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JULY 21, 2009   

Good ol' days, bad ol' days

When I was a kid on Cleveland's East Side the shoemaker's shop was two blocks away, next to a bakery, an appliance repair shop, a florist and other small businesses. In this pre-supermarket, pre-shopping mall era mom would send one of us kids to buy a loaf of bread, or to take a worn pair of shoes to get new heels put on.

One of the last remnants of that world is a small white trailer wedged between the post office and a used car lot at West 65th and Lorain. Almost a year ago I visited Wlady's Shoe Repair hoping to get a pair of boots fixed, but Wlady was nowhere to be found. I came back on another day and saw no signs of life at the shop. i sadly chalked this up as another neighborhood landmark gone forever.

Wlady holding my bootsSo I was really happy last week when Jared and I saw the trailer door open and went in to talk with Wlady, an 80-something gentleman who's been fixing shoes for a long time. He said for twelve bucks he could put new heels on the cheap hiking boots I bought at Target.

Today I handed the boots to Wlady across the worn counter. He wrote out a small paper claim ticket and said they'd be ready on Friday, or if I preferred I could pick them up on Saturday.

This seemed like an altogether good transaction: I'll get several months' more wear out of the boots for a few dollars. A neighborhood businessman gets a bit more work to help keep him going. We both enjoyed a brief, friendly conversation—neither the forced cheeriness of a Starbucks barista nor the disinterested greeting of a bored teenage clerk at Dave's.

There was a lot about the "old days" that wasn't so good, and I'm not anxious to live the way I did in the 50s. But still there's a great sense of humanity we lost when the mom and pop stores of all types were replaced by shopping centers and discount stores.

Like the bad ol' days

When we first moved to Clinton Avenue in 1972 both sides of the street from West 29th to West 32nd were lined with houses. The south side had big fancy ones, while those on the north were a mix of big and small. There were two or three of them that we had our eye on: we figured if we could get one cheap enough we could transform it with a whole lot of sweat equity.

Neighborhood arsonists had a different idea. Over the span of a few years the houses burned, one or two at a time. Sometimes we heard rumors of who had been paid to set the fire so the owner could collect insurance money. It wasn't unusual to spend part of a summer night standing in the street talking with neighbors who'd gathered to watch another house go up in flames.

Burned-out housesIt's been a lot of years since Clinton Avenue burned, but I'm afraid with all the foreclosed, abandoned houses it may start again. Yesterday these three houses on West 44th near Lorain burned down when the middle one was set aflame by an arsonist.

The picture was taken today at 11:30 a.m. By 8 p.m. all that remained were three big piles of rubble. I guess I'm happy that the city demolished the houses before someone could torch them again, but...

what a stunning change for the people who lived there: forced to run from their burning homes one night and to return to a pile of wood, brick and ashes the next.

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