"People ask me, 'Aren't you worried about the future, being in the book business?' I always say: We're not in the book business. We're in the Cleveland business." -- Felton Thomas, Director of the Cleveland Public Library
When I told my friends I was moving to from Chicago to Cleveland, they said, “You’re crazy! You’ll hate it there!”
But when I told them I’d been hired at the Cleveland Public Library, they said, "Oh, all those books! That’s perfect for you! You'll love it!"
Today I'm surrounded by books and I've got my hair pinned up as I sit behind the computer assistant desk at the Rice Library in Buckeye-Shaker. But as my director says, I am not in the book business. I am in the Cleveland business.
The people of Cleveland come in every morning to read the newspaper. I'm not in the book business. I am in the business of public engagement with civic life, of helping people find out the truth about our government, and of teaching them to sort out truth from propaganda, facts from alternative facts. I am in the business of defending free speech, democracy, and civil rights.
All day, every day, dozens of men--almost all men--come in for their two precious hours of computer time. We learn everything from how to use a mouse to how to fill out an online job application. We write resumes. I refer people to job training programs. I teach home health aides to make copies of their time sheets and fax them in. Pierre's Ice Cream is hiring; so is Coca-Cola; you can get your CDL through the El Barrio Workforce Development program. I am not in the book business: I am in the (un)employment business.
The children of Cleveland come in at 3:34 on the dot, fifty third-graders shrieking for their lunch. We give them each a paper bag: a sandwich, a carton of skim milk, a piece of fruit. I slice oranges. I look at the skinnier kids and think that actually, whole milk would be better. I cajole them into cleaning up after themselves. Then we do an activity (Music Mondays! Tech Tuesdays!), read a story, and do homework or play video games until closing time. I am not in the book business. I am in the raising children business.
All day long, harried women--it's almost entirely women--come in clutching envelopes from Job and Family Services, desperate to use the fax machine. I've faxed in pay stubs, tax returns, driver's licenses, all the floating and easily lost paperwork that they need to navigate the social service system. If this is a safety net, it's one that requires some serious computer savvy and an endless supply of dimes. Don't tell my manager, but occasionally I've swiped my own card for a woman with three kids, one crucial document, and no dime. I am not in the book business. I am in the alleviating poverty business.
On Wednesday nights, the library is busy--people used to go to church on Wednesday nights, but now they come to the poetry slam, or the knitting group, or the gallery walk, or the movie screening. I am not in the book business; I am in the arts business.
But yes, it’s true that occasionally, I get to be in the book business, finding a book on crystal healing for a Jack-Sparrow-costumed Vietnam vet, who's an evangelist for the Nation of Islam. I get to help hipsters track down books by Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, and Amy Sedaris. I get to check out a stack of kids' DVDs and then cautiously check them in, opening them discreetly over the counter, not my lap, in case of bedbugs or roaches or lice. I get to give hopeful young men stacks of CDs by Marvin Gaye, Barry White, and Luther Vandross. They blush a little. It's cute. I am in the healing-laughing-babysitting-true love business.
We’ve been worrying about the future of the library business since Hypatia. But I am not worried about the future of libraries, because we are already in the future of libraries. We are in the book business, and the social service business, and the education business, and the arts business, and the true love business. Here at the Rice Library, we’re in the Cleveland business. And none of those businesses is going away.
L.S. Quinn is a library assistant at the Cleveland Public Library. She is also a slam poet, has been published in the Akron Anthology by Belt Magazine, and works as a wedding and funeral celebrant.
Lucky me. I’ve been “engaged” to the Square since childhood through food, filmmaking, interviewing and programming. Is it best for an evening walk for the couples? The dog walkers? The skateboarders? Or for memories of Arabica’s coffee and conversation, Tassi’s and Shaker Square Beverage’s special food and wine, Anna Polshek’s grown-up dresses, or children’s clothes at Helen Hale? I remember so many things, one of the first tent art shows in town. As a kid, I went bowling, stopped at Miller Drugs for ice cream, experienced my first solo rapid rides to downtown.
At mid-life, I helped organize and advocate for the repairs of a crumbling past to build the future and present we know. My children were among the last to choose a toy at Clark’s Restaurant, pick up an afternoon pastry at Hough Bakery or shop at the music store. The children have gone on to live in four different states, missing the community connectedness of Saturday mornings at the food stalls of North Union Farmer’s Market and the social consciousness of the owners of Edwin’s.
I remember the glamour of Balaton’s at its original spot on Buckeye, the violins playing at the table, dinner there the night my first book was accepted for publication. At Moreland Courts, the telephone operator, armed with her old-fashioned plug-in system, was the queen of information. She saw to all of her building residents’ personal needs: heat (when to turn on and off), and deliveries from the drug store, cleaners, and grocers. These times seem like ancient history, when elegance reigned and city leaders lived at the Square to escape the soot of the town.
As Shaker Square recognized its importance as a portal to the eastern suburbs, especially the national model of integration of Shaker Heights, and its wonderful core location and diverse population, it changed its services: Dave’s Supermarket, foods ranging from popcorn to many fine restaurants, from ethnic to delis and serious French cooking. It began to embrace the contingent location of Larchmere full of boutiques, good food and Loganberry Books.
Fun stories abound. People meeting boyfriends and girlfriends, women going into labor at the movie theatre, and families sitting on the lawn for band concerts. One time, when I was interviewing residents, an older resident insisted that she shopped at HMO Schwartz (FAO Schwartz) and a man said he was the “mayor” of Shaker Square.
