There goes the neighborhood—again

The author, on Coventry, in the 1970s

A few tattoo parlors have popped up in Cleveland Heights in the past year or so. And I’ve been hearing more and more people complaining about them. People around my age. But I’m not one of them, for a few reasons.

The first one is that it doesn’t matter to me, because, you know—who cares? Why should I, or you, care? If someone—someone who is not you—gets a tattoo, it doesn’t hurt you or do you any harm.

Second, getting tattoos is a big fad right now; people of all ages are getting them. And, I need to add, people of all races are getting them—because I know that’s a concern of many old white people. I’ve heard and overheard conversations about that. But white people are getting tattoos, too, in at least equal numbers—so don’t worry that your neighborhood will change in ways that you would rather it didn’t.

Third, done by a good tattoo artist, tattoos can be works of art. If you’d prefer to see works of art applied to paper or canvas or wood, you can go to a museum or gallery. The fad may fade (if not the tattoos themselves). But there’s no need to worry about it, either way. There are bigger concerns in the world today. Much bigger.

Fourth, the 1960s. That’s my main reason. Because exactly 50 years ago, June 1966, I was one of those hippie kids hanging out on Coventry Road, in what has since become known as Coventry Village—because we hippie kids, who were disparaged and despised at the time, turned the area into enough of a tourist attraction that it needed a name, like “Coventry Village.” If you’ve ever wondered why the city does not allow overnight parking on the streets of Cleveland Heights, it’s because it was one of the ways they tried to get rid of us—by discouraging overnight staying, including partying and sleeping, at each other’s places (even though the hippie population had, by far, the lowest percentage of cars).

The stage was set for the Coventry revolution in 1964, when Morrie and Sandra Leeds opened an antiques shop called 1864, at 1864 Coventry. They found an antique soda fountain and installed it permanently in the store. Then they started serving egg creams at that counter. Then they introduced Sunday-afternoon hootenannies. That’s the short version, but despite what anyone else may theorize and tell you, this is how it all started. I was there.

So hippies and older beatniks started hanging out on Coventry, and one-by-one all of the old Jewish delis, butcher shops, fish markets and bakeries—and a furrier and a couple of places that were obviously fronts for something (like the mysterious Henry’s “toy” store, that contained no toys of any kind and every time kids walked in they were shooed away by these two big mean guys)—moved out, to be replaced by hippie shops. To be clear, these hippie shops were not shops that sold hippies; they were stores that catered to hippies’ needs, like groovy clothes, “head” shop supplies, records, incense, and things like that.

In a couple of years, most of them were supplanted by more-upscale versions of those kinds of stores, but for a while it was pretty purely a hippie paradise (other than the constant harassment by police and pretty much anyone over the age of something older than we were). Other than our general outlook on life and our attitude about life and living, which were not visible, the way people knew we were hippies was by looking at us and observing the way we dressed and wore our hair—which were visible. People actually yelled at us because of the way we looked. They swore at us. Some tried to spit on us and hit us. Because of the way we looked—and whatever they thought that meant.

And when those original hippie shops opened, many of the older residents in the area complained that the neighborhood was going to hell.

We didn’t have tattoos. We had long hair (you know . . . a few years before the people who spat on us because of our long hair grew their own hair long because it became fashionable). I’ve never gotten a tattoo, and I don’t really like the way they look. But I’m never going to complain about them, or about the places you go to get them, or about those places moving into my neighborhood. My memory is intact and I’m just not going to do that.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 5:52 PM, 05.31.2016