Lorence Hyler recalls what Coventry Village was like in the 1970s and 80s. He particularly remembers his work with the Food Project and Coventry Books and what remained of the Jewish community in the area.
Lorence Hyler [00:00:10] Mhm, yep.
Mark Souther [00:00:11] Thanks for being here.
Lorence Hyler [00:00:14] Oh, you're welcome.
Mark Souther [00:00:15] Maybe I could just get you to start out by telling me your first memory of Coventry Village.
Lorence Hyler [00:00:22] My first memory of Coventry Village was... I was still living out in the country and Bainbridge and I had a friend who was much older and we got in her parents' car and went to Coventry. I don't even know when that might have been, maybe '72 or 3. So that was the first time I went to Coventry. And the leather working store was still there with the handmade sandals and the handmade purses and the handmade boots. And I remember that. And so that was the first time.
Mark Souther [00:01:00] What was that day like?
Lorence Hyler [00:01:03] We had a great time. I mean, we didn't tell them where we were going because Coventry! Oh, my God! But wandered through the shops and saw a couple of people we knew and, you know, and then I didn't start living in the area until about '74 maybe. I lived in three different places in the area. And then I started working in the area. Gina Lorraine bought the food project from Lenny, I think it was 1980, and I was really good friends with the owner of Coventry Books, Ellie, one of the owners. And so when they bought the food project, they hired me, which was amazing of them because I was about a year sober and very flaky. I got sober in 1979. So this was probably '80, '81, right in there. And Ellie had hired my father as the accountant, and he did the science fiction section at Coventry Books. So. So we worked right across the street from each other which was good. And then he passed away not too long after that, which was hard on all of us. And I knew something was going on with me because I wasn't working up to the level that we all thought I should be able to. It wasn't until 10 years later that I got diagnosed what was wrong. It was some chronic fatigue, immune dysfunction syndrome. I didn't get it diagnosed till the early '90s. So that's what was going on. And none of us knew. And it turns out I've had that since my late teens, so I had it a very long time. Boring subject but anyway, it had to do with with the food project.
Mark Souther [00:03:20] You mentioned the food project, but I wondered... Before we started the interview formally, you mentioned it being the first health food store...
Lorence Hyler [00:03:30] One of the first. One of the first, not the first, but one of the first.
Mark Souther [00:03:34] In Cleveland or nationally?
Lorence Hyler [00:03:38] No, in Cleveland. In Cleveland, yeah, regionally, it was one of the first. There was one on Euclid that has been there for a much longer time than that. But it was one of the first in this area. Different from the food co-op. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:03:56] Was it owned by the same people? Did he say it was owned by the same people that owned Coventry Books or did I misstate that?
Lorence Hyler [00:04:02] No, no, no, no.
Mark Souther [00:04:03] Just located across the street.
Lorence Hyler [00:04:05] Across the street, yeah.
Mark Souther [00:04:10] You also mentioned the leather store. Is this the same one? I interviewed someone a few minutes ago who, actually, right before you, who worked at the leather store and talked about the Hell's Angels coming in to get their coats done there. Can you shed any light on that?
Lorence Hyler [00:04:30] Well, the area was full of lots and lots and lots of different kinds of people. Which was one of the reasons I liked it so much. It wasn't this homogenous stuff that goes on in other suburbs. And it was... And a lot of the people that lived and worked in the area have known each other for years and years and years and years and years. So, yeah.
Mark Souther [00:05:00] What about the Hells Angels? Do you have any memories of seeing them on the street?
Lorence Hyler [00:05:05] Oh, sure. There was a bar called Irv's, which was on the corner. It was Irv's Restaurant and Bar which was there forever and ever, and they would go in and out of Irv's sometimes and they would be on the street with their bikes and, sure. A lot of them lived up on the ridge above the rapid station. It was called the ridge. That was some old frame houses up there and that's where they lived.
Mark Souther [00:05:36] Do you mean the University Circle Rapid Station or a different one?
Lorence Hyler [00:05:39] The Cedar Hill... at the bottom of Cedar Hill, yeah, yeah. There was a ridge above there. There's apartments there now but before the apartments were there, there was a number of houses up in there.
Mark Souther [00:05:53] Do you mean the area that's on, let's see, the east side of Murray Hill that's where all the tall dorm buildings are at Case or am I thinking of the wrong area?
Lorence Hyler [00:06:02] No. No.
