I’ve loved Cleveland since I went to the Westside Market during a road trip with my parents when I was in middle school. It was the first time I’d been anywhere in the Midwest that felt as old-fashioned and quaint as New England. Years later I’ve made a habit of stopping at the market every time I drive from Chicago back to New England to see my family. Recently a writing project has encouraged me to explore Cleveland and stay overnight. Cleveland has always reminded me of Detroit– it eerily feels like there aren’t as many people as there ought to be. But because of that, many of the buildings and the neighborhoods seem better preserved than a more trafficked city like Chicago. For me, Cleveland offers an opportunity to see the Midwest as it once was. A city built by the iron and steel industries, home to a gargantuan public library, one of the nation’s “big five” symphony orchestras and an opera company. But these are the surface assets a tourist would notice.
The Midwest-centric, Belt Publishing has answered my tourist ignorance and released the Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook. Each of the book’s 23 chapters is written by a Cleveland native focusing on their neighborhood. Between each chapter are Best of lists chosen by Belt Publishing editors. These include: (deservedly) spendy restaurants, neighborhood bars, coffee shops, museums, live music venues, galleries, hikes, thrift stores, dive bars, etc. There are a few “homage to” sections that read like insider tips for non Clevelanders– bars and bakeries that are too good for the best of lists.
I enjoyed nearly each chapter– each first person account of what my neighborhood means to me, or what it meant to me. Reading about the LGBTQ scene in Hingetown, a low-cost community housing experiment in North Collinwood, and a literary past in Coventry pushed me to connect with a city I have no business yearning for. The chapters reveal Cleveland as a rough and tumble place, a rust belt city America turned its back on, but a city with a rich and complex cultural history owing to the diverse immigrant communities that continue to maintain a presence. This collection of first person stories and lists of favorites paints Cleveland as a pretty-from-a-certain-angle city akin to a flawed family member– a friend you would not have chosen but love dearly. Reading the Cleveland Neighborhood Guide will inspire you to dig deeper into the history of your neighborhood both separate and one with your city, and consider your place in its history.
The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook is a must read for any Clevelander, soon to be Clevelander, or frequent Cleveland tourist like myself. Buy it at local bookstores, or online here.