Filed Under Food

Central Market

Cleveland's Central Market was a raucous place. Vendors shouted at prospective customers. Customers loudly bargained back. Dozens of languages careened around the giant facility like so many bouncing balls. Outside, horses, buggies, streetcars and (later) automobiles whinnied, rattled, screeched, roared and honked.

For more than 100 years, beginning in 1856, the publicly owned Central Market near Ontario Street and Carnegie Avenue served a huge, mostly immigrant population living near or around the area. These people likely paid scant heed to the dim lighting, grimy walls and constant noise because the market's 200+ stalls offered an unsurpassed assortment of meats, produce and dairy products for generally reasonable prices.

Despite the constant busyness, Central Market was only one of several competing entities. From 1891 to 1936, the privately owned Sheriff Street Market at Bolivar Street and Huron Road just one block north competed with Central Market. Beginning in 1912, the magnificent West Market, situated a mile away at Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street, added to the fray.

By the middle of the 20th century, Sheriff Street Market had closed, the West Side Market was thriving, and Central Market was struggling. Central Market’s principal problem was a faltering infrastructure which raised costs for vendors. Newspaper articles lamented the poor lighting and grimy walls. Clutter abounded and safety concerns mounted. Inadequate parking (no lot and limited, on-street, meter-paid parking) was another headache. Bus service began to replace streetcars but the new bus lines didn’t stop as close to the market. Nonetheless, Central Market soldiered on. Local historian William Ganson Rose remarked that although the market was “antiquated and lacking in health and sanitary facilities, it continued to monopolize one of the busiest intersections in the city.”

Then came a fire. In December, 1949, Central Market went up in flames, the result of a gas leak. This marked the end of the Market’s residence at Ontario and Carnegie. However, within six months (March 24, 1950) a new six-story Central Market opened at East 4th Street between Bolivar and Huron, near where Quicken Loans arena now stands. Unfortunately, the same maintenance and custodial issues dogged the new facility and Cleveland city officials failed to provide the funds to overcome them. Produce stall owner Tony LoSchiavo observed, “We put a new ceiling in a few years ago, but there's some problems with that too. Some panels are out, and when it rains we have to put plastic tarp down. That looks like hell.”

From the 1950s, mass migration to the suburbs cut into the Market’s business. A few decades later came high inflation. By the 1980s, LoSchiavo's electricity bill approached $10,000 a month and steam heat bills were up as well. Most every vendor struggled to remain profitable. One poultry stall operator lamented “This is Cleveland's forgotten market, and this is a quiet battle because probably few Clevelanders care how it ends—whether the market stays open or closes.”

At the same time, the West Side Market was growing in popularity. Unlike Central Market, the West Side Market remained proximate to residential neighborhoods and offered plenty of parking. It also was structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyed steady funding from the city. According to one interviewee, the West Side Market “is the closest thing to Europe in Cleveland.”

By the 1990s it was time to pull the proverbial plug. Cleveland commissioners agreed to remove the New Central Market and build a massive sports complex on the land that had been occupied by both markets. In the markets’ place, Clevelanders now enjoy watching two of the country’s best baseball and basketball teams. And inside each complex, patrons somewhat grudgingly pay more than $10 for food and a drink. If the original and New Central Markets could have charged those prices, perhaps they’d still be around.

Images

Central Market, Looking South, 1940 This photo shows how the market stood on Ontario Street in the block between Central and Woodland avenues. Behind the market are the three streets. The market had approximately 200 stalls. This photo also highlights the monopolization of this intersection. Eventually more and more people were driving their own cars, and a shortage of parking pushed many shoppers to the West Side Market, which built a large parking lot in 1965. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Original Central Market Location This atlas map detail shows the Central Market area in the mid 1930s. The Market stood in the middle of Ontario Street, just north of its intersection of Carnegie. Note how both Woodland and Broadway cut through the area now occupied by the Gateway sports complex. Source: Peoplemaps, Cleveland Date: 1937
Sheriff Street Market, 1924 Central Market's main competitor, Sheriff Street Market, opened in 1891 on what is now East 4th Street near Bolivar. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Postcard of Central Market You can see wagons, vendors, buggies, and streetcar tracks in this postcard view. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Central Market, 1924 Before the automobile, streetcar lines used to be main source of transportation for people to arrive at the Central Market. Eventually, the bus routes that replaced streetcars were rerouted, so many people had trouble getting to the Central Market. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Women Buying from a Produce Vendor, 1940 Many patrons loved going to the Central Market, sometimes even daily. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Unkempt Conditions at Central Market, 1940 Unkempt Conditions at Central Market, 1940: Wooden baskets and carts are left behind after vendors load up their stalls. This illustrates the disheveled atmosphere at the market. The cluttered environment certainly contributed to health and sanitary issues. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Site of Central Market, 1950 Site of Central Market, 1950: Poor infrastructure, cramped space, and deferred maintenance led to the demise of the original Central Market, which was destroyed by fire in December 1949. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
New Central Market, 1982 The new Central Market stood on East 4th at Bolivar. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Collections
Tony LoSchiavo's Market Stall, 1981 Tony LoSchiavo, produce owner at the new Central Market. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Rashida Mustafa and Chris Roy, “Central Market,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/676.