Sunday, August 12, 2012

My East Cleveland Neighborhood

Where We Shopped – The Business Community

We didn’t have to travel far to find the things we needed in my Plymouth Place neighborhood.  In fact many of the things we needed were delivered to our doors.  On any given day we would have salesmen bringing the necessities for life to our homes by truck and occasionally by horse drawn wagon.  Those necessities included milk and milk products, bread and bakery products, fresh vegetables, coal, and ice.  One or more dairies served customers on Plymouth Place daily.  The one I remember best is the Belle Vernon Dairy truck, which delivered Sealtest products.  It was a yellow DIVCO brand truck with a curved front hood.  The driver sat on a high seat or sometimes stood while driving.  He would deliver one quart glass bottles of milk to the milk chutes usually located near the side door of each house.  The amount delivered was based upon a standing order.  He would pick up the empty bottles in which the customer sometimes left a note requesting more or less milk or specialty products such as cream.  He usually carried more product than had been ordered in case some customers wanted something extra.  On occasion I would have enough pocket change to buy a bottle of chocolate milk.  What a treat. 

Kids playing in sprinkler, Spang truck in rear

These men, who delivered stuff to the neighborhood, were almost like friends to some of the families.  We got to know them by name and look forward to their arrival.  One, who I remember particularly well, was the Spang Bakery man named Jack.  He drove a red Twincoach brand bakery truck that looked like a box on four wheels.  He also drove standing up.  We knew he was coming, because he had a loud bell, which was sounded by stomping on a bell button with his left foot.  That bell let everyone know he was there for special orders.  He also had standing orders from some families.  It was a special treat to buy a Spang donut from him.

Every summer we would get a weekly visit from a greengrocer named Angelo.  He had a large open bed truck filled with every type of vegetable in boxes tilted to the side and rear of the truck.  He drove down the street stopping for groups of neighbors, who would come out to sample his wares.  Word spread quickly, when Angelo and the other vendors were on the street.  Other goods were delivered and picked up by truck on a regular basis.  Those included laundry and dry cleaning as well as coal and ice. I have already related the thrill of getting some ice shards from the City Ice and Fuel man.    

Some delivery vans were very specialized, such as the potato chip trucks, which sold Dan Dee, Num Num or Charles Chips.  I remember one year the Num Num man sold potato chip boxes with 8X10 inch pictures of Cleveland Indians players attached.  I still have some of those pictures.  There was a company called Cook Coffee, which delivered a wide variety of products to people on our street.  In addition to the above, all the major department stores, which were located in downtown Cleveland, delivered merchandise with their own trucks to the homes on our street.  Those included Higbees, Halles, Sterling Linder Davis, Baileys, and May Co.  They would deliver merchandise that you had selected, while shopping downtown, or that you had ordered by phone. We also had occasional door to door salesmen such as the Fuller Brush Man or various vacuum cleaner salesmen. 

One of the most interesting visitors to the neighborhood was picking things up instead of delivering.  He also did that with a horse and wagon.  We knew him as the “paper rags man”.   He collected most any type of household discards including pots, pans, and old clothes.  Often my parents let me give him something we wanted to discard.  The paper rags man would give me a few coins for them.  He always looked very poor to me.  My dad told me that he probably had a Cadillac waiting for him at the stable, where he kept his horse and wagon.

The Neighborhood Businesses

We didn’t have everything delivered to our door.  We also didn’t have to go far to get most things we needed.  The shopping area at Taylor Road and Euclid Avenue was only a short walk from our house.  I just checked it on google and it is .3 mile and a 5 minute walk.  Taking the shortcut through the field was  even shorter.  We would walk to the store and carry stuff home.  We would use a small two wheeled shopping cart if we bought more than we could carry.  If we were going to need more than we could carry, there was also a parking lot behind the stores.  We usually shopped more frequently and bought smaller quantities.  The stores at Taylor and Euclid included drug stores, grocery stores, a barber shop, and a soda shop.  We also had a very good restaurant and two establishments that my dad called beer joints. 

