As we look at the history of business and enterprise in Greater Cleveland, it is worth noting that there was a collaborative model that focused on shared enterprise and societal good, rather than simply ever growing profits.
Many people will still remember the Cleveland Food Co-Op which was established in 1968 by a group of Hessler Road residents. It started on a front porch on Hessler Road, and quickly had 50 household members. By buying in bulk, it reduced costs and made food far more affordable. Eventually the Co-op would move to a site on Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland, then to a location on Coventry and finally back to a site at 11702 Euclid Avenue in 1984. Eventually, construction, traffic and the establishment of Whole Foods led to its closure in 2011.
Yet, it was not the first co-op in the city. Several immigrant groups created their own system of community owned and operated stores that kept prices low and generated just enough profit to pay employees and cover rent. The Workers Gymnastic Union, a Czech organization established co-ops in the 1930s. One location, situated in Maple Heights, continued to function into the 1970s. In 1936 The Gymnastic Union also known as the DTJ (after its Czech language title) also sponsored an alternative Workers Olympiad at its shared rural settlement Taborville in Auburn Township in response to the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany. Polish grocers also created a joint association in order to allow independent shops the ability to buy produce at the lowest possible price. For many years a Polish Grocers Association (PGA) store stood at the intersection of Worley Avenue and East 71st Street.
These stories are part of an alternative, but important aspect of business and entrepreneurship in Greater Cleveland. At times associated with the Socialist movement (which was quite strong in Cleveland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) they suggested alternatives for affordable products (often in the most difficult of times) rather than a wider profit margin. Some echoes of this communal ethos are reflected in the farmers’ markets that are held regularly in our area and in many small craft-based shops that provide unique goods and make enough money to support the entrepreneur – these are the “makers” of today who often settle for the quality of their products rather than the quantity of their profit.