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West Side Market Vendor Celebrates 25 Years with Hope for Facility's Future

photo of Mark Zarefoss
Mark Zarefoss began working at the West Side Market in 1979. He's owned his own stand, Jim's Meats, since February 1, 1995 -- and he celebrated 25 years over the weekend.

A long-time vendor at the West Side Market is hopeful for the future as he celebrates 25 years at the Cleveland landmark.

“Every morning he gets up [at] 4:30 a.m. to cut up a cow and to cut up fresh pork,” says Minnie Zarefoss of her husband, Mark. They met at the West Side Market in the early 1980s. And they celebrated 25 years of owning their own stand -- Jim’s Meats – on Saturday, February 1.

Vendors have been increasingly critical in recent years of conditions at the market, which has a 30 percent vacancy rate. Mark says that while his stand is doing well, he’d like someone more passionate to run the entire market.

“I’d like to see that there’s somebody -- whoever it is -- that’s in charge of the West Side Market that they really, really put their heart into it. I hear a lot of things with the budget and this and that and plans to do this and that, but there’s no action," he said. “You’ve gotta bring people in that either know about the market, have a history with the market, [or] who very much care about the market.”

Minnie adds, “We’re very grateful for what we have. They’ll eventually, hopefully, figure things out [so] they don’t lose this gem, because it would be detrimental to the city if they lost this.”

The city last month announced a multi-year, $5 million package of capital improvements to the West Side Market, including utilizing the building's second floor, refurbishing the produce arcade, and performing maintenance on the electrical systems, the roof, and exterior walls.

Looking back
The market started in 1840 across the street from its current location. That building was erected in 1912 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Looking back, Mark Zarefoss says his two most memorable encounters at the market were meeting President Barack Obama during a 2012 campaign stop, and actor Tony Randall.

Minnie says being part of the West Side Market has helped them raise seven kids, and they’ll be there cutting meat – “the old fashioned way,” according to Mark – until they can’t do it anymore.

Until March 31, Jim’s Meats is selling their own orange T-shirts, with all of the proceeds going to autism research.

Mark and Minnie Zarefoss and the West Side Market

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.