Cleveland artisan collective boosts visibility, customer access while reducing business hassles
When entrepreneur Sam Freidman saw a rendering a few years ago of seven hangar-like buildings proposed for a vacant lot at the corner of West 28th Street and Church Avenue in Cleveland, he knew he’d found a home for an idea he had been incubating for years.
The 45-year-old Solon resident had envisioned for several years creating a permanent space for artists and artisans who would normally sell their products out of their homes or off tables at art shows and farmers’ markets. He pictured a unique shopping village with lights strung up, people walking around smiling, with a drink in hand and dog on a leash.
The buildings, when they went from rendering in 2021 to reality last year, offered the perfect spot to do that. His concept, City Goods, opened in mid-September with two dozen local vendors and a bar. Friedman said he’s seeing that picture he had in his head every weekend. Sales have been remarkable. And the people keep coming and buying Cleveland-made products, many from out-of-town who often are heard saying, “I wish we had this in our town.”
“You can enjoy the outdoor space, and walk in and out of every store with a drink and really enjoy yourself here and take your time,” he said. “The reality is, no matter what you buy, because of this communal model, whether you are buying a bar of soap in one building, a T-shirt in another, or literally just coming in and getting cocktails, you are supporting all 24 local shops, and technically, over 150, I think it is now, small Northeast Ohio businesses.”
His renters are happy too.
“For me, it’s been great,” said Paper Cutz Vintage owner/designer Shari Escott, 55, of Chagrin Falls, who makes and sells handcrafted paper collages as a second job. Her full-time job is a communications specialist at Progressive Corp. “I was nervous to make that kind of commitment and to pay the rent each month. I do shows mostly. This is a lot more than what a typical art show would be. I’ve done great.”
The buildings are located in Hingetown, an enclave within Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Several apartment buildings had already sprouted along or just off of Detroit Avenue, providing the needed density of walk-in shoppers. City Goods sits among five new or renovated apartment buildings with an estimated 4500 people living within two blocks of the hangars.
Developer Graham Veysey originally proposed the seven buildings that he dubbed the Creative Hangars as live-work spaces for artists. Each building has a loft. Four are the same size; three are slightly larger. Their semi-circle double height roofline catch the eye as you pass by.
“We wanted to have a character that created intrigue,” Veysey said. “We worked with a builder to not only embrace the Quonset hut style, but an interior that’s modern and clean.”
Friedman approached Veysey in late summer 2021, and after some serious thought, signed a five-year master lease for all seven buildings.
What he said makes his concept work is simplicity for the small business owner who rents space in the hangars. Rent is based on how many square feet of the building is used.
From his business experience, Friedman said he knew there were three big issues retailers in Cleveland face: No walk-in traffic, unaffordable rent in key areas and the difficulty one-person businesses have in paying staff. Those three issues make it impossible for the average artist or artisan to move beyond the farmer’s market model, he said.
Friedman originally planned to divide rent and staff costs among all vendors. But while the rent could be affordable, what he was charging wasn’t enough to cover many of his costs, such as liability insurance, lawyer’s fees and lawn care. He wanted his tenants to pay for the most lean and sensible portion – the utilities and staff.
For his idea to work, Friedman came to realize there must be an on-site, profit-generating mechanism atypical of capitalistic goals. Instead of profit going to the ownership, profit would cover the costs
So the largest building became The Hangar Bar, which covers Friedman’s other costs without heaping them on the small businesses. And like the other six buildings, this bar only sells locally produced brands, in this case from 13 local distilleries, seven local wineries and 20 breweries – all within two hours of Cleveland. The snacks are local too.
“So when you come in and ask for your Tito’s and soda, we tell you we don’t have Tito’s, but how we have a bunch of these local vodkas,” he said. “We explain which ones we think are great and why, we pull a bottle off the shelf, we show it to you, we let you smell it, and tell you where you can go and buy it and get it and that’s what happens. People from our bar are going to local stores now and buying these local products and supporting these brands after discovering it here.”
