Light up Lee Road
On a recent beautiful early summer evening, my friend and I walked from our yoga class to the Stone Oven Bakery for a salad. Three adjacent blocks of Lee Road hosted tables filled with people from all over, dining at Taste, Anatolia, TavCo, Phoenix Coffee, Black Box Fix, or tasting at The Wine Spot. I am sure the patio behind the Colony was jumping, too. Just a few steps beyond this vibrant scene, there are storefront windows covered with paper and “for rent” signs.
I know there are funds waiting for completion of a streetscape infrastructure improvement plan. Perhaps there are scores of people behind the scenes working on an economic development plan to revitalize Lee Road. In the meantime, here are some ideas that would light up Lee for residents and visitors alike:
1. Vacant storefronts: When I was director of Heights Arts, my colleague Andrea Joki created a project to enliven vacant storefronts with colorful banners. The idea is not no-cost, but it is low-cost. Here are some ideas for banners that would be colorful and reflective of Cleveland Heights as Home to the Arts: Ask the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Museum of Art if they would like to hang banners in empty storefronts. Reproduce art made in the art classes of neighborhood schools. Create a series of photographs of local bands or musicians, or artists and their work. Publish local poetry with a picture of the poet. Display plans for the streetscape renovations. You get the idea.
2. Lights: String lights from post to post down the street. At night, the Cedar Lee Theatre and Heights Arts, and even CVS, create an active space, but walking down the street past the vacant Meadowbrook lot to the other vibrant end of Lee Road is dreary. It would feel festive and safe with twinkling lights.
3. Murals: The mural behind the Cedar Lee Theatre transformed a dull parking lot into a vibrant entryway to the district. The wall on the Ameritech building adjacent to the CVS parking lot and the TavCo wall on Kensington Road are begging for murals.
4. Vacant land: Make some effort to plant something, such as a native garden, on a portion of the empty Meadowbrook lot. Yes, mowing is easy but it’s been more than 15 years that the lot has been unproductive. A community garden would be great on a year-to-year basis, as we wait for development.
Would owners of vacant storefronts provide local entrepreneurs an opportunity to create small boutique businesses on the street? Perhaps offer a year of free rent to those with sound business plans? Cleveland Cinema’s Jon Forman allowed a bunch of artists to open a pop-up holiday store 15 years ago, and look at Heights Arts today. I know that retail is endangered by online shopping, but could there be unique local shops that local residents would support? Survey residents and ask, what would they buy in person, instead of online? A store that offered rain barrels, compost bins, mason bee houses, recycled products, organic gardening and chicken coop supplies, bird seed, etc., would be a big hit with me. I miss the thrift shop. Maybe the local nonprofits could get together and run one, dividing the profits. A retail store offering regionally created furniture would be awesome. Artist studios. Maybe retail is dead, but at least make an effort.
I happily worked on Lee Road for 13 wonderful years. I live nearby. I’m tired of seeing inaction and windows covered with paper on vacant storefronts, as if nobody cares. Residents and businesses rallied together around the concept of “We are a Colony” after the tragic death of Jim Brennan. Why not now build on the vibrant scene I witnessed on a warm summer night?
Peggy Spaeth writes about Heights residents and their impact locally, regionally and worldwide.