Many Clevelanders are scrambling to finish up last-minute shopping today. This year - for the first time - city residents who favor the shopping center experience can find it in their backyard. Steelyard Commons, the city's first big-box retail center, just recently opened. Some controversy surrounded the complex when it was in the planning stages, mostly surrounding its anchor tenant, Wal-Mart Supercenter, and competition to existing businesses. Now that it's built and open for business, it appears to be attracting shoppers from near and far. ideastream's reporter Tasha Flournoy has more.
The parking lot outside the Target store was bustling around evening rush hour last week. Workers hustled to gather shopping carts. Drivers inched by each other to find parking spots, and shoppers buzzed in and out of the big box store. It's the busiest shopping time of the year. It's not just holiday shopping that attracts folks to Steelyard, but curiosity and convenience too. Ron Adrian of Shaker Heights decided on a whim to stop by Target.
Ron Adrian: Well, I was downtown and I knew they had a Target here. And so as a result, I thought it's closer than going all the way out to the Heights. It's only five minutes from downtown. So that made it convenient.
That's the prevailing attitude among these Steelyard Commons shoppers. They enjoy big box retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot nestled between the Jennings Freeway and Interstate 71. That central location makes it a prime spot for like Donna Mason of Berea.
Donna Mason: This is the spot to be at. This is the place to be. It's nice. It's convenient. Cause if you know East to West you can get to it.
Developer Mitchell Schneider had that in mind when he planned the retailer center. Speaking on WCPN in 2005, Schneider cited a study by Cuyahoga County planners that showed the majority of Clevelanders shopped in the 'burbs. He said urbanites wanted and needed shopping closer to their homes.
Mitchell Schneider: In this million square feet what we're doing is bringing a whole grouping of merchants to the City of Cleveland that right now the residents of the city of Cleveland just don't have access to.
At the time, debate was swirling around the prospect of Schneider's named anchor tenant, Wal-Mart, building its first supercenter, including grocery, within the city limits. Schneider ultimately overcame the Wal-Mart controversy, and by February of this year the first store had opened, with others soon following.
It's arguably too early to tell how Steelyard Commons will ultimately change the business landscape in Cleveland. Urban planner and Cleveland State
University Professor Jim Kastelic is doubtful about whether big box retail centers in general are good business. Kastelic says retail development continues to grow in Cuyahoga County while population continues to decline. And, he worries that independent grocers such as Dave's Supermarkets could suffer when big-name companies offer lower-prices.
Jim Kastelic: Once the other small businesses go out of business. Then they raise their prices and that has happened repeatedly throughout this country.
Dave's owner Burt Saltzman says he's not worried. His family business runs 13 Dave's supermarkets in the Cleveland area. He says he knows and trusts his customers, and the competition is healthy.
Burt Saltzman: Of course you always want to be competitive. You always want to try to hold onto as much business as you can. But you do other things better, you know you have certain prices. Maybe a little more quality. Be a little more friendly. There’s a lotta things that you could do that maybe they can't.
Sales figures, tax receipts and other numerical data will offer a better indicator of Steelyard Commons' success when they become available. But anecdotally, the new shopping venue is drawing new fans - like Alice Shaffer, who lives just four miles away.
Alice Shaffer: It’s practically in my backyard. Tasha: Oh, really. I like it here and I can stop on my way home from work.
Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.