24th Jul, 2010

West Side (Market) Story

I have only the faintest memories of the West Side Market from my childhood. I think my grandma took me there, although I can’t really recall how often. When I moved back to Cleveland from California in the mid-nineties, I rented a place in Ohio City for a year, and loved walking up the street to the Market for groceries. It’s become one of the things that I most tie to the Cleveland experience.

There’s so much to love about it—the architecture, the culture, the people, the haggling, the produce, the meats, the pierogies. And the little old elderly Eastern European women pushing their little shopping carts around are my favorite. (Maybe because they remind me of my own Bohemian grandma!)

So I’ve loved to be able to introduce the West Side Market to each of my boys. It comes a little closer to answering the “where does food come from?” answer than the enormous big box grocery stores that most suburban kids experience. And really, how many times do your kids bug you to go to the grocery store? My kids bug me to go to the West Side Market. Now, I’ll admit, part of that is seeing the bizarre foods like the completely skinned pig, the chicken feet, the beef tongue, the pig knuckles. Oh, and probably part is due to the fact that they know I’m a sucker for getting a big, chocolate-y treat there at one of the bakeries in the main building.

Matthew always insists on walking past the fish counter that’s snuggled into the far northeast corner of the main building, and tells me over and over—both before and after we walk by—that the fish there “really stink.”

Today’s trip was a bountiful one—blackberries, pierogies (including my favorite, chicken bacon ranch—they are awesome!), ravioli, apples, salsa, pork chops, and, uh, a slice of chocolate cheesecake. Yes, Josh talked me into that one. Big shocker. I would have bought even more, but the Market is not air conditioned, and we were nearing our melting point.

We actually went downtown first, for a chance to visit the recently renovated Terminal Tower observation deck on the 42nd floor. The observation deck, closed after 9/11, is only open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. for four weeks this summer. (The last day is August 1st.)

But the line was insanely long—maybe due, in part, to the extensive coverage that the Plain Dealer has been giving the observation deck’s reopening. The line snaked all around the entrance to Tower City and the security guard told me it was at least a 90-minute wait, if not 2 hours. I knew my boys would not stand for that, especially as the temperature in the lobby was a lot closer to the 95 degrees outside than 72-degree air conditioned comfort.

Instead, we visited the Tower City fountains under the big atrium. Now, I know that Tower City has had issues for years, struggling to keep retail space filled. But it was still sad to see that the fountains seemed in a bit of disrepair. I got to thinking how the space reopened as an urban mall, back in about 1991. At that time, the fountains, especially the main one, were a showpiece and seemed like something that was first class—a real “wow” thing to see in downtown. While my boys were still amused by watching them, I hope that maybe with the new connected casino development to be built in the coming years, some money can be invested in doing something new and exciting with the fountain space. 20 years is a long time, maybe it’s time to try something new. (I vote for new fountains, just more impressive ones!)

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