At first there were two drug stores at the corner of Euclid and Taylor.  They were each part of a local chain.  On one corner was a Marshall Drug and on the other was a Standard Drug.  My family originally went to the Standard Drug.  That changed sometime in the late 1940s, when the Marshall chain went out of business.  The old Marshall Drug store was taken over by two brothers named Tobin.  The older brother was named Joe and the younger was named Hy.  Interestingly, Hy was quite tall and I always thought the name suited him.  The store became Tobin Rexall Drug.  The Tobin brothers were such nice people that they soon became the place to go for our neighborhood.  They knew everyone and we were all on a first name basis with them, including the kids.  

 The soda fountain became a regular hangout for the neighborhood kids.  It was run by a young man named Glenn.  At one time we began ordering more and more bizarre combinations of fountain drinks.  There were various flavors of phosphate including cherry, lemon, lime, vanilla, chocolate, etc.  After trying each of those we would try various combinations, such as cherry lemon phosphate or lemon vanilla phosphate.  The ultimate was a “nightmare”, which had a little of each flavor.  My personal favorite was cherry lemon vanilla coke.  After a while, Glenn put a stop to that, when he realized how much syrup he was using in some of those drinks.  I think he allowed two or three flavors without charging extra. 

I spent a lot of time at Tobin Drug.  I would sometimes stop there after collecting my paper route money.  I would treat myself to a malted milk or a Sunday while counting my money.  I also bought my comic books and baseball cards there.  Most kids in the neighborhood collected baseball cards.  We would trade them in an effort to get as many Cleveland Indians as possible.  I think a pack of cards included five cards and two pieces of bubble gum.  One year, when I had a small cash windfall for some reason, I got the bright idea to buy a whole box of bubble gum.  I remember going through all those packs of cards and throwing most of the bubble gum away.  I don’t think I got any better cards that way, although I did get them all at once. 

We liked the Tobin brothers because they seemed like family and they treated us like family.  That was also true of our grocery store.  We had two grocery stores.  One was located at the corner of Euclid and Coit.  It was owned by the large local chain, Fisher Foods.  The other was on the South side of Euclid Avenue and was run by a family named Cerino.  We were on a first name basis with the Cerinos.  The husband, Joe, was the butcher.  His wife, Theresa, worked at the cash register.  They had several others working in the store, at least some of whom were related.  The Cerino family also knew most of us by our first names and treated us all well.  I remember asking Joe, who was his favorite cowboy.  He told me he had three, Roy Ravioli, Gene Antipasto, and Hopalong Cassidicci.  The Cerinos eventually moved to the Fisher Food location across the street.  I’m not sure why Fisher moved out.  The Cerinos were able to grow and prosper, because they were nice people.  They liked everyone and everyone liked them. 

Other businesses included Bernier radio and record shop.  I didn’t go there much and they didn’t seem to do very well.  I often went to Ricks Radio and Record run by Cappy and Kitty Ricks.  It was a little farther down East on Euclid Avenue near Noble Road.  I would make a weekly trip down to Ricks to buy the latest hit record.  I remember that each record cost 89 cents, big money for me in those days.  Those were 78 rpm records and I still have most of them.  After moving to Nela View in 1953, I continued to visit Ricks and began buying 33 rpm or LP records.  I also got to know the Ricks better and ended up working for them.  I will have more to say about that later. 

Since we spent most of our free time at Tobin Drug, we seldom patronized the Hoffman Soda Shop located between Tobin Drug and Fisher Foods.  It was a nice place, but a little too pricey for most kids.  They did have a juke box and served a good malted milk.  I don’t think they stayed in business long.  There was a barber shop on the South side of Euclid.  I remember going there with my dad at first.  Later I would go there by myself.  That was the first of very few barbers, who have cut my hair.  I always tend to be loyal to my barbers.  Sometime I will write an essay about the barbers I have known.  Other businesses included a hardware store and the W.F. Hann Heating and Plumbing store.  The Hann store was more a regional business.  They were family owned.  I still do business with W.F. Hann, which is now located on Richmond Road in Bedford Heights.  Although they have gone through several corporate restructurings, they still have a picture of the Euclid Avenue storefront on display.

