CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -The West Side Market was recently rated the second best farmer's market in the country by the Online Farmer's Market. So, why are so many vendors worried about the future of their business? And why are there so many open spaces, particularly in the produce sections of the market?
Vendors like Narrin Noud Carlberg of Narrin’s market, said it has gotten a lot harder for small business owners here - especially the vendors in West Side Market’s outside space. The foot traffic just isn’t what it used to be.
"It's very hard to make a living when there's no shopper, and in addition to that, the rent went up," said Carlberg.
Carlberg said there are more tourists who are coming to just take pictures, not to buy like local Clevelanders used to do.
Vendors are also struggling with rent increases.
Carlberg said her rent went up 11.5 percent after the city raised the rent for vendors. Rent for each small business owner varies according to different factors which include the size of your stand, according to some vendors.
Some vendors report that their rent went up by as much as 30 percent.
Not everyone is complaining though.
Ibrahim Kilani said business at his donut shop is great. He said there is not just one reason for vendors closing up shop.
"The people who left here - maybe they got a better job, or they want to change the business, but the market is good here," said Kilani of K & K Bakery.
Shoppers like Mazayron Clay, who are West Side Market regulars say something has changed over the years.
"I remember coming here when I was a little girl there used to be tons of vendors. I would come with my grandma," said Clay.
Clay does not like seeing the empty spaces.
“Now seeing it is a little disheartening,” added Clay.
Jeremy Caldwell of Shaker Heights has also been coming to the West Side Market for years. He said the city needs to do something to help the small business owners so that they can get rid of all the open spaces.
"This is supposed to be an icon of Cleveland, but if I look at this, a tourist to the Cleveland area would be like, 'well what was so special about it?" said Caldwell.
Cleveland City leaders have pointed out that until recently, vendors went years without a rent increase.
The West Side Market gave Cleveland 19 the following response when asked about the vendor’s continuing concerns about decreased foot traffic and increased rents:
“The West Side Market (WSM) is an iconic facility, built more than 106 years ago. As with many historic structures, it requires ongoing maintenance and upgrades to align with today’s building standards. The City of Cleveland carefully oversees the facility and over the past 5 years has made more than $5.3 million in capital repairs. Repairs are made on a critical-first basis according to the allotted annual capital budget. Recent repairs include the installation of new boilers, improvements to some electrical systems, a new parking lot, roof repairs, new cooling systems and more.
The City had previously assisted vendors through various means such as rent relief and subsidies. There had been no rent increases for nine years, prior to 2016. At that time, a base increase was implemented. The 2016 increase was spread over a three-year period to minimize impact to vendors. This is not a new increase.
The vacant stands at the market are due to several factors. Reasons include retirement, failing health, the sudden passing of a vendor, among other reasons. Some of these vendors had two or more stands. The market is currently accepting applications for new vendors. Those interested in opening a stand at the market, can email email@example.com or call 216-664-3541.
Please also note that a strategic plan and extensive capital assessment of the facility is already underway, which includes upgrades to the market.”