Filed Under Businesses

CoventrYard

The opening of the CoventrYard Mall in 1977 signaled a new era for the Coventry business district in Cleveland Heights. Controversy over the actions and intentions of real estate developer Lewis A. Zipkin sparked a public discussion about the impact of gentrification along Coventry Road. For several years, entrepreneurs had leveraged the neighborhood's changes: using counterculture themes to market products and services to a broad audience. However, Zipkin's decision to fill his mall with upscale boutique-type shops clearly indicated a desire to reposition Coventry for outsiders. Adding fuel to the fire, a business dispute between Zipkin and resident/restaurateur Tom Fello raised questions about the manner in which the retail spaces were managed.

Five years prior to CoventrYard's opening, Zipkin had purchased two buildings at the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Coventry Road. He removed the connecting wall and added a skylight. More than $300,000 in renovations were made in an effort to retain the architectural integrity of the structure, while converting it to a mini-mall. This was Zipkin's management style: invest heavily in redevelopment projects to create attractive, modern spaces that meet governmental codes. Rather than rely on tenants to build out their own spaces, Zipkin's 20-member staff completed or oversaw most renovation work. In return, he charged his tenants higher rents. His methods paid off. By the time CoventrYard was half full in 1978, commercial and private rents throughout the business district had skyrocketed. As leases expired, including Tommy Fello's, business owners had to decide whether to accept what they saw as exorbitant prices, or start from scratch at a new location.

Negotiations between Zipkin and Fello came to a standstill. For a brief time, the future of Tommy's seemed to be in jeopardy. Fello eventually found a new location (the former Coventry Cafe), but the dispute spoke to a larger concern: many members of the community believed that the character of the neighborhood was being threatened and that longtime residents would be driven from their homes and businesses. Community responses frequently included idyllic memories of Jewish immigrants sitting communally alongside bikers, hippies, and art students at a local greasy spoon. The community's core identity was being touted as economic and social diversity, grittiness, cheap rents, and pedestrian lifestyle—characteristics that seemed at odds with Zipkin's gentrified, homogenized vision.

But despite fond recollections, many structures in the area were deteriorating and did not meet building codes. Residents faced issues of crime and poverty. A healthy business district was essential. The CoventrYard debates reflected competing but not always realistic visions of what constituted progress for this eclectic community.

Similar debates over the pros and cons of gentrification are still being waged in the Coventry area—an ongoing balancing act between retaining local personality and affordability, and accommodating the wrenching and often expensive evolutions through which communities pass. Despite two devastating fires and an often-revolving door of lessees, some tenants, notably the Grog Shop and the Inn on Coventry, have been around long enough to be considered CoventrYard "fixtures."

Audio

Tommy's Restaurant and CoventrYard Tommy Fello recounts how CoventrYard's development nearly resulted in the closing of his restaurant. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Lewis Zipkin, 1977 Attorney and real estate developer Lewis Zipkin is seen standing outside the rear entrance of his recently completed CoventrYard building. Original CoventrYard tenants whose establishments faced the alley included Carl Jones' Arabica, The Mad Greek, and (in a free standing building) Rocco's Market. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection
Before CoventrYard Anchored by the Heights Theatre, the Coventry commercial district was constructed between 1919 and 1922 to meet the needs of a growing population in the Euclid Heights Allotment. The building that would become CoventrYard was built in 1919. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Coventry Street Fair, 1976 The first incarnation of CoventrYard was built between 1972 and 1977. Designed as a mini-mall, it was one of the first attempts by developers in the Coventry business district to specifically target consumers from outside the community. Source: Joe Polevoi
Scene from a Street Fair, 1977 Coventry's youth movement was initially met with opposition from the police force and local merchants. In 1970, the local police doubled their arrests from the previous year, imposed a curfew, and deployed street patrols to clear the sidewalks. For many it became apparent that while the loiterers didn't buy anything, they helped created a quaint, non-threatening environment that drew consumers to the area. Some residents, however, were able to hold on to their suspicions. As late as 1981, boutique shops at CoventrYard requested the aid of the local police to enforce loitering laws in an effort to drive away hippies. The patrolman at left was unaffectionately known as “Ticketman Ernie” — gently reviled for the thousands of parking tickets he issued along Coventry Road. Source: Joe Polevoi
Rebuilding CoventrYard, 1978 CoventrYard was first visited by fire in February 1978. The fire quickly got out of hand as the skylight took on the role of a chimney, effectively fueling the fire. The blaze developed so fast that the interior was destroyed before firefighters could even arrive at the scene. While no injuries were reported, eleven shops and three restaurants were destroyed. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection
Shopping at Coventry By the 1970s, the Coventry business district was undergoing a drastic change. Service based businesses and shops catering to the community's immigrant populations began to close their doors, and were being replaced by boutique shops that specialized in novelty products. Many of these shops would find a very temporary home in the CoventrYard mini-mall. Between 1960 and 1975, the number of malls in America more than tripled. Source: Clockwise: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection (Images 1 and 4), Joe Polevoi (Images 2 and 5), Cleveland State University Library Special Collections (Images 3 and 7), CoventrYard advertisement (Image 6)
Fire Damage, 1979 Following a devastating fire in 1978, CoventrYard did not reopen until 1981. Zipkin was able to salvage the building's shell, but the rest of the structure needed to be demolished and rebuilt. Source: Joe Polevoi
CoventrYard Park A minipark fronting CoventrYard was added by Zipkin in his second design. The developer estimated the cost of the public space at $15,000. This design element may have been a reaction to a common criticism he received following the construction of the first Coventryard - that his building was built for outsiders, not the community. Just as Zipkin's park immediately drew the ire of boutique shop owners concerned about loiterers, the park is still a controversial and important space in Coventry today. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “CoventrYard,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 10, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/441.