Sal Russo appeals for help to bring grocery store to Cedar-Fairmount

On March 19, Sal V. Russo, whose family owns the Cedar-Fairmount building that once housed Russo's, Giant Eagle and Dave's supermarkets, wrote an open letter to the community explaining efforts over the past three years to bring another grocery store to that location—and asking for help to support one last-chance opportunity. 

In the lengthy letter (full version provided here), Russo names 19 retailers—most of them grocery chains—that have declined to take over the space. That list includes Heinen's and Trader Joe's, both of which he said gave the location serious consideration. 

Heinen's ultimately turned down the opportunity because of the high cost to reconfigure the space to meet its needs, Russo wrote. The original Heinen's proposal included a $2 million Vibrant Community Grant, from a state fund allocated through city governments. But that proposal had to be rewritten after the city of Cleveland Heights redirected the grant toward the Taylor Tudor project on South Taylor Road, according to Russo.

Trader Joe's closed the door on any possibility of using the space due to its desire for a location that would be convenient for not only Cleveland Heights residents, but also those in University Heights and Shaker Heights. 

"The reality [is] that our building is 100 years old and not configured for today’s [grocery store] formats," Russo wrote, summarizing concerns prospective tenants have expressed about the location. "We do not have a way to provide ground-level dock access; and operators do not want a basement or a mezzanine—they want higher ceilings, fewer columns and less constraints."

Now, Russo wrote, there is one remaining prospect: Grocery Outlet, a discount grocery chain headquartered in California with more than 400 stores—the nearest of which is located in Boardman, Ohio, near Youngstown. But he wrote that, without financial support from the city, the deal is unlikely to come through. 

"We have a willing partner, right now, with Grocery Outlet," Russo wrote. "In the interest of transparency, I will also share this with you. With the contract from Grocery Outlet that’s on the table right now, the Dave’s space will generate half the rent it did in 2013. We are willing to accept that. However, given the continued rise of property taxes and inflation, the lease package in front of Grocery Outlet simply isn’t sustainable without upfront assistance from the city. . . . [R]egrettably, the city of Cleveland Heights has not committed to providing the financial support necessary to make this vision a reality."

Russo concluded: "We’ve exhausted every possibility to find a full-service grocery store for this location—and we implore you to lend your help and support by contacting City Hall to tell them of your support and urging them to reconsider their stance and allocate a $1 million subsidy to support this endeavor. Your voices carry immense weight in shaping the decisions of our city leaders."

Bob Rosenbaum

Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum helps run the Heights Observer, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.

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Volume 17, Issue 4, Posted 9:45 AM, 03.22.2024