market recovery: community rallies around west side market after fire

As news of the January 30th fire at the West Side Market spread, the Cleveland community was in disbelief. The market had just celebrated its 100-year anniversary, with the lavish Centennial Celebration raising $175,000 and the People’s Party kicking in another $25,000. In addition, $2.1 million has been earmarked by the City of Cleveland to go toward much-needed market improvements.
After the fire, which started around 2 a.m., the very same community that celebrated in November came together to support the vendors and the market, which was closed indefinitely for cleanup. While there is no official data on vendor losses, thousands of dollars of product and materials have been lost, and hundreds of people are temporarily out of work.
Fortunately for them, local businesses and residents are doing everything they can to help the vendors recoup the money they are losing as a result of the fire.
“We have seen an incredible amount of support from shoppers and fans, businesses including Market Garden Brewery and The Happy Dog, Iron Chef Michael Symon and Charter One Foundation,” says Amanda Dempsey, of Ohio City Inc. “This is a testament to the passion and dedication customers have for the West Side Market. When the Market reopens, I won't be surprised if the aisles are packed for weeks."
Last weekend, Happy Dog ran a program that donated $1 for every hotdog sold. As word spread of the fundraiser, customers flocked to the restaurant to help out. By Sunday afternoon, the servers couldn’t help but smile at the scores of people who had come to enjoy a dog and support the market. In the end, they raised $1,281 -- $100 of which were straight tips from customers -- for the West Side Market Vendors Association, says co-owner Sean Kilbane.
“We have a working relationship with a couple of folks over there,” Kilbane says, adding that the restaurant buys over 100 pounds of bacon a week from Sebastian Meats, the source of the fire. “We’re just trying to do our part and give those guys financial support. They’re local, independent businesses just like we are.”
Sam McNulty, owner of Bar Cento, Nano Brew and Market Garden Brewery, was just closing up when the blaze ignited. Market Garden had just finished brewing a new batch of beer but hadn’t yet named it. “We hatched the plan when we had a few more beers after closing,” McNulty says. “We decided to rally the troops and hold a fundraiser.”
The new beer was dubbed Market Recovery Lager, and $1 from each beer sold will go to Ohio City Inc.'s capital campaign fund for the market. The bar raised more than $2,000 last weekend alone, and plans to continue donating $1 per Recovery Lager indefinitely.
“As more and more vendors and their families came out and told us how they were affected by the fire, we decided we are going to brew another batch, or two, or three,” says McNulty. “Plus, it tastes really good, so why stop now?”
The urge to help isn't limited to the near-west side: Over in Lakewood, the 5 O’Clock Lounge will hold a benefit concert on Saturday, February 9. Not only will the 10-buck cover go to the vendors, but owner Debbie Mickey Lauria also will donate a percentage of her bar sales. As of last week, seven acts have signed up to perform, with more expected to join in.
“Everybody’s helping -- it’s going to be a fun time,” says Lauria. “I shop at the West Side Market, and we know some of the vendors and friends who work over there. It just sucks when you’re a small business and you don’t have anything coming in.”
Cash Mob founder Andrew Samtoy is working with Ohio City Inc. to organize a cash mob for when the market reopens. Already, some 2,400 peope have said they plan to show up. While cash mob participants typically are asked to spend $20, Samtoy knows he can spend at least $50 in one trip to the market. If everyone shows up and spends $50, he muses, that’s $117,000. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything close to that at a cash mob."
“The community response has been overwhelming,” adds Samtoy. “The love people have for the West Side Market… It’s a special place in their hearts.” Keep an eye on the Facebook page for the latest updates.
The Charter One Foundation this week made a $10,000 grant to Ohio City Inc. to support the vendors. The foundation, which has invested more than $529,000 in Ohio City since 2010, plans to organize a gift certificate program and participate in a re-opening event at the market.

“Our mission of helping small businesses and the impact of the fire on the vendors made us want to do something on behalf of all of the vendors,” says Carrie Carpenter, Charter One senior vice president and Midwest director of public affairs. “I’m at the market a least once a week. It’s definitely missed already. Thousands of people every week use the market as their primary source for groceries.”

Celebrity chef Michael Symon organized West Side Market Wednesday yesterday, asking businesses to donate five percent of their sales to the vendors through the Michael Symon Foundation. Individual donations can also be made. The donation site will be up for the next week.

Mentor-based RestorX MD has been hired by the city to clean the building at a cost of $276,000, which will come out of the money earmarked for renovations.
While no official date has been set for the West Side Market’s re-opening, the produce stands currently are open, as is the West Side Market Café. A list of vendors who have additional retail locations can be found on the West Side Market’s news site.

Photos Bob Perkoski - see more photos on our Facebook page
Fire  aftermath photo by Ruggero Fatica, City of Cleveland

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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