Zagara's Marketplace was a CH citizen
With Dave’s Market now open on Lee Road, it occurred to me that a Cleveland Heights tradition like Zagara’s Marketplace should not just fade into the past without notice.
Zagara’s was a sort of citizen of the city, and should be recognized as such.
My son started working at Zagara’s when he was still in high school and the store was located at Lee and Yorkshire roads. I have learned that [his employment] was by no means unique.
In fact, John Zagara prioritized hiring Heights High students because he thought that it was important for them to gain work experience. My son’s work at Zagara’s prepared him for a 30-plus-year career in the grocery business. No doubt many other employees trained first at Zagara’s have gone on to successful careers.
John Zagara also hired many employees with mental illness, working closely with Magnolia Clubhouse to find potential employees who may not have found jobs elsewhere.
One thing that always struck me about Zagara’s was the wide variety of inventory they carried—items like mustards or oils or rice or pasta. The store didn’t just carry one brand, but many.
I thought Zagara’s had the best party trays, and their specialty baked goods were exceptional. When my wife was preparing holiday meals, she knew she could work with the meat department to get just the right lamb leg or standing rib roast.
I haven’t a clue about John Zagara’s politics, but I do know that he supports democracy. This, because John frequently allowed signature gathering for non-partisan political issues in the store’s lobby. I myself petitioned at Zagara’s for Move to Amend’s Issue 32, various Greater Cleveland Congregations’ petitioning campaigns, and others. And our local League of Women Voters regularly registered voters there.
Zagara’s Marketplace was one more aspect of our city’s uniqueness, like Cain Park. Try to find another city that had its own local independent supermarket—not part of a chain.
Zagara’s advertised in many local publications, supporting local organizations and events.
Of course, the company made a considerable investment in Cleveland Heights a couple decades ago, in moving to the new building that carried Zagara’s name until the recent sale.
When I was vacationing in southern Italy, a few years back, I saw more than one store or restaurant that displayed a Zagara’s sign, which of course I took pictures of. I never showed those to John, but to me they were a measure of my connection to a local business that was more than just a supermarket in the city where I live.
When my wife’s dementia caused her to pick up items in the store and walk out without paying, I knew I could discuss the situation with John without censure or legal proceedings.
None of this is a knock on Dave’s, also a local family-run supermarket. They may maintain some of these same valued policies, though I doubt Dave’s will be a Cleveland Heights citizen in quite the same way. I just don’t know because I don’t have much experience with the store. But I guess I will, now that John Zagara has sought a well-deserved retirement.
Sure, Zagara’s was a business with a profit motive, but let’s not have a community institution ride off into the sunset without a word. We need to express our gratitude. Say “Thank you. We noticed. We appreciated you.”
Dean Sieck has been a CH resident for 47 years. A former board member and president of HRRC (then FHC Housing), and a former member of Forest Hill Homeowners Executive Committee and Standards Comittee, he is a member of Forest Hill Church. Sieck enjoys gardening, canning, and writing poems.