Friday, August 17, 2001

Revamp looms

The spirit of Findlay lives on

        Just in time for its 149th birthday, Findlay Market will face another challenge to its survival.

        A $5.7 million renovation starts in mid-October. The 18-month project will do what the April riots failed to accomplish. Merchants will be forced to leave — while the market house receives an extensive makeover.

        During construction, Findlay merchants will sell their delicacies in nearby temporary quarters.

        The long-planned and oft-delayed renovations have veteran merchants feeling jittery. But, because of their families' enormous investments in time, toil and pride, their confidence in the market's future remains high.

        “We can't wait to get through the renovation,” said Ryan Lillis, a fifth-generation market man. According to Findlay lore, his great-grandfather opened Eckerlin Meats — one of the founding stands — in 1852.

        “The riots set us back,” Ryan added. “But this market will come back.”

        Other merchants I spoke with this week expressed similar sentiments. They have the will to survive and thrive. Such determined optimism fuels the unstoppable Findlay Market spirit.

        “Market is a way of life,” said Al Silverglade of Silverglade's, established by his dad at the market in 1922.

        For Al, Findlay Market is more than a way of life. It is his life.

        He started working there in 1939 selling shopping bags. He was 8.

        Except for a stint in the Army and time off this month to let his broken ankle heal, Al has never missed a Saturday at the market.

        “I have to do this,” he said. “It's in my blood.”

        Passed down from his dad. Passed on to Al's sons, Mike and Craig. A long tradition of standing for 18 hours a day, slicing sausage meat and waiting on customers.

        That tradition includes letting needy people put their food on a tab.

        “I've done that for 62 years,” Al said. “I've never been stiffed.”

Satisfaction guaranteed
        George Roth swiftly peeled dry onion skin with a thin, sharp knife.

        “This was my first job when I came to here to sell produce,” he said at the market's outdoor stand. “That was 54 years ago.”

        Inside the market house, Neil Luken carefully folded paper around four slices of liver at his stand. He's worked at the market for 26 of his 37 years.

        Both men work at the market because it gives them the chance to customize their customer service.

        “People know they can get good deals here late in the day,” George said.

        “The market is more laid-back than a mall grocery store,” said Neil. “We get to know our customers and make them happy.”

Keeping the flame
        “I'm a market brat,” Jeff Gibbs declared as he sliced a pound of pepper loaf. “And I'm here because of DNA.”

        He started his market career — working for his Uncle Russ and cutting slabs of butter — when he was 10.

        He's 44 now. And he's still cutting butter slabs at Gibbs' Cheese, the stand his family started in 1922.

        Jeff's “scared” about his business. “Since the riots it's been beyond touch and go.”

        But he's not quitting. If he ever thought about never selling another pound of butter, he knows he'd hear his uncle “kicking in his grave.”

        A woman approached and gave her order to Jeff. They kidded each other. He gave her a few extra slices. No charge. They parted smiling.

        The spirit of Findlay Market lived for another day.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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