Mark Souther [00:06:02] That's the wrong area.
Lorence Hyler [00:06:03] Yeah. You're thinking about the wrong area. If you're coming down Cedar Hill, the rapid station is right there on your left. And the land above the rapid station is where the houses were literally above it.
Mark Souther [00:06:17] So we're talking about on the south side of Cedar, where those tall, several story. Judson Manor and that area.
Lorence Hyler [00:06:25] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:06:27] So were these rental houses that were up in there?
Lorence Hyler [00:06:29] Oh I'm sure.
Mark Souther [00:06:30] Individual rental... separate houses.
Lorence Hyler [00:06:32] Separate houses. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:06:36] Yeah, I was not familiar with what was there because so that's really interesting.
Lorence Hyler [00:06:38] Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:06:39] Wonder how they came to live in that particular pocket.
Lorence Hyler [00:06:43] I don't know. Probably just, just got the house for rent and...
Mark Souther [00:06:49] What about place called the See Saw. Do you remember it?
Lorence Hyler [00:06:52] Oh the See Saw Cafe. Yeah, I remember that from before I got sober too. Sure. Yeah. They frequented the See Saw more than they frequented Irv's. So.
Mark Souther [00:07:04] Was it mostly peaceful or was it, how would you characterize... [crosstalk]
Lorence Hyler [00:07:07] Oh, See Saw was very rowdy. See Saw was very rowdy.
Mark Souther [00:07:12] When I say peaceful, it's a relative term. Did you ever see anything beyond just rowdiness?
Lorence Hyler [00:07:18] Oh, on and off. Sure.
Mark Souther [00:07:23] Could you describe these events?
Lorence Hyler [00:07:24] Oh. Just people being belligerent with each other, basically. Yeah. Not worth talking about.
Mark Souther [00:07:29] Okay, just, just curious.
Lorence Hyler [00:07:31] Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:07:33] Are there any other memories that you'd particularly like to share about either the '70s or the '80s on the street. Maybe the street fair if you could...
Lorence Hyler [00:07:41] Oh, yeah. The street fair has been going on for a very long time. And even when I was living out of town, I would catch the street fair every once in a while when I came back. Yeah. I don't even remember how long street fair has been going on for, but quite some time. The character of the street has changed a lot over the years. There was very much a sense of community between the owners of the stores and the people that worked there, and the people that lived in the area as well. It was very cohesive. Some of that's been lost. Some of it's still there, but some of it, a good deal of it's been lost. There's only a few stores that were there, a few stores and restaurants, that have been there continuously. Tommy's is one. But, you know, basically, it's all changed.
Mark Souther [00:08:45] It's interesting, these changes because, you know, some people refer to the period in which it was Jewish and so they probably had the same recollection of [crosstalk].
Lorence Hyler [00:08:54] Well, sure.
Mark Souther [00:08:55] A sense of loss and... [crosstalk]
Lorence Hyler [00:08:55] Irv's was part of that. Yeah. And then there used to be a poultry store, a Jewish poultry store, and it was still there when I was working at Gene and Lorraine's, and the chickens would get loose every once in a while, which was lots of fun. They'd be chasing the chickens all around. [Laughs]
Mark Souther [00:09:16] That's really funny. Someone else mentioned that store but that a really interesting recollection.
Lorence Hyler [00:09:22] Oh yeah. Yeah. Every once in a while they get loose and they'd be running around the parking lot because it was... there was long driveways, in between the storefronts, that went back to the parking lot. And in fact, there used to be houses on the far side of the parking lot which have since been taken down. I had friends that owned one of those houses, but the chickens would get loose and they'd hightail it for the parking lot and then they'd be much harder to catch that way.
Mark Souther [00:09:50] Are you speakiing of Rock Court?
Lorence Hyler [00:09:51] Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:09:54] You also mentioned... I'm losing my train of thought. Okay, you mentioned Irv's, when I mentioned the Jewish community, that Irv's was part of that. Can you clarify what you mean by part of that because it continued for a while. Did it... How would you characterize Irv's and [crosstalk] its relation to the Jewish community and the so-called hippie community?
Lorence Hyler [00:10:28] Irv's was a pretty seedy place. And the brothers were pretty seedy themselves. But you know they were part of the Jewish community and that's what I was referring to. I'm not sure how much they would be claimed, but they were. [Laughs]Yeah, they were, they were fairly scurrilous.
