West Side Market Celebrates Centennial

Grace Francisco, Food Reporter

“Wake up to life!” a vendor snaps. The pace inside the West Side Market on the intersection of Lorain Road and West 25thStreet does not slow for anyone. Packed wall-to-wall are over 100 vendors in this historical space. A continuous stream of bustling customers eagerly wait to purchase the gleaming food on display in the glass cases and answer a seemingly simple question: “What would you like?” Really, what would you like? All around are flour-dusted, edible strips of wide pappardelle, slender angel hair pasta, peppery smoked meats, sizzling batter on a hot stone round, sweet vanilla-bean lemonade and much more. With all of these options at one’s disposal, it does not seem possible to answer this question just once.

Nearly one hundred years after its creation in 1912, this historic landmark is still fulfilling the same purpose for which it was intended: bringing fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and other interesting food to the people of Cleveland. Its purpose is subtly showcased through the various carvings of food such as fish and vegetables in the granite stone that encircles the outside of the structure. “It’s a working market, not a touristy market,” says Dale Gallis, a self-proclaimed life-long Clevelander. Gallis shares that “Cleveland was a progressive city…investing in the citizenry;” this marketplace is a result of that investment. The West Side Market is “civic pride at its best,” he says, while fixing his eyes on the 137-foot clock tower attached to the space.

While the West Side Market is known for being indoors, today, its spirit seeps past its doors onto the streets of Ohio City as a part of its centennial celebration. At noon, the Street Fest kicked off with a vibrant parade that cut through the grey clouds and cold, rainy weather, even though it is “really raining on the parade,” a parade attendee stated. Bright colors of deep forest green, ocean blue, yellow, glaring red, royal purple and more flood Lorain Road by way of costumes and floats. Dancing hot dog mascots, a trotting 12-legged (six person-anchored) caterpillar, and high-flying silk birds on wire are just a few of the images that fill the parade space. Resonating pitter-patters of the snare drum, upbeat jazz melodies of the saxophone and trombone complement the gleeful cheery faces of men, women, and wide-eyed children that took part in the celebration.

Cold winds, cold enough to make your eyes water, and chilly, pelting rain greets those wandering around the festival, but these patrons are not deterred and the fest continues. Vendors and nearby restaurant chefs gathered together to offer their own choice of fare. The Momocho tent continues to serve crispy cinnamon churros and steaming, spiced Mexican coffee to shivering bystanders, Palookaville Chili prepares hearty Texas beef, chicken verde, and vegetarian chili that warm you from the inside out. Kate’s Fish dishes up a tantalizing, hot seafood boil. Other interesting cuisines on site are the Flying Fig’s juicy flank steak underneath a crunchy, acidic cilantro-cabbage slaw, the Cheese Shop’s buttery roasted garlic cheddar grilled cheese on sourdough toast, and Soho’s crispy chicken and waffles – do not forget to add the hot pepper vinegar and maple syrup to your meat, seriously.

Besides the food tents, there are also food trucks and various games hosted by the sponsors of the event. Lutheran Hospital and General Electric Lighting have a spinning trivia wheel, but it’s all in good fun, since everyone wins a prize. Even the ice-cream eating contest is a jovial spectacle. Councilman Joe Cimperman pokes fun while recruiting contestants, “Hey, skinny man,” he calls out to a lanky man in the crowd, “you used to be fat like me before the surgery!” He keeps the laughs alive by headlining the countdown, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…PUKE!…[Put your] face in it like a bowl of soup!”

The laughter is just one of the many aspects of the street fest. Event volunteer Dhruv Seshadri is a transplant from San Francisco who has grown fond of Cleveland and admits there is no experience like this back home. He works for Ohio City Incorporated and reveals that Cleveland is unique in that “Cleveland has these non-profits [that] work together to revitalize the city”, helping it thrive. Interestingly enough, Seshadri is a junior polymer engineering major at Case Western Reserve University and was inspired to become involved with planning local events such as these from his SAGES course “Immigrant Entrepreneurs.

The West Side Market is “a beacon of togetherness…a center for commerce,” states General Electric Lighting’s CEO, Maryrose Sylvester. The estimated 20- to 30,000 in attendance goes to show the people’s enthusiasm to celebrate the life and history of the market. During the closing-lighting ceremony, Councilman Cimperman says it all, “For 100, she looks good.”