Heinen's quiet message: you are worthy of this divine space

The buzz surrounding Heinen's grand opening last Wednesday included the predictable photos and fawning. Stories were written; tweets were twittered. Local dignitaries narrated the ribbon cutting with wholly earned praise for one of the area's most highly anticipated projects.

Amid all the hubbub, one challenge in a Facebook post from Cleveland Yelp guru Cara Lageson caught Fresh Water's attention.

Question: How do you explain the entire population of Cleveland losing their minds over a grocery store to your colleagues from cities around the world?

Answer: You can't.

Actually, Cara, we're going to try.

Simply put, the downtown Heinen's has elevated the universal act of dropping a can of corn or a box of cereal into a shopping cart to divine heights. And no, that is not hyperbole. Where else can you order a pound of bologna under an arching Tiffany-style stained glass rotunda, or dither over single- or double-ply before the watchful eye of Francis Millet's Ohio settlers?

We have become so accustomed to stepping into unattractive and cheaply built big box stores that the idea of shopping as anything other than drudgery has all but vanished. They want our money; we need their stuff. Transaction complete
Not so at the new Heinen's. This family is glad you're here. These people respect you before you've spent a single dime. They know you are worthy of this beautiful space and so is their grocery business. After all, they spent $10 million to deliver it unto Cleveland in all of its stunning glory.

To celebrate that lofty assertion, Heinen's wine merchandiser Ed Thompkins offered up samples of Moet Champagne at the opening for the pauper's price of 25 cents each. That's saying something considering the regular price per bottle is $68.99.

Let them drink wine, indeed, and to that end, plenty of people were toasting the dazzling endeavor, but not exclusively with bubbly.
<span class="content-image-text">Jennifer Coleman - photo Erin O'Brien</span>Jennifer Coleman - photo Erin O'Brien 
"For preservationists today," remarked Cleveland Landmarks Commission chair Jennifer Coleman, "it's a Mardi Gras-style holiday. I wish there were beads that we could throw."

Heinen's Joe Boscarello from the produce department didn't have any beads to toss amid the crowd, but he did have a suggestion on what to eat.

"Try a sumo orange. It's a nice big orange, easy to peel. They're the sweetest oranges, very juicy." But are they fresh? "We get deliveries five days a week. We do whatever we can to get the freshest stuff possible."
<span class="content-image-text">Noelle Celeste - photo Erin O'Brien</span>Noelle Celeste - photo Erin O'Brien 
Local foodie and Edible Cleveland publisher Noelle Celeste found more than just oranges to laud.

"When you have a family business not only in Cleveland--but in the center of Cleveland--contributing to the food community here, it is just spectacular," she said. "What I love about Heinen's is that community isn't an afterthought for them."

The same goes for meat manager Scott Boggs. Afterthoughts have no place in his corner of the 27,000-square-foot store.
<span class="content-image-text">Meat merchandiser Doug Candow and meat manager Scott Boggs - photo Erin O'Brien</span>Meat merchandiser Doug Candow and meat manager Scott Boggs - photo Erin O'Brien 
"We cut everything fresh daily," said Boggs from behind the bountiful counter. But how well does he know those whose sole commentary was "moo" not so long ago?

"These cows? I could tell you about their parents, their grandparents. We go to the farms. We know that much about our products."

Judging by the lines that formed at the checkout, the Heinen family knows a thing or two about the grocery business.

And it's a good bet, Cara, that they would welcome any of your international colleagues to walk amid the rows of peanut butter and toothpaste and bask in this most unique Cleveland cathedral.
They will be in good company, just ask Ward 3 councilman Joe Cimperman.

"Look at this room," he said at the opening. "I've got residents from public housing here. I've got residents who own half million-dollar condos here. You've got the mayor. You've got the county executive.

"This is one Cleveland, right here. We are no longer invisible, we're indivisible."

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.