Heinen's Comes to Downtown Cleveland, Part 1: A Business Gamble

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Heinen’s was actually pretty close to building a downtown store in 2008 but then the economy collapsed. The population level then wasn't as large as now and co-owner Jeff Heinen says developers wanted too much for rent.

"One of the reasons that previous attempts have not worked out for us to locate downtown is that the person that’s developing wants the grocery story to be a prime revenue generator for them."

But then developers Fred and Greg Geis approached Heinen and his brother Tom and offered the Cleveland Trust building. It’s part of their new hotel and apartment complex known as The 9. Tom and Jeff Heinen couldn't pass up the opportunity to do something in the iconic domed building at East 9th and Euclid. Jeff says their parents were customers of the old Cleveland Trust Corporation.

Heinen: "When I was a kid I remember going in there with my mom."

Urycki: "In that particular...?"

Heinen: "In that particular [branch] - oh yeah, absolutely. Not that kids are all that observant. Probably I could not have told you it had a stained glass ceiling or those murals but I could have told you in terms of the magnitude of the space and the feeling of the space it was very memorable."

The stained glass dome is more than 60 feet in diameter and flies 85 feet above the main floor. Thirteen murals surround its base depicting early European settlers building farms, exploring, and trading with Indians. They were painted by artist Francis Davis Millet who also painted murals for Cleveland’s main post office and later died aboard the Titanic.

Under the dome is a colonnade of marble pillars which meant banking in the round. The trouble is, today’s grocery businesses prefer squares and rectangles. And the bank seems to have had doors everywhere. Turns out there will be at least three entrances and exits for the grocery store. The usable space is about 25% less than a typical suburban Heinen’s store and it will cost more to operate.

"The aisles will be tight, very tight and we won’t have readily available parking. No parking in a suburban environment generally does not spell success but we think in an urban environment people are used to that."

But the younger customers downtown are also likely to buy less. Whether the business can attract enough customers to be viable is not a sure thing.

"We felt we wanted to make that investment even though maybe it won’t be the smartest thing we ever did. But that’s kind of our commitment, being a Cleveland company and wanting to see it succeed."

Heinen’s will place seats and tables in the round space under the dome. That allows the company to focus on one of its strengths: prepared food. And they’re hoping to attract the lunchtime crowd and be considered a destination for people downtown.

Jeff Heinen admits his company may not get everything right in serving the downtown customer base but he says they’re willing to spend the money to fix any mistakes.

"As life-long Clevelanders, my brother and I just saw this as a chance to invest in the city that we live in and the city grew up in and try and make it be successful."

Heinen’s has been in business for 85 years. The downtown store is scheduled to open next month.

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