Mark Souther [00:10:55] And they continued to serve the area through the transition and beyond?
Lorence Hyler [00:11:00] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very, well, you sort of took your life in your hands eating there, but everybody ate there anyway.
Mark Souther [00:11:09] Did you enjoy it?
Lorence Hyler [00:11:10] Oh, some things. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:11:12] What was the best thing on the menu?
Lorence Hyler [00:11:14] Oh, that's so long ago. Oh, I couldn't tell you at this point. It's quite a while ago.
Mark Souther [00:11:26] Someone mentioned corned... really good corned beef.
Lorence Hyler [00:11:29] Yeah, yeah. They had they had deli stuff. Usually if I had the money, I would get pastrami. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:11:39] When did Grumm's go in down there? Was that part of this era or is it later?
Lorence Hyler [00:11:45] Yeah, I think it was, I think it was, Grumm's was a little later than that. My sense of time is not all that great, but I think Grummm's was a little later. I mean, Grum's has been there a good while, but it was, I think it was later. And the leather store I'm talking about, I was talking about, was gone by the middle '70s. So they... This other person may have been talking about the leather store down the street called Sunshine. No? They were talking about the early one?
Mark Souther [00:12:17] I think they're talking... I know they were talking about the early one that predated Sunshine. [crosstalk].
Lorence Hyler [00:12:19] Okay, good. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Mark Souther [00:12:25] And I forget what they said the name of it was.
Lorence Hyler [00:12:27] I can't remember the name of it either.
Mark Souther [00:12:30] They indicated...
Lorence Hyler [00:12:32] Mike's, maybe? Mikes. Something.
Mark Souther [00:12:36] Maybe, but I didn't hear that name.
Lorence Hyler [00:12:38] Yeah. It was somebody's name. Yeah, somebody's leather shop, Mike's leather shop or whoever that was named for.
Mark Souther [00:12:51] Were there any kosher meat markets other than the poultry market that you remember that were still in business in the '70s or had those not survived the shift?
Lorence Hyler [00:13:00] I remember. I think there was one way up the street where Tommy's first location was, and I think around that, at the corner or just around the corner of Mayfield. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:13:15] How long did that hold on?
Lorence Hyler [00:13:18] They held on for a good while. I think... I want to say maybe early '80s, early to mid '80s. Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:13:38] Last question, then I'll ask you if you have anything you'd like to add. A couple of people mentioned the Heights Art Theater. I wonder if you have any recollections of going there.
Lorence Hyler [00:13:52] Oh, yeah. Yeah, I went to a number of performances. It was a great place. And I think that it was a big loss when it left.
Mark Souther [00:14:10] Do you have a film that stands out to you that you saw there?
Lorence Hyler [00:14:15] No, I thought you were talking about the live theater, Dobama. Oh, you're talking about Heights, the movie theater. I was thinking Dobama. Sorry. Yeah. I saw a number of movies there. I remember when they made A Clockwork Orange. I saw that there. From the book. Actually, I remember when the book came out and Ellie had a display of them at the bookstore. I didn't officially work at the bookstore, but I did a lot of work in there anyway because it was basically family. You know. My... it's funny. I always referred to Ellie to my kids as Aunt Ellie, and my daughter for a long time thought that she was my blood sister. I said, No, no. She said, well, I didn't know.
Mark Souther [00:15:21] Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Lorence Hyler [00:15:22] Just that it was very sad when Coventry Books closed because it gave so much to the area. It was very, an important part of why the area was so cohesive, that and Arabica. Those two, those two places. It was a meeting place. It was an information place. It was great books, both new and used. It was... Yeah, it was an important part of the community.
Mark Souther [00:16:04] Did it completely predate Mac's Backs?
Lorence Hyler [00:16:07] Mac's Back's, actually, you know, I don't know. I don't remember whether Mac's Back's started... Mac's Backs started very small. I don't know whether Mac's Backs started at the end before Coventry Books closed or whether after. We, you would have to ask Suzanne that, or Ellie.
Mark Souther [00:16:29] Yeah, and I understand that they, you know, when they listen to this, they'll say, oh I know that, but I was just asking for my own curiosity.
Lorence Hyler [00:16:35] Yeah. Yeah. I'll actually I'll ask Ellie, and let you know.
Mark Souther [00:16:42] Thanks very much.
Lorence Hyler [00:16:42] Oh, you're welcome.
Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.