With retail incubator set to open, Glenville envisions a new future

Jacqui Miller’s commute is about to get much shorter.

The principal at Stonebrook Montessori since 2015 is closing on a rehabbed house in January mere minutes from work in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. It’s an investment and a statement.

Jacqui Miller, principal of Stonebrook Montessori in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood, talks with kitchen manager Pamela Harris. Miller is moving into a rehabbed home in Glenville.“Moving to Glenville is a choice of a commitment to this neighborhood,” says Miller, who is relocating from Lee-Harvard. “There's wonderful potential here. It has had its heyday and is now being rediscovered and re-created, in a way. ... I'm eager to be a part of that transformation.”

A key component of that transformation is almost ready. Glenville Circle North is the first wave of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s $65 million Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, announced in May 2017. The mixed-use development includes a retail incubator that will bring seven new businesses to East 105th Street in early 2020.

The project and other modest signs of progress are attracting developers, investors and home buyers, bringing hope to impoverished Glenville. But it’s a delicate balancing act. The process must be inclusive, say some community members concerned that an influx of newcomers could unravel Glenville’s cultural fabric.

More options

All seven of the new businesses at Glenville Circle North are minority owned, five by women. “For us, this is important, because it's reflective of the demographics of the neighborhood,” says Khrys Shefton, director of real estate development for Famicos Foundation, the community development corporation in Glenville.

The new enterprises are Black Box Fix, a gourmet sandwich shop from Chef Eric Rogers that will be the anchor tenant; Pipe ‘N Hot Grill, a seafood restaurant owned by Angela Sharpley; Premier Barber Lounge, owned by Antonio Stewart, who grew up in Glenville; Cold Cleveland Brew, a full-service coffee shop owned by Karen Ross; LaMocha Boutique, owned by Esayla Williams; Living Rich, a unisex clothing shop owned by mother-daughter team Sharia Livingston and Sha’Miah Richardson; and Vitiman Candie, a shop offering healthy meals, including vegan wraps and bowls, owned by Mary Johnson.

New minority-owned enterprises will share 14,000 square feet of first-floor retail space at Glenville Circle North.They will share 14,000 square feet of first-floor retail space. Upstairs in the new four-story building, developed by the Florida-based Finch Group, are 63 one- and two-bedroom apartments, about 40% of which already are leased. Sixteen of the apartments are reserved for low-income tenants.

“[The incubator is] going to bring a lot of attention back to that neighborhood,” says LaRese Parnell, managing partner at CLE Consulting and operations manager for the incubator. “Some of these businesses have operated in the Beachwood Mall, Black Box was in Legacy [Village], so they’re going to bring crowds that will follow them to Glenville.”

The increased food options will be a draw. “It will be something different to see people coming in and sitting and eating, especially when it becomes warm, at the outdoor seating,” Parnell says. “It will be exciting for the community.”

Wealth creation is a major focus of the project. “If you're not born into it, you can only achieve wealth in a couple of ways,” says Cleveland Planning Director Fred Collier. “One is through real estate, and the other is through entrepreneurship and business development, which is what this begins to do. It really targets minority business ventures and incubates them so that they can grow and mature out of that space. And you can cycle in new retailers. So we saw it as an engine.”

The incubator is just a few blocks north of the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, beyond which are University Circle’s treasured cultural institutions. But for some, the symbolic distance is enormous.

“Both Famicos and University Circle Inc. are working really hard to remove the invisible barriers that exist between Glenville and University Circle,” Shefton says.

The potential is huge. “At one point, East 105th Street was the second largest commercial district outside of downtown Cleveland,” she says. But decades of economic decline have saddled Glenville with a negative image.

“Perception kills us a lot of times,” Shefton says. “People just don't have enough experience on the east side of Cleveland. And for those who do have any experience, it's 10, 20, 30, 40 years old. They haven't been back to the neighborhood recently enough to see the things that are happening, to be able to experience them.”

