Ohio City retail defies recent trends

Ohio City retail is on the upswing, unlike many traditional main street-style retail districts facing competition from big-box retailers and e-commerce. The Cleveland neighborhood’s growing population comprised of people with healthy incomes supports its brick-and-mortar retail establishments that include restaurants and cafes (KJP). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Rare closures the result of growing pains

This spring, the flowers aren’t the only things blooming in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. So are the new stores and plans for more, including restaurants and cafes. While many new and renovated buildings have opened elsewhere in the city, their ground-floor retail spaces tend to fill with a pre-programmed routine of bank branches, coffee shops, the occasional bar/restaurant, art gallery, or stay empty for a long time.

But things are different in Cleveland’s first neighborhood west of downtown and the Cuyahoga River. In Ohio City, creative businesses like the Tabletop Board Game Cafe, Glass Bubble Project, Harness Cycle, Pins Mechanical Co./16-Bit Bar and Arcade and others offer unique settings. And, of course, there’s Ohio City’s retail anchor — the 184-year-old West Side Market which has been in its current location since 1912.

Things are about to get more interesting with the addition of new retail tenants like Guitar Riot, Proof and El Corazon Market. although the latter is planned to open a couple blocks into the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood to the west of the Ohio City. Established retailers like Visible Voice Books are moving to Ohio City while others like Royal Docks Brewing and Salon Lofts are expanding here.

Why is this happening here in the wake of the global pandemic which sent most brick-and-mortar reeling in favor of e-commerce? The reason is simple — the presence of purchasing power and a nurturing community development corporation — Ohio City Inc. It’s population density combined with wealth creates pedestrian-friendly retail district.

Originally designed as the Longhouse Huts, the seven hangar-style buildings became the home of City Goods by Sam Friedman. City Goods is being acquired by Ohio City Inc. to offer affordable venues for new-start businesses in the neighborhood (Cleveland Draw).

“Retail is certainly heating up in Ohio City again, which is a great bounce-back story post-pandemic,” said Chris Schmitt, interim executive director of Ohio City Inc. “We had nearly every neighborhood storefront full in 2019 and we anticipate we’ll be back to near that level by next year.”

The list of creative retailers noted above doesn’t end there. City Goods was opened in a grouping of seven Quonset huts built as the Longhouse Huts by entrepreneur Graham Veysey who has led the redevelopment of the Hingetown section of Ohio City over the past decade. Indeed, incubating new-start, small businesses is what Ohio City is all about — starting with the West Side Market which hatched businesses like Middle Eastern restaurant Kan Zaman.

All seven huts at West 28th Street and Church Avenue were leased two years ago by another entrepreneur, Sam Friedman who created City Goods to help others start businesses in an affordable, communal way. Reports have circulated that Ohio City Inc. intends to buy City Good to affordably host small/new businesses. Schmitt confirmed those rumors.

“We’re getting involved in a new and exciting way with our acquisition of City Goods as a way to preserve nearly 30 small and diverse retailers in Ohio City,” he told NEOtrans.

After a 141-year ride, Fridrich Bicycle is on a path to close its doors this summer, despite the pending construction of a protected cycletrack on Lorain Avenue through Ohio City. The longtime owner is retiring (Google).

He couldn’t comment on specific retailers, including Pearl Street Wine Market & Café, 2523 Market Ave., which was due to close today in a dispute over rising rents. An affiliate of Ohio City Inc. owned the property until 2021 when it was acquired by Harsax Management of Garfield Heights.

Another longtime neighborhood retail business, in fact the longest of all, is Fridrich Bicycle, 3800 Lorain Ave., which has been in business for 141 years but “may” close by this summer. Owner Charles Fridrich, 83 years young, is retiring and real estate developers are calling, with three potential buyers waiting in the wings to acquire the faded brick building.

“Neighborhood residents are certainly a key factor in this growth but we can’t ignore those who visit Ohio City to explore, dine and shop small,” Schmitt said.

Two new additions to the neighborhood involve relocations and the same owner — David Ferrante. He started in Tremont with Visible Voice Books on Kenilworth Avenue in 2007, then moved into the former Komoroski Funeral Home on Professor Avenue with Crust pizza, owned by his cousin Mike Griffin. There, he added Proof Barbeque & Bourbon.

Guitar Riot music store is set to open in a 19.000-square-foot, 114-year-old terra cotta-façade building at 4517 Lorain rendering Guitar Riot AoDK-1

First of his relocated businesses to move to Ohio City is Proof, which opened in late-March at 4116 Lorain Ave. after an investment of about $1 million, according to city Building Department and Cuyahoga County property records. Ferrante said the response so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I bought the old Nick’s Diner building about a year and half ago and spent the time renovating it,” he told NEOtrans. “It was not an easy project but I am really happy and excited with the results. I have a really good general manager named Jay Casey and the same chef from the previous Tremont location, Brandon Lassiter and they are doing a really nice job running it.”

Next to move will be Visible Voice Books which sells new and used books as well as wine, beer, coffee, tea and pastries, often accompanied by live music. Ferrante is moving it into the old Lorain Theater building, 4601 Lorain Ave. which will be renovated for $2.5 million, including a $250,000 state historic tax credit awarded late last year. It briefly operated in the 1970s as the Denmark Theater, an adult movie house.

“I started knocking holes in the wall and this old theater starts appearing in front of me,” Ferrante said. “The contractor started bouncing on an old wood floor. We found a stage that goes back to 1910. We’ll put a café in front, with a book store and use the old stage for music and readings. We should have a (renovations) permit from the city in 30-60 days.”

Jim Miketo’s latest development along Lorain Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood is a mixed-use, retail-residential project called 4732 Lorain comprised of new construction, at center-right, and an historic renovation, at left. The site is across the street from MetroHealth’s family health center and the Urban Community School (Horton Harper).

More retail developments are in the works, some of which are part of larger, mixed-use developments for which residential is the dominant use. They include MRN Ltd.’s Group’s Voss Industries redevelopment, 2168 W. 25th St., Jim Miketo’s 4732 Lorain project, and Grammar Properties-M Panzica Development’s joint venture Bridgeworks, 2429 Superior Viaduct.

Smaller retail developments are pending. They include mostly restaurants like My Place Group’s Three Houses project, 3007 Detroit, the Goetz Building redevelopment, 1898 W. 25th, and El Corazon Market, 5218 Detroit. The latter proposes converting the former Breit’s Kitchens Baths & More, now the Yellowcake Shop, into a commercial marketplace for 11 tenants including three restaurants, according to plans submitted to the city.

Two significant transportation projects are in the works for two of Ohio City’s main business districts — West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue. The latter received a $700,000 federal planning grant this week to develop bus rapid transit and transit-oriented development along Lorain which is also set to gain a dedicated cycletrack for bicycles. Bus rapid transit on West 25th is in detailed design mode after getting a federal grant more than two years ago.


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