West Side Market area anticipates population changes
by Sheila Kiss
Home to the historic West Side Market, United Bank Building, and Market Square Park, the intersection of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue is the central hub for Ohio City and its retail district, and it’s seeing a lot of activity today.
Don Whitaker, president of the West Side Market Tenant Association and owner of D.W. Whitaker Meats in the market, said, “The neighborhood is exploding — it seems like a lot of people want to live in the city again,” he said. “We are looking forward to all that happening.”
As the neighborhood’s population declined in the latter half of the 20th century, loyal shoppers who visited the West Side Market on a weekly basis also declined, creating a challenge for this landmark. But there’s hope that this is beginning to turn around with new developments at this busy meeting of Lorain Avenue and a street once called Pearl Road.
The development of this historic intersection began in 1818, when Ohio City was founded, making it one of Cleveland’s oldest neighborhoods today. Originally a part of Brooklyn Township, Ohio City became an individual municipality in 1836, which lasted until 1854, when it became part of the city of Cleveland. As Cleveland became an industrial center, it attracted immigrants seeking employment from New England, Germany, Hungary, and Ireland.
The Pearl Street Market was built in 1868, across the street from its current site and occupying the spot where Market Square Park is located today. The building was replaced with a new market across the street in 1912 and the name changed to the West Side Market.
The market’s historic building still has the original clock tower and vendors selling all sorts of culinary delights. The market sees more than 1.8 million visitors annually, and about 10,000 people on Saturday.
Thomas McNair, Ohio City, Inc. director, says the market is an authentic place that represents the long-storied culture of Cleveland, and, despite challenges, has a promising future.
“As Cleveland as a region has kind of spread out, the city of Cleveland has lost 60 percent of its population, and even Ohio City residents went down from 38,000 to around 10,000,” McNair said. “That has taken people, from who might have used to shop at the West Side Market on a consistent basis to maybe people who even consider themselves loyal shoppers, only coming once a month.”
The decline in business may soon change with a new residential building developed by Harbor Bay Real Estate being built directly across the street from the market. This will replace what was once a strip mall built in the 1980s, a product from an earlier effort at reconstruction for the area.
The strip mall replaced a collection of historical buildings, and it became apparent that the strip mall was out of place in this location. This new building will open a new chapter for this corner and will recenter the neighborhood.
The $175 million construction project will be called Intro and will introduce around 300 units of housing directly across from the market, with retail on the first floor. This building also is being constructed completely using a timber frame and will be the tallest timber frame building in the country.
The building should benefit the market as its elevated outdoor space opens up to view the market rather than overshadowing the historic building. According to Ward 3 City Councilman Kerry McKormack, developers of the building are working directly with the tenants of the market.
Joyce Toney, owner of Toney’s Baloney and M&M Meats, has been in the market for 24 years and is excited for this change.
“I am excited to see the new things,” she said. “It was time for that plaza to go away and we needed this to better the neighborhood.”
In addition to the 300 units at the Intro, more potential market customers will live just a couple blocks down the street at an apartment building slated for the west end of the Hope Memorial Bridge. Called Waterford Bluffs, the five-story building will add about 200 additional housing units. And developer MRN Ltd. announced this past March the revival of a plan to develop the Voss Industries buildings along West 25th Street as apartments, offices, and retail space. Voss sold the property for about $4.8 million, providing a 240,000 square foot complex for development. The oldest buildings date to the 19th century, and the eastern half of the block sits in a local landmark district, making it eligible for state historic tax credits. A few blocks north along W. 25th Street in Hingetown, more potential fans of the market should emerge from the new developments there.
Of course, Ohio City has a long but also recent history as a center of breweries. As immigration increased in the area during the mid-1800s, German immigrants introduced a new style of beer that became popular within Cleveland.
One of the first breweries in the area, Gehring Brewery, was introduced on West 25th Street by German immigrant Carl Gehring. The commercial wide-scale brewing industry caused smaller brewing companies to go out of business but when craft brewing emerged, Ohio’s first craft brewer—the Great Lakes Brewing Co.–opened up across from the market in 1988. The brewpub building itself once was home to the Market Street Exchange, a popular restaurant as Ohio City began attracting residents back to the city.
Next door to the market is another popular Ohio City brewer, Market Garden Brewery and Distillery, and further west along Lorain are Hansa Brewery and Platform Brewery. And several others appear north in the Hingetown area. Indeed, Ohio City has become the center of craft brewing in Cleveland today.
Market Garden was opened in 2011 by co-founders Mark Priemer and Sam McNulty. McNulty has a background in city planning and saw adding restaurants and breweries to the Ohio City neighborhood as a way to revitalize the area.
He founded three additional businesses alongside Market Garden in Ohio City, including Bier Market, Bar Cento, and Nano Brew. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic he had to temporarily shut down his operations last year alongside many others in the neighborhood and reopened business in March, welcoming a surge in business activity.
“Our biggest challenge and the reason we’re still only open five days a week is that we can’t find people who want to work,” McNulty said.
Despite this challenge they are welcoming guests to their businesses and will be having an event in Ohio City soon to celebrate their ten-year anniversary with the inaugural week-long Market Garden Brewery Cleveland pierogi week. They are also offering those with proof of the Covid vaccine a ten-cent beer called “beer and the shot” to celebrate moving forward from the pandemic.
“The “market garden beer & the shot” campaign is nearly 10,000 people strong and counting,” McNulty said. “We have received local, national, and international press coverage for it.”
On the fourth corner of this intersection lies another historical building that was opened in 1925, the United Bank Building. This building emerged in Cleveland when the banking industry was booming throughout the country and was meant to complement the growth happening within the city at the time.
Today this building is representative of this prosperous era for the intersection and was one of the last classical bank buildings built in the city designed by renowned Cleveland architectural firm Walker and Weeks.
The building was home to Crop Bistro until they closed last January due to struggles brought about by the pandemic. Under new ownership there are plans to refurbish the space while preserving the building’s historical nature and turn it into a “modern supper club,” according to the new owner, Morgan Yagi.
The rich history of this intersection has become intertwined with the new developments and business in the Ohio City neighborhood. According to McNair, the one thing that differentiates this area compared to other areas, in not only the city of Cleveland but also the country, is the passion that its residents and business owners have for it.
McNair began his career in architecture and traveled across the country working in a variety of different cities. He eventually settled down in Ohio City to help develop the neighborhood through Ohio City, Inc.
“I have never been anywhere where people care about the place in which they live as much as people in Ohio City do,” he said. “It is an incredibly passionate and engaged community.”
Filled with historical landmarks, unique restaurants and storefronts, and people who admire where they live and work, West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue is truly the heart of the Ohio City neighborhood.
And the hustle and bustle at the corner of W. 25th and Lorain Avenue is sure to continue.
Editor’s Note: Sheila Kiss wrote this article for the Plain Press as part of a class assignment in Professor Leo Jeffres’ Communications class at Cleveland State University.
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