The area near Mt. Carmel Catholic Church—around West 69th & Detroit—is Cleveland's West Side "Little Italy." Walk down W. 65th or W. 69th toward the lake and you'll notice that nearly every telephone pole and fire hydrant has been painted with the colors of the Italian flag. The names on the storefronts sometimes echo this theme, but things are changing.
Years ago I remember struggling to find the tiny bakery tucked behind a house on the one-way part of W. 69th. A friend had suggested that I go there to buy unbaked bread dough that they sold in plastic bags to use to make a pizza.
You can only see the sign when you're coming down the street from Detroit Avenue. Once there you have to walk down the driveway to the garage—the bakery itself. I remember the narrow streets with lots of people—it felt like a city.
Today I was walking for exercise and went down W. 69th to see if the bakery was still there. The sign was, but when I looked into the back I saw paper signs taped to the doors: Fiocca's Bakery is CLOSED.
I remember that when I last visited the aroma of baked bread was wonderful, and you could get anything you wanted—as long as you wanted a loaf of Italian bread. Or a package of unbaked dough.
The bread wasn't great. It was good, but not so good that it made me go back again and again. What I loved about it then, and I regret the loss of now, is the idea of a tiny family-run business on an obscure sidestreet that served its neighbors.
In my neighborhood now we have a lot of small businesses, and I'm grateful for that, but many are here because the neighborhood is somewhat "trendy." The upscale salon on Fulton probably doesn't get most of its customers from people living nearby, nor does the fancy Mexican restaurant.
The small mom-and-pop grocery stores that used to be on every third or fourth corner are mostly gone. There used to be five corner stores within a six-block radius. Now there's one.
So sure, Dave's Supermarket is a big step forward—more food, more convenient, cheaper—and still better than Wal-Mart. But I miss Fiocca's and the other small operators who've given up for one reason or another. The neighborhood is poorer for it.