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SGS pic from October, 2006. Click here for another photo of the old Mac’s.
Location: 3440 E. 93 St. Cleveland, OH 44104
Over two days, while installing work at East 72nd, SGS was fortunate make many new friends and hear feedback from passersby.
People commented on the man Mr. Willis. Many smirked as if to say “he’s at it again”. Mr. Willis was a fan of the billboard; he contracted the services of local artists to help fight his battle against The Big Three. Most commented on Mr. Willis’ ability to make a dollar from a dime.
Those who did not recognize our subject, erroneously believed that we were beautifying the front of a coming attraction such as cybercafe, peep show, discotheque, or clairvoyant advisory service.
Mr. Israel (pictured above), also a wheeler-dealer, was the most introspective and understanding person we met during installation. We spent the better part of our two days with him philosophizing about inorganic imagery and SGS’ unique brand of cryptography. With little explanation he understood our purpose and willingly explained it to neighborhood residents.
Israel is a good man who offered us breakfast from his table and the contents of his pockets. For this we are grateful. With a hard exterior and warm heart he defines St. Clair’s Finest (SCF).
Stories anchor our memories. They are linked to street corners, small businesses, playgrounds, and homes. Our neighborhoods are born from them and die in their absence. The artwork affixed to the front of 7206 St. Clair is a tribute one of the greatest contributors to the story of Cleveland.
Winston E. Willis, born October 21, 1939 arrived in the city of Cleveland in 1958 by way of Detroit. In the late 1960s the Hough and Glenville riots gave way to white disinvestment in the East 105 area. Willis, already having operated a handful of successful businesses, seized the opportunity and purchased a number of properties at East 105 and Euclid. Over the next decade he formed a real-estate empire that spanned from East 105 to East 55 on Euclid. In the 1980s, after years of legal disputes, Willis’ properties were eventually seized and demolished to make way for the expansion of powerful corporations.
When Willis’ story was told by news outlets it was largely one sided; he was an obstacle to progress, a troublemaker, and at worst a criminal. However, when you speak to the people of his community the story is quite different. He is described as a human dynamo, a savvy businessman, lover of the arts, and a character of great tragedy. Willis was a prophetic man who foresaw the dissolution of one the last locally owned business districts in the city. Once a source of pride for the community, East 105 and Euclid has now been erased of its colorful past.
After months of conversations with Mr. Willis we developed the concept for this project. Its intent is to remind the community that an exciting city can be had once again through local ownership of small businesses. Each of the panels on the front of the building relate directly to stories told to us by Mr. Willis about his business ventures.
Mr. Willis is a quiet man who over time opened his heart to us and shared some of the stories that made him the person he is today. These stories were the inspiration for the panels on the east side of the building. The panels are more personal in nature and may only be discernible to those with direct knowledge of his private life.
This project is meant to honor people like Mr. Willis and their stories. These are the stories of our neighborhoods, overheard in restaurants and often whispered person to person. They are the lifeblood of our city and the source of our pride. It is our opinion that a city without a story is a city with no soul.
If you have read to this point please treat yourself to a meal across the street at Angela’s Family Restaurant. There you can listen to the stories of others and share your own over an affordably priced meal.
This project was made possible with a generous grant from Kent State’s, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. Additional support was provided by Christopher Grootenboer, Quoin Construction LLC, The William Rupnik Gallery, and our beloved friend Mr. Winston E. Willis.
SGS loves to hear the fond memories of Clevelanders talking about Highbees, May Company, and Woolworth but our favorite stories are of visits to Goldfish. Walking down Prospect Avenue as a kid into this Army store was like a trip to a candy store. Cool camping stuff, knives aplenty, and every type of camouflage you could imagine. I bought my first Chinese throwing star from Goldfish, and would kill to be able to still have it. We still remember the Andre the Giant size pair of jeans hanging from the ceiling announcing: Any man that can fit into these get them for free.
According to a Plain Dealer story about the closing of Goldfish in 2005, “The store was actually founded by the family of Hollywood icon Samuel Goldwyn, who was Samuel Goldfish before changing his name to one he thought would be taken more seriously.
Jeff Alpern’s late grandfather, Morris, bought the store in 1930. He added postal, security and parking uniforms to the military surplus that sprouted such stores nationally after the first and second World Wars.
Alpern, who took over the business from his father, Robert, in 1998, moved the store from the Gateway district, hoping to draw more customers with free parking and easier access. It didn’t take. He blamed Cleveland’s economy, competition from national chain stores and business lost during the construction of Gateway”.
Click here to see the first photo ad we found in the Plain Dealer for the Goldfish Army Store from June, 1931.