The Hangar Bar offers flight-themed cocktails, classics like the Aviation and Paper Plane, and originals, such as Swift Stream and Oh for Flying Out Loud. Alcoholic beverages are allowed to be carried on the grounds. Often diners waiting for a table at Chef Douglas Katz’s Indian-themed restaurant Amba, which is next door, wander over to The Hangar for a drink and meander through the shops. City Goods handles management, such as remitting sales tax, staff scheduling and dealing with liability insurance; even credit card fees. The small business owner pays one monthly rate based on the square footage rented, which includes utilities and an employee staffing each building.
Unlike many artists and artisans who pay a commission to sell their goods in an established shop, here the business owner gets 100% of the sales. Not even credit card fees are deducted, he said.
“We wanted to take all of the burden off the business owner, that’s a huge deal, take the burden off the business owner, and open the door for opportunity,” he said. “City Goods is a model for supporting small business. City Goods is about conscious consumerism. City Goods is about the person at the top not needing to generate a profit and allowing that to be the sustainable wealth that goes back into the business owners. That’s City Goods. We hope it’s a new model that support is possible and not difficult.”
Each building is individually heated and cooled, so businesses are open year round, six days a week. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 to 7 p.m. Sunday. The bar is open later on the same days. The shops and bar are closed Monday.
Hours could change in the spring and summer. Friedman also said City Goods will host an outdoor popup market every weekend from May through September.
He carefully vetted the businesses in the shops. Friedman did not want overlap, but he did want to support the underserved small business community, which is the biggest goal here, he said. And within the small business community there are underserved owners.
"Women bear the brunt of not being able to succeed because they don’t have the fair tools the rest of us have,” he said. “Within that community, minority women bear even a further brunt. And it just goes on and on. God forbid you’re a gay minority woman. God help you in your business. We look at that and say that support structure is absurd. The whole thing should be an even playing field and since it’s not, I have no qualms coming in a little belligerently on the other end to say, ‘OK, if that’s the picture over here, let’s just paint the opposite picture here so that it actually balances out.”
City Goods has 19 single-female-owned businesses. Six of the 24 are minority owned. Friedman said he and his associate Liz Painter went looking for small business owners who are often overlooked and got an opportunity first. They first approached every community development corporation in the city. Two months later, applications were made available to the general public.
Friedman came to the City Goods model from the perspective of a small local business owner trying to get noticed. His mother, Ida Friedman Kasdan, launched Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Co. after concocting an all-natural soap in her kitchen in Chagrin Falls.
Orders were coming in via the internet, and she needed help. The family business grew. She enticed her son in 2007 to come home from Madrid, where he had gone after quitting teaching at the Agnon School in Beachwood three years earlier.
They added more products and moved into the garage and then into a warehouse in Solon in 2012. They eventually took over the whole warehouse. They now have 20 staff members and ship 400 different products to all 50 states and 100 countries.
Despite their online success, Friedman said he found no one knew the company locally. So starting in 2014, he embarked on a mission to get into local stores and set up local weekend markets. In 2016 they opened a retail store in the 5th Street Arcades just off Public Square.
His efforts worked. They became part of the small business fabric in Cleveland. But the retail store never took off.
“We had rough times and rougher times, but never great times because people don’t come in there,” he said.
The shop made enough money to pay rent, so they left it open as an advertising tool.
And then he picked up a paper and saw a rendering of Veysey’s plans for the Creative Hangars. Friedman recognized that this also presented an opportunity for Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve.
Friedman closed the 5th Street Arcade store late in 2022 a few months after he had opened Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve in Hangar 1. He said he has done more in sales in 90 days at the Hangar than he did in nearly two years at the Arcade.
Developer Graham Veysey said the last six months showed him that there’s a real demand for local artisan entrepreneurs who are sharing their wares in a concentrated place that already has local businesses.
“It’s really great,” Veysey said. “We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Artist Beth Keenan of Lakewood, owner of Funktini Land, just recently opted to rent all of Hangar 3 so she could expand what she offers. Business has been great. She quit her full-time job at Nature’s Oasis in Lakewood at the end of October so she could work full-time at her hangar. She has cards, paintings, prints and other work from 30 different artists for sale.
“It’s amazing to me how many people in Cleveland and surrounding areas support local,” the 44-year old Lakewood resident said. “The amount of the community that has come out, even in bad weather, and come through and enjoy the spaces, the art and locally made work. It still amazes me. Cleveland is a beautiful town to live in and have a business in.”