Barack Obama and John McCain got smokies, Hillary Clinton a bratwurst and a cherry strudel, Ronald Reagan a Ukrainian Easter egg.
For decades, politicians have come to the West Side Market to meet Clevelanders, court the Eastern European vote, taste local food and accept the occasional random gift. Shopping for votes in the market's aisles dates back at least to the '60s. Cleveland mayors Ralph Perk, Dennis Kucinich, George Voinovich, Mike White and Jane Campbell all campaigned there.
"Almost all the local ones came here, passing out badges and talking to people," recalls market veteran Robert W. Stumpf. "Where could they find a crowd like this?"
The market's political popularity peaked in 1980 when it became a regular stop for presidential challengers. Ronald Reagan visited in May, just before clinching the Republican nomination. Teddy Kennedy and John Anderson, also vying to unseat President Jimmy Carter, stopped by in July and September.
President Obama dropped by the market this Oct. 5 after a rally at Cleveland State University. At Czuchraj Meats, where a photo of McCain buying smokies hangs behind the counter, Obama sent a Secret Service agent back to the car for his forgotten wallet and bought $20 worth of smokies and jerky. "It was very exciting," says owner Jill Chucray. "How many times are you going to meet the president?"