Market, it is more comparable in size to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. Celebrating its 99th year, the market leans heavily towards the sales of meat products with specialty vendors selling everything from coffee to pastries and pastas. The weekends draw large crowds of customers threading their way from stall to stall.
Across the way is a smaller marketplace focused on produce. Aisles and aisles of colorful items line the stalls of the market: bountiful grapes, bananas, peppers, tomatoes, kiwis, and star fruits. Vendors call out to shoppers offering tastes of their wares — creating a loud, crowded, and energy filled environment.
The produce section of the West Side Market featured family owned stalls, each promising better selection and price than the next. I stumbled upon a vendor proudly displaying a sign that stated all their products were made in Ohio. Dave and Donna Divoky are the owners of Maple Valley Sugarbush, and offer a range of maple sugar products.
The husband and wife team have a 39-acre farm with 2,500 maple taps on their trees. Maple Valley Sugarbush has been in their family for over 100 years. Dave, tall, lanky, and sporting a flannel shirt and jeans was easy going and gregarious. He takes great pride in his work. He and Donna were putting together packages of maple sugar pecans when I approached their table.
At first we spoke about locally grown produce, and the fact that most vendors bring farm fresh goods to the market in the summer months only, relying on commercial vendors for the majority of the year. But as our conversation turned political, Dave moved down the table away from customers.
He became more animated when asked about issues that concern him the most. “[The] economy is the number one thing. Most people complain that sales here have gone down,” he said. The couple used to do open air markets, selling not only their syrup products but also a variety of produce. As the economy turned, their regular customer base began seeking less expensive products, and the couple’s income went down by two-thirds. They decided to move to the West Side Market and focus on selling their maple products in hopes of gaining a broader customer base. At this time, they have no way of comparing their sales yet, they’ve only been selling here since January, and it’s too early to tell if there’s been a turn around.
Maple Valley Sugarbush has also been affected by the new regulations on farmers. “No more damn regulations, they are regulating us to death. Farming regulations, environmental stuff, the E.P.A. putting new standards on everything, gas, diesel fuel, and now eggs are considered hazardous food products, you have to get permits to sell eggs,” said Divoky. “The people in Washington [DC] are out of touch with the town folks that run things every day and what they do makes it harder and harder for people to run their business. They just need to stop and let the American entrepreneur do their thing and the economy would boom.”
I purchased a bottle of dark amber maple syrup, some maple sugar fudge, and a maple sugar candy pressed into the shape of a maple leaf. Our conversation ended when consumers started to line up and Donna began offering them samples.
The West Side Market is a win-win for both vendors like the Divokys and local Cleveland customers who have it as a option for purchasing local food from local farms. “I think this is one of Cleveland’s best assets. I can’t believe the wide variety of foods here,” said customer Margie Perse. “And all the people-watching… roaming around this beautiful building with every color and smell you can imagine.”
For a more in-depth look at Cleveland’s West Side Market, check out this video produced by UW Election Eye:
Rachel Crick can be reached at email@example.com
Derek Walker, Elizabeth Wiley, and Thor Tolo contributed to this story.