When Monica Grays started her career as a teacher for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District more than 23 years ago, she had all of the enthusiasm in the world—but not the furnished classroom to go with it.
“I walk into my classroom for the first time, ready to take on the world, and what do I see? Nothing but a few desks,” Grays says.
The school office gave her a box of crayons, markers, some paper, and directions to a local store for teachers, she says. It was then that she realized she’d have to put in significant personal funds if she wanted her classroom to reflect her vision and be an inviting and engaging place.
Today, Grays helps save money for others in that same position as the owner of 2nd Semester, a resale consignment shop for educators—and, soon enough, she may be part of an effort that could help fill East 185th Street (which was estimated to be 27% vacant as recently as 2016) the same way Grays once filled her classroom.
Jeff Kipp of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, investor Alan Glazen, and Megan Kim of Greater Cleveland Partnership/COSEGrays’ shop is one of 18 local businesses competing in the third season of Cleveland Chain Reaction—an economic development contest that will award at least five winners with a share of $250,000+ in investment funds and the chance to set up shop in Collinwood. (Past Chain Reaction installments have focused on Slavic Village and Old Brooklyn.)
On Aug. 19 and 20, those 18 businesses gave live pitches to a panel of judges including Yvette Ittu of Greater Cleveland Partnership, Lamont Mackley of Jumpstart, Kandis Williams of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Jamar Doyle of Greater Collinwood Development Corporation—alongside eight private investors who sat in on the program. The pitches followed a five-week bootcamp hosted at JumpStart to prepare the businesses for the Chain Reaction investment process.
“These businesses are diamonds in the rough,” says Chris Smith, a small business development consultant for JumpStart. “They’ve been working hard and grinding it out. That’s why [JumpStart] is working with Greater Cleveland Partnership to pool funds together and support entrepreneurs. It’s a really good collaborative effort to make sure local entrepreneurs are getting capital and additional resources.”
Enhancing what already exists
Robert Gatewood is well aware of Collinwood’s potential, as both a neighborhood native and current business owner. Gatewood owns Gatewood Work/Share, a coworking space and event venue that opened in late 2017 at the corner of East 185th Street and La Salle Road.
Robert Gatewood prepares to present at the Cleveland Chain Reaction ShowcaseHe differentiates Gatewood Work/Share from other co-working spaces as “hyper local and neighborhood focused. Most co-working spaces lean into trying to simulate the office [environment], but we’re doing it really differently. Instead of offering services that can work anywhere, we’re making a point to offer services explicitly needed by people here in Collinwood.”
If Gatewood Work/Share is one of the Chain Reaction winners, Gatewood plans to use the investment to hire more staff, purchase new signage, and provide in-house sponsorship for events—but even if Gatewood doesn't win, he’s happy to see Chain Reaction working its magic in Collinwood.
“[Chain Reaction] has brought our neighborhood a lot of attention,” says Gatewood. “Things were already happening even without that investment, and now it’s really exciting to think about everything that can happen.”
Cleveland Brewery is another business already operating on East 185th Street but ready to take it to the next level as a Chain Reaction participant. According to co-owners John Fuduric and Mary Tisi, an investment could help them scale up from a one-barrel brewhouse to three barrels and stay open five days per week instead of just on weekends.
"Now is the time to expand—we're already seeing large crowds every Friday and Saturday, so we're currently at capacity," shares Fuduric. "This investment would help not only be open more but also help other businesses in the area see an increase in revenue as we increase our batches." (Currently, Cleveland Brewery collaborates with local Collinwood businesses like Six Shooter Coffee, Cavotta's and Collinwood Grape.)
Waterloo Ave.Of course, the possibilities of Chain Reaction extend well beyond East 185th Street to other commercial corridors in Collinwood—including Waterloo Road, Lake Shore Boulevard, and St. Clair Avenue. Two Chain Reaction contenders, ImageMart and Six Shooter Coffee, do business in these areas.
Ultimately, it's about finding the right fit in the right location within the confines of the neighborhood. “With the realities of neighborhood revitalization, we can’t be fully prescriptive and say that winners ‘must’ land at a certain intersection,” says Jeff Kipp of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. “[Our big-picture goal is to have] more businesses in the neighborhood employing more people and more income for the neighborhood.”
Attracting new entrepreneurs
Along with enhancing businesses that already call Collinwood home, Chain Reaction will also bring new blood into the area. For instance, Grays hopes to open a second location as a companion to her successful Wickliffe store, and the same goes for Urban Soul Grille, a vegan eatery formerly based in Mentor and looking to relocate.
Barbara Bradford-WilliamsAs for JB Grill owner Barbara Bradford-Wiliams, she has a vision of being the “soul food queen” of Cleveland, and she’s back for a third time to compete in Chain Reaction as part of her master plan to realize it. Bradford-Williams has opened two locations since 2015 and hopes to open a third in Collinwood. “I know I can do the same thing I’m doing in Slavic Village and Kinsman in Collinwood,” says Bradford-Williams.
Kipp of Neighborhood Progress says Bradford-Williams’ persistence in applying for Chain Reaction all three years speaks to her dedication and success in small business development. “We’ve seen before our eyes this evolution of JB Grill just over the last three years,” says Kipp. “Regardless of whether she gets an investment this year, she is growing her business.”
Bradford-Williams’ experience with Cleveland Chain Reaction parallels that of Collinwood’s itself, as the neighborhood has been a contender all three seasons. “All along, Collinwood has been on the radar as a finalist, and now is a great time to pull all of the forces together to land in that neighborhood,” says Kipp.
The complete list of Cleveland Chain Reaction semifinalists is:
- 2nd Semester
- The Cleveland Brewery
- Consult 2 Code LLC
- Family 4 Life Center
- Food Buggy
- Gatewood Work/Share
- ImageMart Inc.
- JB Grill
- LifeLong Transportation LLC
- The Link, Ltd.
- Maeve's All Natural
- Making A Difference Consulting, LLC
- NuLife Fitness Center
- Pittmasters BBQ
- Six Shooter Coffee
- Sweet Bean
- Urban Soul Grille