It’s business as usual for most West Side Market vendors, as rent relief eases pain

More Westside Market vendors that had closed after the coronavirus hit Cleveland are opening their stands after Mayor Frank Jackson’s April announcement that the city would suspend rent through June.


Some vendors say they are confident a temporary close was the right thing to do after Governor Mike DeWine’s March 23rd stay at home order, while other business owners have remained open. Both groups say they are relieved to see business starting to get back to normal.


“We closed a few weeks ago knowing we would reopen with a target date of May 1,” says Tom McIntyre, owner of Kate's Fish, says. “It sounded like a good amount of time for things to die down.


McIntyre says business at the market is starting to pick up again not only because people are feeling safer to go shopping but because they are missing their favorite foods found only at the market—like the house-smoked salmon sold at Kate’s.


Now, McIntyre says they are hopeful that customer traffic will increase even more with new protective measures in place.


“Safety guidelines set by the governor were not yet in place when we closed,” he says. “But now we have masks, a counter shield, and a limited number of customers allowed at one time. Customers feel safer.”


McIntyre says he is thankful he didn’t have to lay off any of his employees and has been able to pay them in full. He discussed the pandemic plans for the stand with his mother, Kate—the original owner of the stand.


“She said it was a good decision to temporarily close the stand,” McIntyre says. “She trusts me.”


Some stands, like Olive Cleveland, decided to stay open throughout the shutdown while reducing the days and hours of operation. Employee John Butts says the owner chose to stay open, for the most part to keep him employed.


“We are pretty much breaking even,” Butts says. “We are thankful for the rent postponement. It helps businesses that might not have been able to come back [after the stay at home order]—although it might take a while to recover.”


Butts says the stand is operating at full-service capacity. However, he says they currently don’t have two Italian infused olive oils—garlic and Mediterranean medley. The world-wide pandemic is to blame, he explains.


“We are waiting for those specialty oils to get through customs,” he says. “We are a local business supporting another small business overseas.”


Levinia Oliver, a 70-year-old Cleveland resident who has been shopping at the market for 50 years, says she depends on the market for fresh, healthy food.


“I am a diabetic and dependent on the market for most of my weekly shopping,” says Oliver. “I ride all the way over here on the bus for their fresh food and courteous vendors. I hope they can stay open.”


With the city’s rent suspension during the COVID-19 crisis, Oliver says she is grateful the market is still up and running, but she worries about the long-term consequences the shutdown will have on the stability of the market.


Businesses like Lance's Beef have experienced a change in their traffic flow. While owner Grant Lance is seeing fewer tourist shoppers, business has still been good—he says his customers and local restaurants are buying in bulk and freezing meat just to be prepared.


“We have so many repeat customers,” Lance says. “People are stocking up. Business has been good. Nothing is going to stop them.”

Read more articles by Crystal Beaulieu.

Crystal Beaulieu just earned her journalism degree from Cleveland State University and is determining the next step in her career. As a mother of three, Beaulieu enjoys healthy eating and long hikes.
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