shopping and dining downtown

Ask most Clevelanders about their earliest memories  growing up here, and guaranteed you’ll hear something about downtown shopping. For me, it was regular visits to May Co. and Higbee’s, with routine lunch stops at The Silver Grille and picking up post-shopping treats at Hough Bakery (but only if we were good and didn’t rush my mom!). I remember when The Galleria was built – and shopping at the only local Banana Republic (when they were still safari-themed) as well as Tower City. And while I wasn’t around prior to 1976, I can vividly picture my mom and her mom shopping downtown because I’ve heard the same stories over and over. How they’d get all dressed up and visit one department store after another, buying hats, accessories, shoes, dresses, make-up and more. There was no need to ever go anywhere else because Cleveland had it all right here and was the envy of other cities.

And as I got older, like a lot of families, we started spending less and less time shopping downtown and instead supporting Randall Mall and Beachwood Place (the original glass elevator in the center of Beachwood was, in my opinion, the coolest thing as a kid). Which of course is part of the reason why things started to reshape – not the main, but certainly a driver.

As I  start raising my own family, I find myself constantly thinking about my childhood and wanting them to experience all that I did, including constant trips downtown and taking advantage of all our city has to offer, both in terms of food and shopping. We regularly support some of the retail shops in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, like Tremont,  Ohio City and even Little Italy. But I can’t tell you the last time I intentionally went shopping downtown (and truthfully, the last time I walked through Tower City or Galleria, I was more disturbed than anything). That is, until this past Friday night. On Friday night, we did something I hope to do much more of – we enjoyed a fantastic dinner then went shopping.

Our perfect Cleveland evening started out at the soon-to-open Noodlecat, where chef Lee Anne Wong temporarily took over the kitchen  with her Easy Japaneasy menu (the Sawyers are having some pre-opening fun with pop-up restaurants prior to the mid-July official opening with Wong and Chris Hodgson).

Because we were dining with toddler in tow, we didn’t have the luxury of time to sit back and enjoy the tasting menu, which is what I wanted. Instead, I had the Asian egg salad with bonito aioli, marinated salmon roe and crispy shallots; and udon stir fry that Natalie and I split with cabbage, tons of ginger and bacon.

I don’t know how else to describe her food other than unbelievable. Every bite was perfect and far exceeded expectations. And those were easily the best udon noodles I’ve ever sampled. Even Natalie shed a tear when we were finished. What an experience and what a treat to participate in this pop-up. I hope lots of you took advantage of it. I also really liked the decor – very simple yet well-stated and completely conducive for great conversation and chatting with fellow diners and making new friends.

Post dinner, we made our first of many visits to the newly opened Dredgers Union on E 4th, launched by my friend Danielle DeBoe and partner Sean Bilovecky. I know Dredgers Union isn’t the only retail store downtown as there are certainly other places to shop and support. And I know saying Dredgers Union is like shopping of the past is also a stretch. But it’s the start of something, and not many people have had the courage to tackle retail like this downtown, and I don’t believe many people other than Danielle could succeed (talk about determination and passion – the girl moved to E 4th earlier this year just so she could get a first-hand view of the people that frequent the area so she’d know who to buy for).

This is the type of store that I’d support, that my whole family would support. This is the type of retail experience I’ve been hoping for for downtown so we can actively support more of downtown other than restaurants, sports and plays.

Dredgers Union is a mix between J. Crew and Anthropologie with a touch of Fishs Eddy. All reasonably priced, lots made locally and all styles/accessories I’d easily wear. This is not a hipster store. There were things in there for my kids (bought something for my soon-to-be-born-daughter), lots Jamie would sport and plenty I could see buying my folks as gifts. Not to mention all the great finds for the home. We were impressed. To think that this space was once actually a small department store decades ago and is now once again bringing people back to the streets downtown with the intent to shop is simply fantastic.

I recognize we are still far away from many of those experiences we recall from our youth or have heard so much about. But things are changing downtown. We have all seen it, heard about it and are even experiencing it. And not just with the food and retail scenes – but many other happenings as well. Slow to take shape, yes, but the rebirth is happening. There are  many great opportunities underway and planned – how can anyone not be excited to be a Clevelander right now?


  1. Posted June 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Loved this post. I moved to Cleveland after retail left for the most part so am excited to check out Dredgers Union during breaks at work.

    In regards to the Noodlecat popups — great idea on the part of the Sawyers! I’m going to Hodgson’s popup in July and can’t wait.

  2. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I have the exact same feelings about memories of downtown shopping (since I’m younger I only really remember Tower City). Thats why last fall in one of my history classes at CSU I researched the peak and fall of Cleveland’s downtown department stores. I made a short youtube documentary vid to complement my research. Its a nice reminder of what Cleveland once was, and hopefully will be again soon.

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