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A new grocery store opens in downtown Cleveland this morning. But this family-run business is more than a grocery store. It’s more like a food cathedral. The above iPhone photo, shot early this week as cases were being filled, attests to that. But the simile goes beyond architecture. This grocery store, perhaps among the most humble-seeming of businesses, is a symbol of this once moribund city’s recent growth. Downtown Cleveland is now a desirable place to live (apparently it’s at 95% capacity). We’ve long known it’s a desirable place to eat. Astonishingly, it’s made significant lists of must-see destinations (Travel+Leisure, Fodor’s, even the LA Times). Also it’s my hometown and I care for it the way one does a cherished mutt: with devotion and pity and deep love, for all its good and bad. (See this hilarious tourism video, and sports fans far and near in many ways share our pain, know our Factory of Sadness.)

 

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The city was once a grand and teeming metropolis, with John D. Rockefeller striding from his house at 40th and Euclid with his business partner Henry Flagler, down Millionaire’s Row, as the avenue was called, to his offices at Standard Oil. I grew up at Cleveland’s nadir, when the bank above called in the city’s notes and put it into default under Mayor Dennis Kucinich’s reign. The building closed and has been shuttered for a quarter century. What Clevelander could have know in 1905 that what they were seeing rising in their city was a future grocery store. (Our estimable architecture critic Steven Litt spells it all out in this excellent piece on the building and its significance.)

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Grocery stores are filled with so much minutiae, their shelves packed and repacked with so many objects so ordinary (an onion, cereal boxes, milk cartons, meat in styrofoam packages with a sticker on top), that we tend to overlook their fundamental importance to our communities. When Tom and Jeff Heinen open their newest store in this grand Beaux-Arts structure today it signals at least one city to pay attention to its grocery stores. They’re about a lot more than food.

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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.