By Mary Spicer
For a grand adventure in alfresco dining, the courtyard surrounding Meadville’s historic Market House is the place to be for tonight’s 17th annual A Taste of Meadville.
For anyone devoting the past 1.7 decades or so tracking gazelles across the Mongolian Steppes, A Taste of Meadville is the sole source of funding for capital improvements and major maintenance on a 143-year-old structure reputed to be the oldest enclosed market house in continual operation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Under the cover of its historic awning, the building will be encircled by local dining establishments and purveyors of assorted foods and beverages, each presenting a sampling. Or two. Or three. Diners work their way around, filling their plates and pausing from time to time to enjoy their selections comfortably seated at festively-decorated tables set up under large tents.
“Come early — eat often,” is the advice offered by George Cujas, who has chaired the Taste of Meadville Committee since the event’s inception.
The feast begins at 5 p.m. and lasts until the food runs out — or 8 p.m., for those willing to flirt with the danger of missing out on something really, really tasty.
The Market House is at 910 Market St., just north of the Chestnut Street intersection. Tickets are $25 per person and will be available at the door.
Musical entertainment for the evening will be provided by groups including Emil and the Palookas and performers from Meadville Area Senior High School including the string ensemble, the jazz band and the vocal group known as MASHapella.
Squeeze the Clown and friends will also be making appearances.
Sampling the sampling
This year’s first-time participants include Confections of a Cake Lover, just a few doors north of the Market House, and Vacavi Cafe, which opened May 1 in downtown Conneaut Lake.
The owners of Vacavi, Betsy and Jason Sperry, will be offering an assortment of goodies including chop suey cupcakes, a sweet treat that Betsy says needs to be tasted to be believed; lunchtime wraps including turkey and spinach with bacon and provolone accompanied by a lemon aioli sauce, and the debut appearance of a combination of turkey with a pumpkin sage cream cheese spread; and pumpkin iced chai latte. “Our sandwiches are sort of normal — but a little bit edgy,” she said of their menu.
“I’m really excited to let the Meadville crowd know that we’re here,” she said Monday. “Conneaut Lake has known of our presence — it was a pretty dramatic renovation of the building (the former bakery at 100 Water St.) and everyone knew something was going on.”
There’s also plenty to do inside the Market House itself, where a brand-new bulk foods dealer, Arnold Steiner of Cloverdale, will be conducting tastings from the greatly-expanded bulk foods department, Market Master Alice Sjolander said Monday.
Beekeepers Cathy and Charlie Vorisek also be on hand for tastings. “This is a perfect opportunity for anyone who has wanted to try something different like their Japanese knotweed or black locust honey but hasn’t been willing to commit to buying a whole jar,” Sjolander said.
Why it matters
“The Market House operates on a pretty thin line,” said Andy Walker, chairman of Meadville Market Authority. “The operating budget (approximately $280,000 for the current fiscal year) is just that — an operating budget. It has no room for capital improvements, which are obviously necessary.” Funding for basic operations comes from commissions on sales and booth fees paid by vendors as well as rent paid by three anchor tenants: the restaurant and bakery on the first floor, and Meadville Council on the Arts which occupies the second floor.
One of the building’s most immediate needs, Walker continued, is a new air conditioning system for the restaurant. Coupled with what he describes as an “increasingly critical” need for new electrical service for the entire structure — new service into the building, a new electrical panel, new submeters and new wiring — the total amount required in the near future could easily move into six figures.
“The goal is to make the Market House sustainable financially,” Walker added, noting that although the city owns the building, no tax revenue goes to support it. During the past 17 years, proceeds from A Taste of Meadville have funded improvements including new upstairs windows, a new paint job on the ground floor, and lots of plumbing improvements.
“We really appreciate all the folks coming down to support us to help keep the Market House thriving,” downtown businessman Dan Crandall, a long-time member of the committee, said. “A lot of time and effort go into this and it’s great when people come down and support it.”
From a business perspective, “The Market House is one of those things that make Meadville Meadville,” he continued. “Diamond Park, the fountain, the Academy Theatre, the Market House, Meadville Community Theatre, Meadville Area Recreation Complex — all those things make Meadville a great place to live.
“Those are the kind of things that really help employers sell the job to potential employees,” he added. “We have a great place to live.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.