q & a: cara lageson, community manager, yelp cleveland

As the area's most vocal Yelp advocate, lifelong Northeast Ohioan Cara Lageson is a pro-Cleveland powerhouse. Yelp revolves around thousands of user-generated reviews. Lageson has penned nearly 400 herself, with musings on everything from movie theaters and bike shops to party-supply stores. As Yelp Cleveland community manager, she brings "Yelpers" and local businesses together by coordinating marketing outreach that extends well beyond the digital realm.
Fresh Water contributor Erin O'Brien sat down with Lageson to get some tips on using Yelp and to find out how she facilitates bringing the online service to life.
What does being a Yelp "Clevelandista" entail?
I have the best job in the world. I get paid to do what I love, which is to be a champion for my city and to help visitors and other locals around town skip the big box and make a connection with local businesses.
My favorite part is supporting the city and the people who work hard to make a life here. I love to help keep money here and keep local businesses alive. That's the heartbeat of our city.
Can you give us a quick rundown in Yelp 101?
Yelp is a website and mobile app where folks can start a free account, and then jump online and write reviews about their favorite local businesses or their experiences there, whether it's a yoga studio or boutique or restaurant. It doesn't really matter. We've got everything on Yelp. It could be a car repair shop.
The mobile app gives you cool features you can use around town to be a bit more interactive with check-ins. It's a more social way to share your knowledge and experience about the city you live in.
What makes for a great Yelp review?
Something very thorough and personal. Giving tips about favorite dishes and parking can really help people. I check Yelp reviews before I go anywhere.
What sort of events do you plan for area Yelpers?
We have a Yelp International Supper Club. We pick a new international restaurant to try every month. I also just launched a new monthly series called "Meet the Owner." We'll go to a smaller local business, come in and sample; and then the owner can give a talk and tell their story. I think it's important that people make that connection.
I was really proud of Yelp Helps, which we hosted at LaunchHouse in March. This event focused on local nonprofits and organizations. We had over two-dozen nonprofits come in. There was live music, local food sponsors, complimentary cocktails and a photo booth. It wasn't donation driven, but just a really fun event to help people learn how to contribute and volunteer in the future. About 250-300 Yelpers showed up.
Your business is all about knowing local business. Care to clue in our readers on some of your own favorite places to shop?
I admit I'm a little Ohio City biased because it's right in my back yard, but I love Deering Vintage, Salty Not Sweet and Room Service on West 25th. I get a lot of my event dresses from Yellowcake. And one of my favorite places to go for furniture is Reincarnation.
Evie Lou is this little shop in Tremont owned by [former Plain Dealer style editor] Kim Crow. Her clothes are a selection of comfy casual, with some chic and really cute fancy things as well. She's got clothes for all sizes and shapes that won't break your wallet. I got a dress there that I love for 35 bucks.
Kim is very hands-on. She'll help you. She'll style you. Or let you be if you don't want to be bothered. It's just a great shop with super stylish clothes for everyone.
When I spend my money locally, it makes me feel even more connected to my city.
And some top local noshes?
Bogtrotters has the best sandwich. It's basically a handcrafted steak and cheese on a freshly baked baguette. Their meats are roasted in-house. They make homemade cheese sauce and they have crumbled potato chips you can put on top. It's incredible. I also love Nate's and Noodlecat. Pier W will always be one of my favorite places to go for a nice meal. I appreciate classic preparation with a modern twist. You can't beat that.
One of the best dining experiences I've ever had was at LockKeepers. It was delicious. They brought out samples from the chef on the house and were super attentive. They went above and beyond and literally treated us like celebrities.
Any out-of-the-way places to recommend for families with kids?
One of my favorite places growing up was the Outdoor YMCA in Perry. No one really thinks about that place, but it has a ton of stuff to do -- an outdoor swimming pool, a rock-climbing wall, putt-putt -- all in one place. You can buy a day pass and it's much cheaper than an amusement park.
You're a Painesville native, but you mentioned you live in Ohio City. Seems like a long leap. Why did you settle there?
Ohio City is such a perfect medium for me. I'm not a high-rise kind of person, but I wanted to live downtown. Ohio City gives a neighborhood experience while still having that metropolitan/urban feel.
I grew up in an old home. I love the old homes here. I love having a backyard -- and a house to myself. And I have a garage. Yay!
What would you say to Clevelanders who do not use Yelp? What are they missing?
The Yelp mobile app is the best travel buddy if you want to be a tourist in your own city. Regardless of the fact that I spent my whole life here, I'm learning something new about this area every day: a new neighborhood, a new restaurant or shop -- so many little hidden gems.
Cleveland is so regional. I think that Cleveland's "best-kept secret" is all of its best-kept secrets. There are so many of them and they're all over the place. Yelp can help locals find them.
You can trust your Yelp buddies and their reviews.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Images 3 & 4 taken at Evie Lou in Tremont


Read more articles by 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.
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