The czar of Starbucks

Allen Friedlander enjoys his domain as a the czar of Starbucks.  Photo credit: Tom Woodworth.

Anyone who frequents the Cedar-Fairmount Starbucks knows who Allen Friedlander is, either by name or sight: he's the cheerful man in the power chair.

He's a longtime Heights resident. In high school at Cleveland Heights High, Allen was stocky, muscular, and interested in all sports. In his 20s, he started taking weightlifting seriously and could bench press 400 hundred pounds. After college at Ohio State and CSU, Allen became a self-taught artist specializing in laboriously created freehand pencil-on-paper drawings of professional athletes. Eventually his artwork, rendered from historic photographs of the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Brown, Lou Groza and others, became nationally famous. Each was sold as a signed and numbered lithograph.

All this started to slowly unravel about 10 years ago when Allen was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. As walking became increasingly difficult he relied on crutches and later a walker, and eventually the battery-powered chair he uses today. In time the disease forced him to abandon his artwork, but not his network of friends.

Now 55, Allen daily navigates his power chair the 100 yards to Starbucks from his apartment on Lennox Road where he has lived for 25 years (and is known as the Mayor of Lennox). For the next eight hours you’ll find him in another role, as the Czar of Starbucks.

Pete Waters, a home-based marketing executive for Proctor and Gamble and a morning regular in the coffee shop says, “Allen is more stimulating than a good cup of coffee. Our conversations are always interesting. You can talk with him over a wide range of topics more than most people I know.”

That’s one reason his circle of friends is huge. Around mid-day he returns to his apartment for lunch and then back to the coffee house to spend time with the afternoon crowd.

His sense of humor is acerbic and sharp. Once, when asked what he talks about all day, he smiled and said, “I talk sports with the women and women with the men.”

Allen uses a careful program of exercise and rest to combat MS symptoms, bench-pressing 115 pounds for five reps and riding his Schwinn Airdyne stationary bike for 20 minutes, and he can do more now than he could three years ago. His occupational therapist calls this exercise regimen exceptional for an MS patient Allen's age. Allen sums up his motivation to exercise and socialize in simple terms, “That’s all I have going for me. If I don’t work out that’s one day closer to possibly being bedridden and I don’t want to be in that place. And if I don’t socialize I could easily become isolated in my apartment. I love people too much for that to happen. My world may be small but I make the most of it.”

Jeff Birdwell, store manager at Starbucks says, “My day gets started right when I see the smile on Allen’s face and a sparkle in his eye.” Stop into Starbucks and say hello to the czar. He’ll give you a big smile and you’ll be the better for it.

Tom Woodworth is a retired advertising and public relations professional and currently volunteers as a business counselor with SCORE.

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Volume 2, Issue 2, Posted 1:58 PM, 01.19.2009