We had one very fine restaurant at Coit and Euclid.  The name was Rondini’s Italian Restaurant.  The owners lived in East Cleveland and two of the Rondini boys went to Prospect School.  They were cousins named Ronald and Arthur.  They were both about my age.  Their fathers were the owners of the restaurant.  It was a great treat when our family went up to Rondini’s for spaghetti and meat balls.  I loved the Italian bread that was served with it.  If we didn’t want to go out, dad would be able to buy takeout orders to eat at home.  It always seemed more elegant to eat in the restaurant.  Ron Rondini was a good singer and he became a regular on the Gene Carroll Show on Channel 5.  I understand he passed away several years ago.  His cousin Arthur became a good chef.  I met him once when he was chef at the Blue Grass Restaurant out by the race track.  I think he also worked for the Tangier Restaurant in Akron.

Most businesses in our neighborhood belonged to the East Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.  That group provided a lot of service to the community.  One of their best functions was the annual East Cleveland Community Picnic held at Euclid Beach Park.  That was a great event attended by most people living in East Cleveland.  Merchants would give away strips of tickets good for free rides at the Park.  Many of the businessmen in the community contributed in other ways as well.  Over the years East Cleveland businessmen served as members of the City Commission, School Board and Library Board.  They benefitted from the community’s patronage and they gave back to the community through their service.

Shopping Outside of the Community

If we couldn’t find the things we needed at our doorstep or at Euclid and Taylor, we had two options.  Most shopping for clothes and major items was done in downtown Cleveland.  Sometimes that trip was a little shorter, because we stopped at East 105 and Euclid, which was like a second downtown.   We usually went to one of the major department stores or any number of specialty shops along Euclid Avenue.  We would make those trips by streetcar or bus.  Often everything you needed could be found in one department store.  I often made those trips with my mother.  I did that often enough that I knew where most things were and how to get there.  This came in handy, when I was about ten years old.  At the time I was addicted to Hardy Boy books.  They cost about a dollar and you could get them at Burrows Book Store.  Burrows was located downtown at about 4th and Euclid.  They also had a store at E 105 and Euclid.  Bruce MacMillan and I were allowed to take the bus to Burrows to buy a book.  That became a great adventure for us.  If we went to E 105, we would stop at the Tastyburger hamburger shop for lunch.  You could get a burger, fries and coke for less than a dollar.  If we really wanted to splurge, we would go downtown and eat at the Stouffers Restaurant near Burrows on Euclid Avenue.  We usually ordered Salisbury steak.  I guess we presented quite a sight for the other diners.  We called them the ladies with blue hair.  They were ladies of a certain age, who actually had blue hair.  In any case we did get a few adoring glances and comments from them and the waitresses.

You can see that most of our needs were met by the local business community.  Our trips downtown were special occasions.  Because they were special, we always dressed a little better for those trips.  Our everyday clothes were adequate for local shopping.  You had to dress up for downtown.  Those trips became real adventures.  We didn’t have suburban shopping centers at that time.  The first one anywhere close to us was Severance Center in Cleveland Heights.  That didn’t open until sometime in the 1960s.  The current shopping centers are very convenient if you use an automobile.  In those days we walked more and used public transit even if we owned a car. 


  1. I cant believe the memories you brought back for me! I lived in Taylor rd when I wad 3 years old and walked to that Rexall with my mom and sister and brother and we loved to say," hi Hy!!"
    You are right...very friendly they were there . I can remember the gumball machine and how hard we tried for the prizes, and the original popsicles in the polka dot wrappers in the freezer. 55 yrs. Ago!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Tobin Drug is one of my fondest memories of that place and time. I can remember sitting at the soda fountain counting the collection money from my Press route and drinking cherry, lemon, vanilla cokes. Unfortunately the Tobin brothers are no longer alive. I am trying to get in touch with their families to share memories with them.

  2. Hi, I'm Arthur Rondini and you were right about our restaurantand me. It was nice reading about the old times and places. Thank You

  3. It is great to hear from you Arthur. My readers agree that Rondini's was a great restaurant. It was the go to place for my family when we wanted a night out. I loved the Italian bread smothered in butter. Those were the days. I would love to stay in touch with you. You can contact me at or 216-514-8840.