I lived on the eastern edge of the square in Shaker Towers condominium for 31 years. While living on Warrington at Onaway Road prior to that for over 20 years, our family lived through the process of integrating Shaker Heights – our children went to both Onaway and Moreland Schools which gave us insight and perspective on what all of this meant. Current national exhibitions at the New York Public Library and stories in major newspapers like the New York Times verify that Shaker is still a national model. This only laid the groundwork for a lifelong attitude.
Later, as empty nesters we chose to live on the 11th floor of the tallest building on the east side. We could look at the lake, see the storms come in and out, pretend we were in Central Park because of all of the greenery and continue our belief in the Square as a haven for the city’s population. Shaker Towers was constructed in 1948 to allow populations that had not been allowed at Moreland Courts under the covenants of the Van Sweringens to live at the square in suites as spacious as those at the courts. All of this is true history and to present generations seems a made-up fairy tale. Thus our neighbors were Rabbi Lelyveld, Zelma George, Carl Stokes, and Dorothy Fuldheim, all who broke the barriers. The population mix has remained to this day and as other properties followed national regulations the building stands tall in social leadership, a characteristic of Shaker Square.
Nina Freedlander Gibans is an award-winning writer, author, and filmmaker and long-time Buckeye-Shaker resident. Learn more about her complex biography at www.ninagibans.com and www.universitycirclefilm.com.
I am a native Clevelander who was born at University Hospital. My journey began living in the Central Neighborhood with my grandparents in their big house with many family members, plenty of windows and spacious rooms. I have some sweet memories of my childhood. The first birthday party I remember I was having trouble blowing the candles out on my cake. I can see me now, looking at the bright flames while family members stood nearby. Once I finally blew the candle flames out, they clapped their hands with joy.
When Grandma Maggie passed away, we moved into the Hough community surrounded by homes, apartment buildings, bars, churches, schools, the League Park Recreation Center swimming pool, supply stores, libraries and multicultural families. I attended Cleveland Public School’s Dunham Elementary, Addison Jr. High School, and graduated from East High School in the 1960s.
I worked as a seamstress for two well-known sewing companies; Bobbie Brooks and Richmond Brothers. Then I was blessed to obtain employment with Day Nursery Association as an assistant pre-school teacher. It was a wonderful experience to then attend and graduate from Cuyahoga Community College with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. It paved the way for me to further my career and education.
After moving for a while to the west coast, my family returned to Cleveland in the mid-1980's. I remember that warm summer when we moved into the Buckeye- Shaker community. What a great experience to meet wonderful families in a vibrant, booming community. I loved the yearly community festival on Buckeye Road. We especially enjoyed the parade. It was a perfect time to connect with each other.
There were always so many exciting things to do and see and we could walk or take the bus and rapid. Everything at our fingertips: schools, churches, playgrounds, Pick N Pay supermarket, Woolworth’s, dry cleaners, churches, movie theater, hardware store, record store, and restaurants. Saint Luke's Hospital was already a firm anchor then, and so was Buckeye.
We believed it was the time to settle down and to participate in this great community, and we did. We decided to purchase a home on the north side of Buckeye Road. The community was known for being strong diverse community with cultural pride.
We purchased a home that was owner-occupied and in good condition, considering its age. It was obvious that the owner enjoyed and loved her home. My mom owned property in the south and she explained to me what to look for and ask for. During our walk-through, I was reminded of my childhood environment and family.
The seller, an elderly Hungarian widow, stated, “I would like for you to purchase my home. I feel you would be the perfect family to take care of it.”
“This is my family home,” I shared with the owner. “I will take good care of ‘our’ home.”
I was taught as a young child to take care of my belongings. Her home was well-kept and the backyard was immaculate with beautiful rose bushes. I kept my promise. I know she would be so proud of me.
A year after purchasing our home, I was invited to join the Street Club. Soon I was voted in as the Volunteer Secretary, and eventually President. I received The Cornerstone Award from Buckeye Area Development Corporation at their 36th Anniversary Luncheon and the City of Cleveland Award for my dedication to Buckeye community volunteer services.
The Saint Luke’s Foundation and Neighborhood Progress and its partners have supported a wide range of neighborhood projects, including the Art and Soul Park at 118th to provide additional space for festivities. I’ve really enjoyed all of the educational activities available. I will always cherish the opportunity the organizations provided us. We became a Model Block Street Club due to many loyal homeowners, landlords and renters.
I graduated from the Neighborhood Leadership Institute, 27th class, a Certificate of Achievement presented by Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. The experience of sharing and learning from of my classmates was just wonderful.
The last ten years things gradually began changing in Buckeye, like many Cleveland neighborhoods. There was a shift from homeowners to renters, foreclosure, and crime. Longtime owners did not abandon properties, but remained to assist and keep our street stable. Assistance from the City of Cleveland, Saint Luke’s Foundation, Neighborhood Connections, Cleveland Clinic, Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, Penrose Properties, Buckeye Area Development Corporation, Cleveland Foundation & Gund Foundation, Sisters of Charity & New Village Corporation, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Greater Cleveland RTA, Metro Hospital, and many more has made all the difference.
Although these are challenging times in so many ways, we will continue to serve our community with our Block Club. I truly believe our lives are like puzzles pieces. We keep changing and adding pieces, no piece are the same size, shape, or color. Our neighborhood is steadily progressing in so many ways. I will continue to help keep it moving forward.
Gwen Graffenreed has been a community leader for over 30 years, and says she has learned a lot in the process. She finds the work to be challenging, educational, and rewarding, and is grateful to the many people and organizations that make up this wonderful community.
Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.