West Side Market remains open to serve Cleveland grocery shoppers
by Bruce Checefsky
The United West Side Market Tenants Association sent a message to its customers on Friday, March 13, indicating that the market will remain open for as long as possible. Don Whitaker, President of the United West Side Market Tenants Association (UWSMTA), said in the statement, “We understand the growing concern surrounding the COVID-19 virus. At this time, the West Side Market plans to remain open, and is committed to taking the extra steps to keep our customers safe. In addition to the existing cleaning practices we have in place, we are coordinating with all vendors to ensure extra measures be taken, including increasing the frequency of hand washing, glove changing, and sanitizing surfaces.”
Whitaker assured customers that vendors will provide hand sanitizer at their stands and encourage employees to stay home if they are not feeling well.
“We are also encouraging our vendors to offer call-ahead ordering for customers. We will continue to monitor the situation, and work with the Market Manager and the City of Cleveland regarding recommended safety protocol.”
Several days later, people were still busy buying food supplies but with far fewer tourists at the market than normal, according to Tom McIntyre, owner of Kate’s Fish. McIntyre is just one of the many West Side Market businesses affected by the pandemic virus and state-wide food service closings. When asked about whether the supply chain will continue to provide products, he explained that the fish supply chain which comes from the East Coast with truck shipments mainly from Boston, is in good working order. Imported fish, like Faroe Islands Salmon, Bronzini and Sea Bream from the Mediterranean Sea, is still being shipped
“We get multiple deliveries throughout the week,” McIntyre said. “I haven’t heard anything about shortages.”
While supply is not an issue for now, the closing of restaurants and bars will have a negative impact on businesses like Kate’s Fish. To compensate for the downturn in sales, McIntyre has adjusted by ordering lighter. He supplies a few local restaurants with fish, but most have little or no takeout business. Restaurants are expected to shutter in house dining for the duration until the governor decides to lift the ban. Some may never reopen. His customers, on the other hand, need fresh fish.
“People are buying salmon, tilapia, and cod, and fish like that,” he said. “Come in and stock up. We’re committed to staying open. Help keep us in business.”
At the opposite end of the market at Frank’s Bratwurst, Ilse Sheppard was leaning against the counter with her arms folded. The display case was lined with fresh buns; steam rose from a pot of hot water. She was waiting for customers to arrive. Frank and Johanna Ratschki opened Frank’s Bratwurst at the West Side Market in 1970. Three generations later, Ilse Sheppard and her sons continue to keep their family tradition alive by serving world famous bratwurst sandwiches.
With fewer than normal customers for a Monday morning, Ilse was concerned that business may fall off to levels unseen before. People are going to the local grocery stores and places like Costco to stock up on food and supplies by buying in bulk, she explained. Delivery services like Grub Hub and Hello Fresh will drive customers away from the West Side Market. Her insurance company might cover some of the financial loss due to the pandemic virus but she’s not counting on it. Local restaurants and bars face the same prospect with some likely not to survive.
“I have a sister in Austria where they’ve closed all of the borders. They’re confined to their homes,” she said, referring to the ‘shelter in place policy’ mandating that people stay indoors and isolate themselves except to attend to certain essential activities. “If you’re out on the streets you’ll get fined. We’re wondering if that’s going to come here.”
Meat stands and poultry stands continue to do a brisk business. Chicken is the biggest seller, particularly because of its versatility and ease, but people are still weary of shopping.
“My deli cheeses sales were up but my imported cheeses didn’t really move this weekend,” said Alaina at the Cheese Shop. “Deli cheeses are more essential than fancy wine and cheese plates.”
Natalia at Sebastian’s Meats across the aisle from the Cheese Shop, agreed. “We saw the impact of the coronavirus on Sunday. Usually smokies (beef, chicken, or pork sticks that have been smoked for flavor) are one of those things people splurge on and sell well. We sold more deli meats than smokies and we made a third of what we usually make. Today, I had one customer between 9am and 10am.”
Alaina and Natalia believe that the market should remain open. They don’t want to see it end up closing like the restaurants and bars. “When the Governor provided instructions on social distancing, nobody listened,” Alaina said. “That eventually led to the closing of the restaurants and bars. The West Side Market, on the other hand is a grocery store and should remain open.”
“We’re taking extra precautions with customers, changing gloves between sales and sanitizing and disinfecting the counters and door handles. We want people to come and shop,” she said.
“We all have to eat,” Natalia added.
UWSMTA President Don Whitaker also believes the West Side Market needs to remain open especially now that the restaurants are closed. His stand, D. W. Whitaker Meats, ran out of meat over the weekend. “Even though the market doesn’t look busy, people are buying,” he said. “Our supply orders arrive every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We’re almost sold out of our delivery from today.”
In talks with the City of Cleveland about staying open, Whitaker suggested adding curbside service along Lorain Avenue. “People wouldn’t have to get out of their cars”.
“I’m nervous where this is going,” he said. “I’d like to see the market open more days, to extend our hours to Tuesday and Thursday, just to spread it out.”
Mayor Frank G. Jackson and the City of Cleveland have confirmed in a statement released on March 17 that the West Side Market will remain open for now. “The West Side Market remains open as it is considered a grocery establishment. The governor has not provided additional directive regarding grocery stores.”
Darnell Brown, Chief Operating Officer for the City of Cleveland was unavailable for a comment.