Mordecai Cargill of ThirdSpace Action Lab talks with students from Hawken School about solving business challenges.Mordecai Cargill, co-founder of Glenville consulting firm ThirdSpace Action Lab, agrees that perception is an issue. “And it's not unique to Glenville. Any place that is predominantly black, or predominantly Latino, has a perception problem, even if it's a really nice place. That's one of the things that we understand through our growing awareness of the history and persistence of structural racism. There is the red line that's on the map. And then there's the red line that follows you wherever you go.”

Cargill, a 2009 Glenville High School graduate, is watching closely as the incubator opens. “We have to envision a new future for this community that is inclusive and that builds on and reinterprets its history,” he says. He’s looking forward to the opening. “One thing that's really important is that people have more options.”

The incubator can help remove the barriers, Purnell says. “What you do is you involve the community,” he says. “You also utilize a platform that people actually pay attention to and bring businesses that people have a need for. Young, dynamic entrepreneurs will bring innovation and creativity.”

Heading south

A different kind of energy is building a few doors south of the incubator, one that focuses on culture and community. Three buildings in a row comprise the Glenville Arts Campus, a loosely organized effort for now. “We're trying to figure out how to formalize that, how to leverage that fully, but for now, we just collaborate informally, organically,” Cargill says.

ThirdSpace runs the meeting space on the first floor of the Madison, a four-story building owned by Famicos. Formerly medical offices, it has apartments upstairs that Famicos operates.

In a plaza at Glenville Circle North, a new, 8-foot-tall touchscreen kiosk offers visitor information. Next door is the one-story Studio 105, which the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning opened in October 2018. It offers after-school programs.

Lastly is a house being converted for Twelve Literary Arts into a safe space for performance poets of color, led by Daniel Gray-Kontar, executive artistic director.

Plans are still taking shape for The Madison, which began hosting events this year. They're thinking of opening a cafe that doubles as a "soul-working space for people of color," says Evelyn Burnett, a Glenville resident and ThirdSpace co-founder. “Some people see us as activists, organizers, and you need a lot of things to replenish your soul. Because the work is very challenging, and the ways to do that are with food and drink and books and fellowship with other people.”

Cargill adds, “We're signaling to our consumers, our comrades, people who want to envision a new way of living together, that where you can build that vision is at ThirdSpace. It fits with the other elements of the Glenville Arts Campus, because there is something unique about the organizations and nonprofits that are based here, like working with art, and grooming the next generation of culture producers, that we want to use as the nucleus for our target market.”

Winds of change

Shefton’s role is real estate, but it’s bigger than that. “It's more about creating a whole neighborhood,” she says.

Khrys Shefton, director of real estate development for Famicos Foundation.Glenville has so much to offer, Shefton says. “I want people to come in and get a Fat Boys doughnut on St. Clair, to get Hot Sauce Williams on Lakeview, to go on a walk through Rockefeller Park, to go to the [Rockefeller] Greenhouse. Just walk up and down East Boulevard, for goodness sake, and see the beautiful architecture in the homes of the elite people who used to live in this neighborhood. I want everybody to have those experiences, and I want them to feel, if you feel safe in Detroit-Shoreway, you should feel safe in Glenville.”

Back on East 110th Street, Jacqui Miller is looking forward to her new home, being renovated by Famicos.

“There's some remarkable history here, there's beautiful housing stock, there's initiatives and efforts and real intentionality about economic redevelopment in a way that honors the people who are here, being careful not to get into that space of displacement and gentrification, but bringing in resources and being able to embrace the community that is already here,” Miller says.

Read more articles by Chris Ball.

Chris Ball became managing editor of FreshWater Cleveland in August 2019 after more than 20 years of editing and writing for The Plain Dealer. A graduate of Hawken School and Oberlin College, he previously worked for Crain Communications, the Lorain Morning Journal, The Free Times and The Cleveland Edition. A lover of Frisbee and film, Ball wrote a DVD review column for The PD for 15 years. He won the Press Club of Cleveland award in 2018 for Best Headline Writer in Ohio.
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