CLEVELAND - Amid brick buildings on St. Clair Avenue still brandishing 20-foot-tall former business advertisements painted on their sides, long since faded, are tough business people soldiering through the economy.
Make no mistake about it, it's a bit of a war out there making ends meet. But, they're tough in the East 64th Street area of St. Clair surrounding the Landmark Slovenian National Home. Some of these businesses have been here for more than 100 years.
Smrekar Hardware has been a staple in the 6100 block of St. Clair Avenue for more than a century. Its owners were too busy on Monday to read or watch the news by noon regarding the latest business strategy from the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation.
In partnership with the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and others, the plan is to simultaneously start up 10 businesses at one time to create a pop-up neighborhood of retail storefronts.
Michael Fleming is the executive director of the St. Clair Development Corporation. He and others were meeting on Monday with some members of Cleveland City Council to work out plans for funds already slated for this neighborhood in much need of help. Incentives and free rent for limited time are being offered as enticements.
"The purpose of this is, we have a number of vacant space,s but really good building stock, so the idea being we can bring together a cluster of 10 businesses all at the same time, we'll have an instant neighborhood that attracts its own people rather just sending someone out there as a pioneer to be on their own," said Fleming.
Area business owners who have been struggling for decades, watching factories full of customers moving elsewhere, are skeptical of how it will work.
Most merchants, like Meriah Merriweather who is the owner and head designer of Ann's Dress Making and Alterations, are willing to think positive for anything that brings fresh customers through their doors. She wishes she someone had offered her upstart business free rent when she began.
"It can be very challenging. Without word of mouth or being here for many years it will be kind of tough. You have to do some advertising. Some seasons are much busier than other seasons. For me, we would say the spring to summer is more busy than the winter months. You have to be creative to make ends meet," said Merriweather."
Pancakes were being flipped a full grill at Landmark Ice Cream. Lena Petros' family has been feeding customers at its multi-option menu restaurant on the 5300 block of St. Clair for more than 20 years. It hasn't been getting better the last few years. Seats were mostly full Monday afternoon, but the traffic has been much less of late. They would welcome more business, but Petros doubts more storefronts equal more customers stopping into their established business.
"All the factories that have closed down, that was business for us. People would be going to work, people would be getting off. They'd stop in for dinner, for lunch, or breakfast. It's affected us," said Petros.
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