Saturday, April 28, 2001

May Findlay Market's honeymoon never be over




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        Findlay Market merchants are enjoying a honeymoon. As hard as it is to believe, the historic food market in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine that suffered ugly fire damage and vandalism during the riots earlier this month is doing big business.

        The day after the flames and window-smashing, supporters rallied by phone and e-mail, encouraging everyone to shop at Findlay.

        The mood was festive April 21 — the first Saturday the market had opened since the civil disturbance. Kids painted bright colors on planks covering broken windows, a bluegrass band fiddled on the sidewalk and people spent money, buying fresh flowers, vegetables, cheese and sausage.

        Some merchants say the last two weeks have been the market's busiest in a long time. And ironically, they credit the publicity surrounding the riots as the chief reason for the upswing — along with a number of friends and regulars who've been coming in to express concern.

        “The support we've been getting is incredible,” says Tim Heist, owner of Heist Fish and Poultry, which received heavy damage during the disturbances.

        And while Mr. Heist and other merchants are thankful, they worry about business weeks down the road. When Findlay Market is no longer a cause celebre, will the parking lot still be packed and the fish stalls mobbed?

        “We may not know the full effect of this (the riots) until mid or late May,” says Bryan Madison, owner of Madison's Ridgeview Farm at the market, which also was vandalized. “That's when the true test may come.”

        Despite the recent brisk business, most admit the market's image has been tarnished by what happened. After seeing the pictures and hearing the stories, potential customers in other parts of the city and the suburbs might be afraid to venture to Findlay.

        This exacerbates the situation for merchants who were hit hard by the closing of the market for Easter weekend, traditionally one of the busiest times of the year. The closing meant lost revenue they now have to recoup — fast.

        Although it may be unrelated to the violence, three vendors in the market house have closed during the last few weeks. Several others hint that if Findlay doesn't maintain its current healthy business, they may look to move.

        One thing is certain: If the market declines, the people hurt most will be those who live nearby.

        “Many of the older people in the neighborhood depend on Findlay Market for groceries,” says Dean Zaidan, owner of Mediterranean Imports “They can't afford to take a cab to a grocery store.”

        As well as fresh poultry, spinach and homemade pies, you can still find plenty of optimism at Findlay. Some merchants believe the vandalism will galvanize public support, helping them to survive until the completion of a long-awaited renovation project. A few think city leaders will be more sympathetic to their needs.

        “This is the most resilent place in the U.S.,” says Al Silverglade, owner of Silverglade's Cheese & Sausages. His family has operated a store at Findlay since 1922.

        Paul Sebron, who sells barbecued ribs outside at Mr. Pig's, calls Findlay a “super market,” unlike any other food experience in town.

        It's true — Findlay Market is a wonderful place to shop, an underappreciated jewel. Yet there is another reason to patronize the market. Not to simplify the problems that have torn Cincinnati apart, but the vitality of Findlay can also play a role in the healing of our city.

        For years, the market has brought people of all races, cultures and incomes together. Especially on busy Saturdays, the aisles are crowded, presenting opportunities for strangers to talk. At these times, Findlay Market may be our most integrated institution.

        Behold, the power of food.

        Here then, is a simple act for those who want to help heal the city's divide: Go to Findlay Market, buy food, say hello to a stranger, hold the door open for someone.

        If you are concerned about safety, wait a week or two to visit the market. The merchants will still need your business.

        But don't wait too long.

       For information on Findlay Market: findlaymarket.org.

       



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