In a previous column, I advocated for the West Side Market (as well as League Park) to be operated by nonprofit organizations that focus solely on making these two city-owned venues successful. While city officials know how to perform the tasks required to carry out city services, running for-profit businesses has proven to be beyond them, although they are loath to admit it.
But there could be another reason city officials won’t turn the market over to non-city operators while maintaining city ownership: Payback.
Allow me to explain: Years ago, there were two city markets, the West Side Market, and the New Central Market which sat on the corner of Bolivar Road and E. 4th Street, that is, until the Gateway project cleared the entire area back in the mid ’80s for the sports palaces that were to come in the ’90s. While whites primarily shopped at the West Side Market, blacks almost exclusively patronized the east side food emporium.
In addition to the market that sat on the corner, dozens of wholesale meat purveyors had businesses along Bolivar Road. My father used to shop at them for the meat for his tavern, and he often took me with him, since he proudly took me just about everywhere he went from when I was a toddler on. So I have fond memories.
But again, I digress, something I seem to be doing more and more often as I approach old age.
Anyway, once the Central Market closed, some blacks began patronizing the West Side Market. But they were often met with an understated (but unmistakable) hostility from some of the owners of the stalls. Not all, but some of the folks working at the stalls were guilty of this kind of behavior, and word soon spread in the black community in regards to which operators didn’t treat blacks with dignity and respect as they took their money — and therefore were to be avoided.
And then, with integration in full swing, a few black businessmen — I knew one of them — attempted to open stalls in the West Side Market, only to be rudely rebuffed by some members of the organization that represented the stall owners. This is not supposition or conjecture, but fact.
While perceptions far outlast reality, the feeling that blacks are not welcome to operate stalls at the West Side Market still persists to some extent, but it could have nothing to do with current reality. Maybe all of the racist stall operators have by now retired since there is a woman of color (from Southeast Asia, I believe) who has operated a stall for years selling spices.
Nonetheless, the fact is, there still are no black-operated stalls within the market proper, for whatever reason.
Now go ahead and accuse me of playing the race card, but facts are cold and hard; you can try to dispute me all you want, but the truth is cold and hard also.
Could city officials (after all, this is a black administration in a majority-black city) be clumsily attempting to send a message to those who want to make the necessary changes to the market that their plans need to be more racially inclusive if they want them to be more readily met with acceptance?
We’ll never know, that is, until — and unless — the folks advocating for the updating of the market also update their views (or at least their actions) on what racial inclusion looks like — on city-owned property at least. The fact is, in the past, I’ve advocated for a sane policy on the part of city officials in regards to the West Side Market, so don’t simply shoot me — the messenger — just because you don’t like the message.
After all, fair is fair the world over.