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Shaker Square is Getting Some Love From Owner Peter Rubin


Mark Naymik, The Plain Dealer | July 19, 2013

CLEVELAND, Ohio —  Shaker Square gets plenty of love from its patrons.


The historic shopping district on the Cleveland-Shaker Heights border inspires loyal and almost obsessive attention from visitors and those living in the surrounding neighborhoods. People pick up trash, blog about its restaurants and fight over its politics. Last month, a small group of residents stood on the square with signs reading, “I am Shaker Square,” as they asked passersby to write down what they love about the square.

Recently, Shaker Square has also been getting some love from its owner.

As he promised earlier this year, developer Peter Rubin, whose Coral Co. bought the square in 2004, has begun making repairs and upgrades to the square. He expects to spend about $750,000 for now.

In February, I wrote about growing complaints about the square. These included aggressive panhandlers, excess trash, broken sidewalks and a general untidiness and dilapidated appearance of the buildings that anchor the square’s four corners. Among the buildings’ most visible problems were peeling paint and rotting wood trim.

At the time, Rubin said change was on the way. This week, I revisited the square to see it.

Some of Rubin’s new love for the square is obvious, some not so obvious but present nonetheless.

There are sections of new concrete throughout the square. Wood trim, especially at the base of buildings, has been replaced. (I tried unsuccessfully to remove the pieces I easily pulled off or knocked loose in February.) Signs of sanding and painting are everywhere, though much more is ahead. And a couple of large windows have been replaced.

The paint is Sherwin-Williams’ Colonial Georgian White. I mention this because this is the type of detail Shaker Square lovers love to know and fight about. Several asked Rubin about the paint before the project began and suggested colors, including Georgian White. (Rubin is using a satin finish, in case you are wondering.)

There are also new meters on the square. These are not for drivers. They offer pedestrians an alternative to donating to panhandlers. Signs on the meters encourage people to drop coins in the meters instead of the hands of so-called homeless. The money collected is sent to the Cleveland Foodbank. Rubin, whose office overlooks the northeast corner of the square, said it has discouraged panhandlers because people are not giving as much to them.

Flower beds also received new mulch this week, which is hardly worth bragging about. But the mulch is just temporary. Rubin still plans an aggressive landscape makeover, which will include removing bushes to restore green space and better sight lines. He’s also contemplating adding a playground, but don’t spit out your latte. Rubin is not talking about candy-colored plastic tubes and slides. He’s kicking around ideas for a natural playground, perhaps with some stones  that would allow children to explore.

Rubin wants to encourage interaction, a buzz word he likes and that guides his vision for the square.

There’s plenty happening that’s not easy to see. Rubin is spending $50,000 to replace drain pipes in some basements. And he’s invested in a couple of restaurants on the square, including the Grotto and Sergio’s Sarava. This gave him more control when those businesses closed  to quickly turn over the spaces to other restaurants. The Grotto will be a French restaurant, Edwins (which hopes to open this fall); Sarava is now the larger Zanzibar Soul Fusion, which moved from a smaller space across the square.

At the moment, 79 percent of the square has paying tenants, up from about 50 percent when Coral took over, Rubin says.

One new tenant is the Flawless Barber Academy. I’ve heard from some Shaker Square lovers who believe this is a bad fit for the retail district.

Rubin is proud of the tenant. He says it works because it serves and draws people from the neighborhood who already shop in the area.

“There’s very little we do here that doesn’t stir up controversy,” he said.

The barber college is a better fit than a sterile Gap store that was once in the same space. It’s also silly to think stores and restaurants are lining up for such a space.

Shaker Square still has a long way to go, both visually and politically. It lacks a real champion in the way Gordon Square relies on Cleveland Councilman Matt Zone or Tremont turns to Councilman Joe Cimperman. As I’ve noted before, competing non-profit groups are still bickering for the right to set an agenda.

In the end, the square’s strength will always lie in its diversity and the passion of its backers.

Mary Reynolds Powell, one of the residents behind the informal “I am Shaker Square” campaign, sums it up best.

“Everyone who intersects with the square loves the place,” she said.

Rubin does too.