Cleveland AGA Building to fuel start-ups

This is the original 1925-built American Gas Association Appliance Testing Laboratory on East 62nd Street. This building and its two additions are the subject of a nearly $3 million renovation effort by local entrepreneurs who want to move their growing e-commerce textile business here as well as help other aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Site also hosting growing textile e-commerce biz

Like many of Cleveland’s historic but vacant commercial buildings, the former American Gas Association (AGA) laboratory in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood is about to get renovated for a new use. Unlike many other buildings, this one isn’t being converted into apartments. Instead, its new uses are intended to create long-term jobs and new businesses, especially among young women and minorities.

Brazilian-born Candida “Candy” Mashmoor, co-founder and CEO of YaYa & Co., is expanding her own seven-year-old, e-commerce business that ships locally made all-natural and organic textiles direct-to-consumer (D2C). To expand, it’s moving from a location at 3635 Perkins Ave. in Cleveland to the former AGA Appliance Testing Laboratory, 1030 E. 62nd St. But the 68,000-square-foot, three-building complex has more space than what her own business needs.

So the middle and oldest building, constructed in 1925, will become a 28,000-square-foot collection of co-working spaces and classrooms to support young women and minority entrepreneurs from the area develop their businesses. The co-working spaces will be geared for businesses in design, photography, social media and similar creative pursuits, she said.

“As a foreigner, I came to this country with all the hopes and possibilities,” Mashmoor said. “I had an office overseas (Hong Kong) for 20 years but it was shut down during the pandemic. I wanted to retire but I also wanted to give back to the community. Then I found this building and fell in love with it.”

YaYa and Company’s showroom at its current location on Perkins Avenue, just east of downtown Cleveland, gives an indication of what the interior of their new site on East 62nd Street will look like, only bigger (YaYa).

That building includes additions built to the south in 1950 and to the north in 1960. The north building will be used for the assembly of textile products and the south building to serve as a showroom and transfer warehouse for textile products offered by the company she founded with Jordan Bigelow and Julian Ayzman. The company is Fair Trade USA-certified. Mashmoor’s foundation established a school in India for women that employs them and pays them fair wages.

A century ago, Cleveland had the nation’s largest garment district outside of New York City. She wants to recreate some of that by providing the largest textile showroom in Northeast Ohio. But a big part of Mashmoor’s motivation to move forward on this project is very personal.

“Yaya and Co. is my daughter’s nickname — she passed away 12 years ago,” Mashmoor said. “YaYa works only with small family-owned companies, artisans and all we make is organic, natural fibers and or recycled materials. I created this company with the idea to help others and with that to bring my daughter’s soul into light.”

Mashmoor said she and her partners will be investing up to $3 million to improve the site, aided by a forgivable loan from the Cleveland Department of Economic Development’s Vacant Property Initiative that was discontinued last year. She credited city Manager of Economic Development and Technology Robin Brown for guiding her through the process. Paul Karas is her general contractor.

The south building of the AGA lab complex will become a textiles showroom and warehouse for YaYa & Co., a direct-to-consumer, e-commerce textiles business founded in Cleveland in 2017 (Google).

The building, threatened with demolition over the past 20-plus years, was awarded city historic landmark status by the Cleveland Landmark Commission last October and by Cleveland City Council on Jan. 22. The status requires additional scrutiny by the city before a protected building can be demolished. The project is supported by Ward 10 Councilman Anthony Hairston, said Landmarks Commission planner Karl Brunjes.

“It had been a dumping ground,” Brunjes said at a Landmarks Commission hearing last October. “Fifty dumpsters of garbage were removed. It (the building) maintains its integrity. Nice, cleaned-out, ready for re-use. It is a significant building, part of our industrial heritage.”

“We’re still cleaning up,” Mashmoor said. “We hope to have it ready by next year. It’s been in very bad shape but there’s no lead (contaminants). We are maintaining the original features inside and outside. The building is as solid as it can be. It’s one of the only buildings in the area to survive the 1944 explosion.”

The original building withstood the East Ohio Gas Co. explosion of two liquid gas storage tanks on Oct. 20, 1944 that leveled one square mile of the city and killed 130 people. Most of the windows in the building were blown out but the structure remained intact, as did several natural gas tanks behind the building that were undamaged, Brunjes said.

The north building of the AGA lab complex on East 62nd Street will become a textiles assembly area. The facility’s parking lot is to the right (Google),

AGA relocated in 1969 to a larger facility in suburban Independence. For less than a decade, Tappan Co. Air Conditioning Division set up shop in the building, then putting it up for sale in 1977. The building was used by the Ris Paper Co. until the 1990s when the St. Clair-Superior Development Corp. sought a developer to demolish it for 37 townhomes.

That plan was halted by the financial crisis of 2008-10 and the property had five owners in the next decade, including a loan servicing company. After slipping into foreclosure, the property was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., also known as the Cuyahoga Land Bank, county property records show. Through an affiliate company, Mashmoor acquired the 1.7-acre property in 2022, including a parking lot to the north of the buildings.

She also acquired from the Cuyahoga Land Bank a property at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and East 62nd. It has an abandoned two-story structure on it that housed the 3D Lounge and the Elizabeth Restaurant, both now closed. Although she has no plans for it right now, she said it won’t involve a bar or be food-related.

“I have a few ideas of what we’re going to do there,” Mashmoor said. “We acquired it to be an entry to East 62nd. We want to bring businesses into the area.”

Windows were blown out on parked cars and in the 1925-built AGA lab on East 62nd Street but the building and its fuel tanks stood following the 1944 East Ohio Gas Co. explosion (Cleveland Landmarks).

Numerous arts-related businesses have moved into the area along St. Clair from the Inner Belt east to near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Some of that is caused by studios and other start-up businesses being evicted or no longer able to afford staying in the Superior Arts District closer to downtown.

Other investment is occurring nearby. Across St. Clair, the 20-year-old, 400-student St. Martin de Porres High School completed a $27 million, 89,800-square-foot expansion in 2021. It followed the recent opening of the new St. Vitus parish center just around the corner on Lausche Avenue.

Part of Mashmoor’s interest in the neighborhood is that she views it as up-and-coming and wants to make a lasting impact here.

“This has been a long journey by this is my dream — my American dream,” she said. “I hope to leave behind a legacy so my son and co-founders Jordan Bigelow and Julian Ayzman can carry on for many years to come.”


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