The Shape of the Square

Shaker Square celebrated its 75th birthday late last year, soon after the waning East Side landmark got a new local owner. Now, The Coral Co. CEO Peter Rubin is reaching beyond retail to forge a new identity for the nation's second-oldest shopping center.

Shaker Square has been part of Peter Rubin's life since he graduated from law school 25 years ago. But The Coral Co. CEO got a fresh view of the East Side landmark when his Beachwood real estate firm took over the historic property last fall.

"I almost have to pinch myself sometimes because I went to Shaker Square every day before I owned it," says Rubin, whose company purchased the 150,000-square-foot shopping center for $7.5 million.

But it will take a different approach to stem the closings that have dogged Shaker Square in recent years. Rubin says the first step is filling vacancies left by niche and chain stores with businesses that cater to a larger number of people who live near Shaker Square. (Think dry cleaners instead of boutiques.) We talked to him about what has hurt the landmark, how he'll fix it and why art and fine dining are vital parts of the plan.

How is your approach to Shaker Square different from the previous owner's?

"We're not trying to cater to one portion of the demographic. We think success will be the result of catering to the entire neighborhood. There are a handful of stores there now doing it."

And that's why some retailers have struggled there?

"I guess so. Wild Oats had a grocery store there. It's a wonderful store, but it has a very narrow appeal. It's hard to build a town center around a store that has a narrow appeal."

How does what you're doing compare to new Greater Cleveland retail destinations such as Legacy Village, which has lured away former Shaker Square tenants?

"We're not trying to create a destination, we're trying to create an intersection. Places such as Legacy Village and Crocker Park and Eton Collection are destinations. We don't even want to dare compete with them. • Shaker Square will have two personas. As the sun shines, it's going to be a community shopping center with a grocery store and the kind of convenience retailers a busy household demands. • In the evenings it will be restaurant, cinema, art and entertainment. Part of improving the public space involves building a new fully equipped amphitheater on one side of the square so, in good weather, we can have outdoor performances."

How did your collaboration with Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks, which will both help plan public art for Shaker Square, come about?

"People have been looking for Shaker Square to return to its days as a place where you would run into people — where you rendezvous. And so we have bold plans for the public space, the green areas of Shaker Square, which have stayed the same for 75 years. It's a little bit controversial because some people would like to see it stay the same as it is — a village green — but we're taking the public space and trying to make it just as gravitational as the retail has been."

Identifying Shaker Square as an East Side restaurant district will be part of your marketing push as well?

"Absolutely. Take the word Tremont. Whatever it means to you, one thing it definitely means is a cool collection of restaurants. We're trying to do the same thing for the East Side at Shaker Square. We already have six restaurants there. Sergio's will be seven. If we get to eight, nine or 10 restaurants, people can come to the square for an outdoor event and have a practically international menu to choose from."

It's been said that rent at Shaker Square had been inflated because of the presence of the national chains. Will your ownership change that?

"Rents were higher than they should be for a community shopping center like Shaker Square. We have sat down with every merchant to work out an arrangement. In some cases, there have been very significant cuts in rent and others were smaller because the rents weren't high to begin with."

What would you like Shaker Square's identity to be five years from now?

"When friends, businesspeople and visitors come to Cleveland, there are a handful of things they have to see: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, LeBron James, maybe the Cleveland Browns. But one of the places they'll want to go will be Shaker Square because it is going to be such a compelling place to shop and spend time."

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