Remember when Coventry wasn't cool?
Some guy, in a Facebook group about growing up in Cleveland Heights, posted the comment “Remember when Coventry used to be cool?”
That drew dozens of responses, almost all of them saying that Coventry still is cool.
The guy who posted that was referring to Coventry in the early 2000s—a time, he’d be surprised to learn, when people were also saying “remember when Coventry used to be cool,” referring to the 1990s. The fact is people have been saying this since about 1971 (referring to 1968). Really. It’s a thing. People who hang around Coventry for a few years eventually see changes happening and decide that the whole place is ruined—from whenever their first experience was in the area.
I lived near Coventry for my whole childhood. In fact, both of my parents, at times in their youth, lived on Coventry Road. When my father was born, his family lived on Washington Boulevard, three or four houses behind the Coventry Library. Then they moved to a house on Coventry, in the block north of Mayfield, in a house that backed up to Mayfield Cemetery—a house from which you could probably see my father’s grave. In his teens, my father worked on Coventry, in the fish market whose space later became the original Big Fun location. Apparently, it was not “big fun” when he worked there: When my parents started dating, in high school, my mother’s mother wouldn’t allow him in their apartment because he smelled of fish.
That apartment, where my mother lived with her mother and baby brother, was upstairs of what is now Hunan Coventry. At the time, it was Uberstine’s Drug Store. It was still Uberstine’s when I was a kid, and later became Carroll Drug, before the current Chinese restaurant. My mother lived there until the building burned. My mother and grandmother and uncle got out—though my mother ran back into the burning apartment to grab the box that held all of my grandmother’s money; money she made working across the street at the Cottage Creamery (later Pick-N-Pay, and now Marc’s). This was during the Great Depression, so their money was not in a bank, and saving it was essential. But they lost her late father’s Stradivarius violin in the fire. And their grand piano, which crashed through the floor.
Uberstine’s rebuilt and reopened. In the 1950s, when I was a child, it was still there. It had a long soda fountain along the south side of the store. And they had pay phones in big phone booths with glass doors that closed and built-in seats to sit on.
I grew up on Belmar, close to Mayfield. And I went to Coventry School, where my father had also attended. I used to walk to and from school, usually via Coventry Road. Though sometimes I jay-walked across Mayfield from Belmar, and walked up the semi-secret stone staircase that led into someone’s backyard driveway on Hampshire, and then across Hampshire to Rock Road, the almost-hidden dirt road that went from Hampshire down a hill and past the back of the Pick-N-Pay parking lot, ending at Euclid Heights Boulevard, directly across from Coventry School.
Coventry Road was full of Eastern European shops—Kosher meat markets; the fish monger; a kosher chicken-slaughtering place (where kids would stop on their way home from school and stand outside to hear the chickens squawking and see feathers flying out the door); two or three delis; three Jewish bakeries; a couple of corned beef restaurants; a fancy fur shop; a dusty, dark appliance store and repair place; a music store, Motter’s (now located on Mayfield Road in South Euclid); three drug stores; a barber shop and a beauty salon; a bank (which is still there); the Pick-N-Pay grocery; and a “toy store,” which, I’m guessing, was a front for something, because when kids wandered in and saw that there were no toys there, the gruff old men inside would yell at them to beat it.
So Coventry was not cool back then. It didn’t become cool until the mid-1960s. And every couple of years since then people notice that certain places have closed and new ones have taken their place. And if the new places aren’t the places that were there when they first started hanging out, the new places must not be cool.
Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. But I remember Coventry when it really wasn’t cool, and when I go there, which is often, it always seems cool to me.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.