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Let's Be Clear: An open conversation with West Side Market Tenant Association President Don Whitaker

Hear about the plans in store for the iconic market
Credit: Craig Roberson, WKYC

CLEVELAND — "Let's Be Clear" is all about transparency. WKYC has a clear, mobile newsroom that we're taking across the state to talk to those making headlines in Ohio. Whether you agree with the guest, disagree, or are a fan of them, we know you have questions for them.  

The West Side Market is an iconic, must-see landmark in Cleveland. Tourists and locals alike stroll down the aisles of the market's diverse vendors, picking up everything from steaks for dinner to a gyro for lunch.

Tenants have revealed issues with the market in recent years, including lack of heat in the winter, leaky ceilings and electrical problems. As a result, vendors have pulled out from the market, some implying a lack of confidence for the market's future.

MORE | As popular vendor closes, troubles continue to plague West Side Market

Don Whitaker is president of the West Side Market Tenant Association. On Monday, he joined the Let's Be Clear truck to discuss the current state of the market, as well as what's planned for the future. Whitaker also runs the D.W. Whitaker Meats stand inside the market.

You can watch the full interview again below:

Whitaker said much of the market's problems can be fixed with more oversight and help from the city. The market, which was built in 1912, is in need of updates that have tenants frustrated.

"We need some help," Whitaker said. "There's certain things that just need to be tweaked, restructured, just taken care of. After 107 years, there's a lot of different kind of band-aids. We've got to fix it right."

Among the market's internal challenges, Whitaker said tenants are also learning to compete with new-age grocery services, such as Amazon Prime Pantry. He believes he and the market's other vendors can remain successful if the market makes improvements.

"We are surviving," Whitaker said. "We are still busy. It's not like tomorrow they're closing the doors. It's just little things we've got to fix."

The city has promised $5 million for improvements to the market, but Whitaker said, "We need a little more help than that," noting a need for heat, air conditioning and HVAC. He also said restructuring the market's management could be helpful.

"Privatization, I don't know if that's the answer," Whitaker said, noting the success of Cincinnati's Findlay Market, which has become nonprofit. He also said that Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said no to privatizing the market.

"I someway agree with him, that the public needs to keep running it, but run it right," Whitaker said, noting he admires public organizations like Cleveland Metroparks. 

"They know how to do things right. They put the right people in the right places and they get things done," he said.