West Side Market: Documenting the Journey

September 3rd, 2012 Posted in Architecture, Art, Artisan made goods, Ohio City


Cleveland is about to be treated to its own personal history with the publication of Cleveland’s West Side Market: 100 Years and Still Cooking.

Back in 2008, Marilou Suszko, a noted food writer and teacher from Vermillion, heard that the West Side Market would celebrate its centennial birthday in 2012. She realized not much had been written about the Market since the publication of To Market, To Market by Joanne M. Lewis in 1981, so she began to explore the idea, becoming serious after speaking with fellow food writer and author of the famed Cleveland Ethnic Eats, Laura Taxel. Together they began the journey that would literally take them three years, with many new discoveries and observations made along the way.

Laura Taxel, Marilou Suszko

Very soon into their endeavor, Laura and Marilou discovered that “we wanted to talk about the Market in the book with a lot of different voices.”  Vendors, customers and the city of Cleveland as the Market’s owner were all thoroughly embraced, with their stories shared and thoughts highlighted.

Cleveland’s West Side Market pays homage, first of all, to the vendors. Marilou described them as “foremost in my mind.” But they also wrote the book to celebrate the customers and the Market as a whole, hoping it will be a good thing for the Market and wishing it to not only survive, but thrive.

The Market’s more than one hundred vendors represent the many nationalities that make up the greater Cleveland population. Over the years, the countries represented have shifted, just as immigrant populations have. Presently there are nine stands with the original families still running the business- an amazing fact after one hundred years. Then there are the many “multiple decade” families- those who purchased the business decades ago. New vendors also join the group on a regular basis. The stands are somewhat affordable as new businesses go, making the business of selling food at the West Side Market within reach of those willing to put in the hard work and time. Many began working as children and helping their parents, until one day they were old enough to actually take over. They simply state, while displaying a huge grin, that they “just never left.”
Asked how they went about talking to the customers, both women chuckled at their learning curve. “The first time, we hired a teenage girl to stand in the parking lot and hand out one hundred cards in the parking lot to let people know that we were up in the balcony if they wanted to share their stories. We had only one visit us that day!” Eventually word spread, though, that there was to be a book written and that the authors were interested in any West Side Market memories they were willing to share. They received many hand-written notes and phone calls, indicative of the generation of those they were hearing from. In the end, there was no shortage of people to speak with; as a matter of fact, stories still come in on a regular basis. 

It was fascinating to hear about their search for information. Deciding to split the assignments and promising each other never to reveal who wrote what, they dove into their research by not only searching archives for old documents in the old fashioned way, but also made full use of current technologies. Without the instantaneous feedback of emails, PDFs and the internet, an undertaking like this book would have lasted years longer. They combed many government archives, with pages of old contractor agreements, invoices, money market and state of the building reports occasionally offering up a new discovery. Online searches of libraries became time savers, allowing them to track down what they were looking for in a timely manner.

This thoroughly modern treatment of a one hundred year old institution continues into the book itself. Every page has photographs, and most pages contain multiple sidebar personal memories or information. “It is very much a reflection of the time and place we are writing about. From the very first proposal, we knew it would be told in words and pictures.”

Cleveland’s West Side Market: 100 Years and Still Cooking will be available October 15, 2012, just in time for the Centennial Gala on November 3rd.

We await Cleveland’s West Side Market with great anticipation and thank the authors for this great gift they have given to us all. As we all know here in Cleveland, “There is nothing quite like the West Side Market.” The rest of the country is about to find out!

West Side Market- Then (a 1912 postcard) and Now

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