Historical trends have forced retail out of downtown, leaving few options for shoppers

Posted: 6:33 PM, Nov 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-30 23:33:56Z
Historical trends have forced retail out of downtown, leaving few options for shoppers

Clevelanders can't walk more than a few steps on East 4th Street without being near a new restaurant. Experts say that's why it works.

"East 4th with one restaurant wouldn't be a thing," said Downtown Cleveland Residents Association President Jonathan Whigham. "But because you have so many options right there, it's become a district. People know that's where you go to eat."

People walk through East 4th Street during the middle of the day, around fences usually filled with customers when the weather is warmer.

But when shoppers go downtown, there's no similar place where major retailers are clustered together.

"I think there needs to be a base of business and a base of people that live down here," said Glen Bartley, who works downtown.

The May Company Building is getting renovated after serving as a department store from 1915 until 1993, according to Cleveland Historical .

"Now that it's Christmas time, I'm going to have to go far out to go shopping," said Emily Oswald, who has lived downtown for two years. "With the weather being bad, it's going to be hard."

Jack Casino decorated along Public Square in the way the Higbee's might have looked when it was open.

Cleveland State Professor Dr. Robert Simons says it all started in the 1950s. Americans bought more cars, making them more mobile, and letting them move out of the city.

"At that point, shopping was all downtown," said Dr. Simons. "It all dispersed into the suburbs."

That's where bigger malls were built and still stand.

"You're going to need a critical mass of those stores," said Dr. Simons. "You can't just put one single clothing store up, or a shoe store. Those things have to be packed together, or at least that's the traditional model."

That's what shoppers find east or west of the city. Whigham says what's downtown now, like the Galleria or Tower City, meets some shopping needs but it's minimal. He points out that there are a few CVS stores downtown, but still no pharmacy that is open after 6 p.m.

Lights on trees around Public Square illuminate the space after dark during the winter.

"Some of those suburban expectations, you don't get downtown yet," said Whigham.

Meeting those expectations might not be so far away.

The real estate company, Alto Partners, closed this summer on three buildings along Euclid Avenue. Now, they're preparing to put in apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space on the street. 

Old retail space is renovated as part of the "Euclid Grand" project along Euclid Avenue. It's expected to have 20,000 square feet of retail.

"There are people living down here no that are saying they wish that we had more retail," said Alto Partners' Managing Partner Michael Sobracos. "Our job is to get out there and market that to the national retailers."

Experts say the big retailers you find at malls won't start taking downtown Cleveland seriously until about 20,000 people live there. Sobracos and Whigham say that might happen in the next few years. 

In the meantime, communities in the suburbs are holding a variety of shopping events this weekend. You can find information about them below.

Shaker Heights - Van Aken District Chill and Toast
Rocky River Holiday Walk
Beachwood Place Winter Wonderland Festival