by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2016) West Side Market Tenants’ Association President Vince Bertonaschi has one simple question he would like members of local block clubs to ask themselves concerning the West Side Market, “Do you want a real market, or a tourist attraction?” Bertonaschi posed that question while speaking on May 17th at Sachsenheim Hall to members and guests of the Ward 14 Democratic Club. He said he hopes to get the word out that there is a real danger of the West Side Market “becoming a flimflam tourist attraction, not a real market.”
“I want the block clubs to know, the market, as a real market, is in trouble. It is not all peachy. It is all because of parking,” said Bertonaschi. He has given up on getting support from the staff of Ohio City Incorporated, the development corporation serving the neighborhood where the West Side Market is located, saying: “They don’t care. They want it to be a tourist attraction.”
Historically, until recent years, the West Side Market Merchants worked in partnership with the city of Cleveland to provide parking for market customers in the lot behind the West Side Market. Bertonaschi noted that in the 1950s with the increased use of the automobile, the West Side Market merchants realized they needed to provide parking. They helped the city of Cleveland to assemble enough land for a parking lot, acquiring two parcels which they then turned over to the city of Cleveland as part of the parking lot.
Over the years, the West Side Market Tenants’ Association has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the parking area it leased from the City of Cleveland. Bertonaschi noted that just last year, the West Side Market Tenants’ Association (WSMTA) paid $76,000 for surfacing, striping and plowing of the parking lot. Those funds also paid for off duty police officers to provide security. As a courtesy to their customers, Bertonaschi said the WSMTA also provided a lock out kit and a jump kit for people who lock themselves out of their cars or who need a jump.
Bertonaschi traces the problems of parking, to a vision of the neighborhood that involves large bars rather than specialty food sales. He recalled former Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman coming to him a number of years ago and asking about a vision for the neighborhood around the West Side Market. Bertonaschi shared his vision of a neighborhood filled with specialty and ethnic food retail shops – a destination for food shopping. Instead, he said, Cimperman and the staff of Ohio City Inc. “decided to go with a bunch of bars.”
Bertonaschi then described how the large bars began to impact parking for the West Side Market. He said when one of the bars, Market Garden, opened, its owner approached him and told him Market Garden would not open till 4 p.m. and asked if it was ok to park in the West Side Market parking lot in the evening. Bertonaschi said he gave his ok, but six months later, he said Market Garden was opening at 11 a.m. and still using the West Side Market parking lot. More and more large bar/restaurants opened – infringing more on the West Side Market parking lot.
Also, the City Council passed legislation creating a pedestrian, retail, overlay zone in the West Side Market District, requiring businesses to have 30% fewer parking places than would normally be required by city code. The reasoning is that in such zones people would walk, bicycle or take the bus to their destinations.
When employees or customers of the large bars began to leave their cars in the lot overnight, the West Side Market Tenants’s Association tried to exercise their right to control the lot. Instead, the City of Cleveland sided with the bar owners and decided not to renew the West Side Market Tenants’ Association lease of the parking lot. Bertonaschi attributed this to the influence of the wealthy bar owners over the politicians.
Additional actions by the City of Cleveland, which Bertonaschi sees as currying favor with the big bars at the expense of the West Side Market, are a Cleveland City Council ordinance calling for armed guards at the West Side Market parking lot, the addition of Sunday hours at the West Side Market, and the discussions surrounding charging for parking at the West Side Market.
In the case of the armed guards, Bertonaschi says the City of Cleveland has decided to add $86,000 a year, beginning this June, to the rent paid by the West Side Market Tenants Association in order to pay for the additional security at the West Side Market. Bertonaschi said he asked City of Cleveland Director of Public Works Michael Cox, why other merchants in the area that were using the West Side Market parking lot were not asked to share in the cost? Bertonaschi said Cox told him “because I can’t add it on to anyone else’s rent.”
As for the Sunday hours, Bertonaschi says “The bars want us open on Sundays, because we bring the crowd.” However, he feels that the additional hours will eventually hurt the unique nature of the West Side Market.
Bertonaschi, who sells beef at his stand, Vince’s Meats, noted that prior to going to the Tuesday night meeting to talk with the Ward 14 Democratic Club, he had been in the West Side Market cooler since 7:30 a.m. breaking up quarters of beef. He noted that there are a number of other merchants like him who cut up their own meat — cutting up beef, lamb, goat, pigs and fish. Bertonaschi obviously takes pride that he and his fellow merchants cut up their own meat and says his customers appreciate the freshness and quality of the meat.
Bertonaschi says the way he works is to bring his beef in on Monday and sell it out by Saturday night. He says extending the hours of the market to more evenings and Sundays will “weed out” little guys like him. Referring to the process of lifting and breaking up the heavy quarters of beef, he says “you can’t have someone around to do this all the time.” He noted that when his stand is open, he is always at the market– either in the stand or down in the cooler cutting up meat.
He predicted that continuing on the path that Ohio City Inc. and the City of Cleveland are pursuing will result in individual stand owners giving way to a few guys that own multiple stands so they can spread out the extra cost out for rent and labor. He said if owners of multiple stands want to open on Sunday, they can hire workers and stay at home. The smaller stands can’t afford to do that. He predicted that without the little guys the meat retail business at the West Side Market will become just like the large grocery stores. Instead of breaking up quarters of beef, Vince feared that large multiple stand owners would purchase already cut up meat in a box. This would change the nature of the West Side Market to being just like large grocery stores which he says take boxes of brown meat and regrind it to make it look fresh.
Bertonaschi said a fairer way of implementing Sunday hours at the West Side Market would have been to ask only the merchants who want to be open on Sundays to pay extra rent for the extra day.
He also said the staff of Ohio City and City officials have brought up the idea of lower fees in the evening at discussions about the parking fee that the city of Cleveland wants to charge once the Market and Hicks Parking lots are refurbished. He said this would unfairly shift cost to customers of the West Side Market and again favor the bars. He said instead it should be cheaper to park in the day time when the West Side Market is open.
Vince Bertonaschi says in order for the West Side Market to avoid becoming a tourist attraction, you need adequate parking so market customers won’t get squeezed out of the parking area. For this he says the merchants in the market district need to get a parking garage. Otherwise patrons and workers of the large venues on the street will take up all the parking spots needed for West Side Market customers.
He says the West Side Market merchants now, often see couples walking through the market like they are on a date while on their way to or from other businesses in the neighborhood. With so many parking spots being taken for the bars, there are not enough spots left for those that want to shop at the West Side Market for food for their families.