This year, Executive Arrangements celebrates its 40th Anniversary! That is 40 years of working and connecting with great Northeast Ohio companies, recruits, new hires, and families!
As part of our celebration, Caroline Weingart, EA’s Director of Settling-In Services, is sharing one of her favorite spots in Northeast Ohio…The Van Aken District! In her own words, here is how this district has changed over the years into the special place that it is today!
The original Van Aken Shopping Center opened in 1953 and was celebrated by a ribbon cutting by former Mayor Van Aken’s wife. It featured 27 stores and was considered one of the largest developments in Greater Cleveland according to The Cleveland Press.
Van Aken was always a busy spot in Shaker Heights. It is located at the eastern end of the RTA’s blue line rapid transit and was home to some of the area’s more popular destinations. At one time or another there was the Vogue Theater, Mawby’s (a counter-only burger joint), Woolworth’s, and The Virginian (a supper club with musical greats like Bobby Short on a Saturday night and fashion show lunches during the day). There were stylish boutiques like William Kitt and jewelry stores, Sand’s Delicatessen, Noggin’s Raw Bar & Pub, Draeger’s Candy and Ice Cream parlor, Pearl of the Orient, and so many more over the years. It was more than just a plaza, it was Shaker’s downtown or the closest thing to it.
Almost 20 years ago, the plans for the new Van Aken District started with the City’s Strategic Investment Plan of 2000. Thousands of residents identified problem areas within the city and developed a long term roadmap. The redevelopment was built upon three themes: “the importance of purposeful planning, public-private partnerships, and transit-oriented development as a vehicle for neighborhood and economic revitalization.”
(Economic Development Journal/ Spring 2016/Volume 15/Number 2/Tania Menesse)
The next stage was the reconfiguring of Northfield Road, Warrensville Center Road, and Chagrin Boulevard. It was one of the most dangerous intersections in Northeast Ohio until the $18.5 million street reconfiguration.
The purpose of the redevelopment was to bring the character and quality of Shaker Heights’ residential neighborhoods into the commercial districts. It wanted to create a “place” where people work, live, and play while diversifying Shaker’s tax base.
As a 24-year resident of Shaker Heights, I have eagerly watched the planning and finally the opening of the Van Aken District. We recently hosted the Shaker Heights High School AfterProm there in April. Jason Russell of RMS went out of his way to help us plan and implement a fun-filled and safe event for 320 seniors! The students loved being there in their hometown place. It was so fun to see them gathering, eating, and studying for finals there in May, as well.
It is definitely a place of community and gathering. The Sunset Market sponsored by North Union Farmers Market will begin on Thursday, June 13th and will run every Thursday during the summer from 4:00-7:00 pm. They will feature live music, produce, and prepared foods.
Throughout the summer, the Van Aken District will be hosting Movie Nights, Beer Garden evenings, and the Cleveland Flea Night Markets. The residents of Shaker Heights have not had a downtown or central gathering spot until now. And, the lines at Brassica, Rising Star Coffee, and On the Rise demonstrate how eager we were for this project. We have places to buy gifts, clothing, shoes, and eyewear. It has great restaurants and another opening soon. We can exercise then get refreshments. All of this right in Shaker Heights!
These photos show that things are already thriving. And, a few more stores and restaurants are on the verge of opening.