City Buddha: Coventry's exotic marketplace
Back in 1997, Larry Collins was going through one of those transitional phases in life. He had been booking bands at Peabody’s DownUnder for more than a decade, but he was getting tired of the music business and felt it was time for a change.
“I needed to shake some stuff loose,” he said. Collins decided to go to Indonesia. He traveled around Southeast Asia for a few months, and he brought some Indonesian items with him when he returned to Cleveland. It turned out that his friends loved the things he had gotten in Indonesia, mostly sculptures, so he went back six weeks later and filled a large container with many items, including jewelry, clothing and artwork.
Then, in 1998, Collins began selling his Asian items at the Open-Air in Market Square near the West Side Market in Ohio City. Shortly after that, he opened his first City Buddha store on West 25th Street, and the rest is history.
City Buddha is now located on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. The store has been there since 2005, when Collins decided that he didn’t want to renew his lease on the West Side store. “West 25th Street wasn’t happening then, and I grew up here,” he said. “I was a Coventry kid in the '70s, and I hung out here a lot.” In fact, Collins was born in Cleveland Heights and attended Wiley Junior High and Cleveland Heights High School. He now lives in the North Collinwood area of Cleveland.
The store, which filled the space formerly occupied by the Cleveland Food Co-Op, is huge, and it is filled with jewelry, clothing, musical instruments, incense, furniture and many other things, virtually all of which were made in Southeast Asia. “It’s like being in an exotic marketplace,” Collins, who’s now 55, said of the store. He and his wife, Rai, who he met in Bali, still travel to Asia every year, spending two or three months there to locate new items to sell in the store. “When we are overseas,” Collins said, “we work 12 hours a day, discovering new items, buying them and arranging the shipping.”
Among the unique items in the store are the various tables and chairs that are made out of reclaimed teak wood; the hand-carved Buddha statues that are made in Bali; the batiks, which are hand-painted cloth wall hangings; the silk scarves; the musical instruments, which include whistles, thunder sticks and flutes; the ceramic animals; the blown-bubble terrariums, vases and aquariums, which are made in Indonesia; the incense, including a City Buddha brand that is from Indonesia; and the artwork, including paintings from Bali. The store also recently started carrying greeting cards. More than half of City Buddha’s sales come from fine jewelry, including earrings, rings, necklaces and other items.
Though he has thought about opening another City Buddha, Collins said he has no plans to open another store at this time. He said there are no other similar stores in Cleveland. “A lot of tourists come through here,” he said, “and they say they have never seen a store like this anywhere.”
In addition to City Buddha, Collins also has a Facebook page called "I Grew Up in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio in the 60s, 70s and 80s." People post photos and other items about Cleveland’s past. “I was in Thailand, and I was really homesick, so I decided to start this page. And in three days, there were more than 500 [people] posting stuff,” he said.
City Buddha is his main focus, however, and he loves it. “It’s great bringing something new to Cleveland,” said Collins, “and it’s great being here on Coventry.”
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.