Retail Revival: City Goods reimagines the shopping experience to create opportunity, build community

New Hingetown marketplace features 24 shops, a bar, events and more

By Michael Collier

Sam Friedman exudes an unmistakable passion for the eclectic community of makers and intrepid entrepreneurs dotting the Greater Cleveland landscape. Friedman, who first began his career in the music and theater space, entered the retail scene by way of Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, a family-owned business birthed by his mother, Ida, where he serves as the company’s brand director.

Since 2005, the at-home-hobby-turned-global skincare and haircare company has seen great success and growth, as has Friedman’s affection for the small business community and a keen awareness of the ever-evolving issues and barriers faced by aspiring entrepreneurs.

It’s that enthusiasm for people and product — and a desire to see them succeed — which led Friedman on a years-long journey to tackle the problems that can make or break a small business, especially in uncertain times.

While those problems are plentiful, Friedman’s latest endeavor might just be the solution

PURCHASE WITH A PURPOSE

“Retail shops are mostly all dependent on walking traffic,” says Friedman. That steady stream of patrons, already waning in the ever-growing shadow of e-commerce, has been further dried up in the wake of a global pandemic that has shifted much of our lives online.

“And if you want to have a successful brand,” he says, “you still need that physical presence, even in an online era.” But launching a brick-and-mortar operation, particularly in an age of uncertainty, can come with significant risk.

“That’s why people spend $100 a weekend and take a plastic table to a parking lot, and you cannot have a brand that way.”

While pop-up markets and seasonal festivals can offer quick sales and exposure, Friedman contends, they typically don’t provide the necessary springboard for a sustainable business and impactful brand.

“Even if you are lucky enough to have that physical space and that foot traffic, it’s so easy to get bogged down by the basics,” he continues.

“If you have a small shop, either you as the business owner have to stand there and run it all day long behind a checkout counter when you’re supposed to be making a product and growing a brand, or you have to hire an employee.”

Friedman experienced this struggle firsthand at Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve’s retail location in downtown Cleveland’s historic 5th Street Arcades. Faced with diminishing foot traffic and staffing issues, that shop closed its doors in early 2022.

“I watched businesses come in every year and close,” he says. “Businesses with great ideas and great products, but just not the right tools or help. It was sad.”

In searching for a solution, Friedman eventually found some of his inspiration in an unlikely relic largely of retail past: department stores.

“If you go to a department store, you can pick from hundreds or thousands of different brands, then pay one person at one counter for all of it,” Friedman says. “I thought that if we could simply get a room, we could do that.”

The idea stuck and Friedman began searching for a suitable location, initially envisioning a single, large retail space on the ground floor of one of the many new or renovated apartment buildings rising across Cleveland. No matter the location, dedicated foot traffic was the key.

“When this Hingetown neighborhood appeared … that’s when I saw four or five thousand twenty-to-forty-somethings living on two or three blocks. That’s the foot traffic that retail needs.”

It was in this corner of the Ohio City neighborhood where Friedman stumbled upon a cluster of “weird airplane hangar-looking things” and knew that he’d finally found his solution.

“I saw the cool buildings on the right block with the right foot traffic, and I rented all seven and put together City Goods,” says Friedman. “And now there are 24 small local shops here on this corner.”

With City Goods, which officially opened in September, Friedman and partner Liz Painter sought to break down barriers and address the woes of traditional retail to create a nurturing space for Cleveland’s small business community. The model they’ve embraced allows the businesses to focus their attention and passion where it matters most — their product — while Friedman, Painter, and a dedicated full-time staff take care of the rest.

You’ll find one cashier — an employee of City Goods — and four to five local shops in each of the hard-to-miss metal huts at the corner of W. 28th and Church Avenue. Originally conceived as live-in workspace for local artists, the two-story lofted huts currently house a total of 24 locally-owned businesses, most of which have never previously had a retail location.

Friedman and Painter were very intentional in their recruiting, making sure to capture a broad swath of creative culture and artistry, and with opportunity, accessibility and inclusion top of mind. Of the 24 shops, 19 are women-owned and six are minority-owned, each with its own unique products and equally compelling story. Brittany’s Record Shop, for example, is the only Black female-owned record store in the United States.

In the two months since the launch of City Goods, Friedman has been heartened by the community response. Only one retail space remains available, and the unique metal huts continue to draw in curious crowds of locals and visitors alike.

“Clevelanders want to support local,” says Friedman. “And they’d much rather come here and buy a candle from a woman who lives down the street than shop online or go to Target.”

“Stop in, have a drink, see what it can do for you. The most important thing to understand is this is about supporting local.”

See below for a list of businesses at City Goods

RESOURCES

Visit the City Goods website

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HOURS | M: CLOSED | T-F: 11–7PM | SAT: 10–7PM | SUN: 10–6PM

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Hangar 7:

  • The Hangar (bar)
Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Dynamic Business and Inclusive Opportunity.