Accidental Entrepreneurs

The 1300 building melds the yin and yang of business and art on West 78th Street.

At 1300 W. 78th St., a nondescript brick building with the painted words "American Greetings Creative Studios" fading on its side, it's easy to run into a former, current or future rock star.

"[Legendary punk band] Social Distortion came in the other week," says Marty Geramita, whose 1300 Gallery is located in the building. "That type of thing happens a lot," he adds, maneuvering past a group of black-clad, multipierced young people in the hallway.

Impromptu sets by iconoclastic punk bands mesh well with 1300's 20-plus artistic, entertainment and fashion businesses. The building is an incubator of sorts, a creative enclave originated by Geramita, manager of Cleveland artist Derek Hess, who began by inviting other artist types to sublease space in the building three years ago.

"The idea was they could pay rent to 1300, have a room and [the gallery] is not surviving solely off of its art sales," explains Geramita, who, at 36, admits to being a few years older than the average 1300 employee.

Soon after getting the word out, Geramita had a thriving office subculture on his hands, where business casual is visible tattoos and band T-shirts.

"If someone wore khakis to work, we would ask them if someone died," notes Mike Shea, whose graying hair is the only thing that gives him away as one of 1300's elder statesmen. He is founder and president of Alternative Press, a 20-year-old punk-rock magazine with national distribution.

Another tenant is Jak Prints, a nationally known entertainment-promotions and apparel-printing company specializing in products for bands. Jak Prints started out as a small East Side T-shirt shop. After only a few years, it's now the go-to full-service printing and apparel place for everyone from local bands to nationally known groups. MTV and huge record labels, including Sony, are among its clients.

Daemon Guess, part-owner of Jak Prints and in his 20s — though with his baggy pants and boyish face he could pass easily as a teen skate punk — ticks off the names of bands and artists they've worked with at 1300: Graffiti and mixed-media artist Bask had a solo exhibition, former Dead Kennedys member and spoken-word artist Jello Biafra performed and Cleveland rock band Disengage shot a video in the building. 1300 has also hosted fashion shows, record-release parties, benefits and such intriguing shows as the 50/50 exhibit — 50 works by 50 artists for $50 each.

The symbiotic relationship between these businesses makes the whole thing work. "If you think about it, it's all about entertainment," says Guess. "We have printers, galleries, recording studios, artists. • It's an epicenter of creative force, a culmination of all the different people. We feed off each other."

The sharing of creative forces is more than just an abstraction. The businesses complement one another's services. "We use tons of framing and printing [at the gallery] and you always need photography," says Geramita. "It's great to have all my resources in one place."

Even the architecture at 1300 unites its inhabitants in a single, creative flow. The offices were designed with brightly painted, curved walls that stream from one space to the next, allowing light to travel freely.

But the scene is even more impressive on the opening evening for an art show, where 500 to 600 patrons often find themselves experiencing the whole 1300 operation.

"We leave it up to each individual business whether they want to keep their doors open during the shows," explains Geramita. "Some keep them open in order to generate traffic and bring attention to their business."

In the past, the crowds have been so large that Geramita roped off the small parking lot near the gallery in order to accommodate spillover.

There are some serious art buyers, according to Geramita. The rest of the stylish group is made up of those who come to see and be seen in what is quickly becoming one of the most interesting places in Cleveland.

"When I really stop to think about it, getting all these likeminded businesses to come together, ... it's kind of weird how it all came together like this," he says. "And now we are all just one happy alternative family."

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