Community rallies in support of Brennan's employees and family
In the week since Jim Brennan was shot at his Lee Road restaurant, the Heights community has rallied to honor his memory, and in support of his family and employees.
An impromptu memorial of flowers and messages has grown outside of Brennan’s Colony since news spread of the June 30 shooting, and Brennan’s subsequent death, and an estimated 1,200 gathered in a community candlelight vigil the following night.
At Brennan's memorial service, held at Church of the Gesu on July 5, Mike Elliott, his best friend from their years together at Gilmour Academy, shared words of remembrance. Elliott quoted a line from a poem his brother sent to him, titled "J.B.", that resonated with those in attendance: "They stole from us something they could have had for free"—referring to Brennan's welcoming smile. In lieu of flowers, the family encouraged contributions to Rose-Mary Center or the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
A GoFundMe account, created on July 2 by Rebecca Smolenski with the goal of raising $25,000—enough to cover two weeks of wages for Brennan’s Colony staff—has so far raised $47,648, almost double its original goal. More than $33,000 was donated in less than 24 hours, with 877 donations made to date.
A group of four women, who have been gathering for dinner at Brennan's Colony each week, for the past seven years, designed limited-edition T-shirts with the phrase, "We Are a Colony" silk-screened on the front. To date, more than 700 have been sold, with proceeds to be donated to the Cedar Lee Merchants Association in honor of Jim Brennan. The T-shirts will also be offered for sale at the July 19 Cookout for the Colony event (see below for details). For more information, visit www.facebook.com/weareacolonytshirt.
Community members have come out to support other business owners as well. “The local community has responded with outstanding support,” said Kelley Robinson, director of the Cedar Lee Special Improvement District. “The street was packed with people last week.”
Keith Logan, the owner of Sweetie Fry, located just across the street from Brennan’s Colony, said that while his business was down about 15 percent last week from the previous year, it may have been due to weather or other factors. “Thursday was rainy, but Tuesday and Wednesday were especially busy,” he said.
Logan said that he was impressed by the community response. “Rather than locking the doors and drawing the curtains, people came out and were together to try to sort this out and to try to knit our community together from having been torn.” He said that building new relationships one at a time was the key to rebuilding community. “Beat cops and the youth of the neighborhood should know each other by name,” he said.
Logan said that the city has reached out to Lee Road business owners to discuss specific tactics to enhance security in the area and help the small businesses increase security within their own organizations.
Heights business owners in turn are working to raise money in Brennan’s honor.
Today, on July 8, nine Coventry Village businesses will participate in Coventry for Brennan’s Colony Day, and donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the day’s sales to the GoFundMe account established for Brennan’s Colony staff, "and/or other funds established to memorialize Jim Brennan." Angela Hetrick, executive director of the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, said in an online post, “As neighbors, friends, business owners and members of the Cleveland Heights community, we’re deeply affected by the tragic loss of Jim Brennan.”
Participating Coventry businesses are: Avalon Exchange, bd’s Mongolian Grill, Big Fun, B Side Liquor Lounge & Arcade, City Buddha, Coventry Cats, Crazy Mullets, Grog Shop, Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry. Hetrick noted that many Coventry merchants not listed “have donated personally or on behalf of their businesses.”
On July 19, 4–8 p.m., a Cookout for the Colony will take place at Church of the Saviour, 2537 Lee Road, featuring food, a DJ, activities for children, a silent auction and “We Are a Colony” T-shirts (to be sold 4–6 p.m. only).
According to Rita Cerne, who, with her brother Stephen, is organizing the event, proceeds will go to Brennan’s family and business, to help cover the rent and other business expenses that arise while Brennan’s Colony remains closed.
Stephen Cerne, now a resident of Hudson, came up with the idea for the Cookout for the Colony. The Cerne siblings grew up in Cleveland Heights, where Rita still lives with her family, and have been friends with Brennan’s Colony manager Aran Keenan since they were children.
“We both love the community, and decided to do a cookout that is open to all,” said Rita.
Both residents and businesses are donating items for the cookout’s silent auction, including tattoos, workout sessions with personal trainers and gift baskets. One donation is coming from an Akron business owner whose family lived in Cleveland Heights; she is sending a basket of cupcakes. Sweetie Fry is donating ice cream, to be sold for $2 a scoop, and Edible Arrangements has offered chocolates for the bake sale.
Anyone interested in making a donation, or volunteering at the July 19 event, can contact the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Sergio Inglis
Kim Sergio Inglis is editor-in-chief of the Heights Observer. She lives in the Shaker Farm Historic District in Cleveland Heights. Deanna Bremer Fisher and Andrea C. Turner contributed to this story.