When Tower City opened in 1990, it was not only the most luxurious shopping experience between New York City and Chicago. It was also a statement made in green and black marble: After decades of struggle, Cleveland had once again arrived.
There was Gucci, Fendi, Godiva — and many more — that would surely draw in enough money from the suburbs to succeed.
“It was a beautiful dream,” says Evelyn Theiss, who reported on fashion for The Plain Dealer at the time. “But it was a little hard to believe that people would regularly drive in from the East Side, which was where most of the money was.”
The luxury stores were, of course, the first to go. Then the national chains. The pandemic winnowed down the retail offerings even further and the once-dazzling Tower City became a blend of abandoned storefronts and stragglers.
“It’s almost like when we think back, Did that really happen? Did Cleveland really have a Barneys?” Theiss asks.
But revival is on the horizon with a simpler, local version of luxury, including experiential shopping propped up by social media campaigns and influencer events. Today, you’ll find high-end streetwear and retailers like Shoe MGK, Xhibition and 360 Clothing Studio.
So what’s different this time around? Instead of trying to draw shoppers from the ’burbs, Tower City is opening its doors to the more than 20,000 people who now live downtown — and are looking not so much for the luxury brands of old as they are a place to shop that’s laden with history and yet also looking forward.
Arbela Capas is an associate editor at Cleveland Magazine and is constantly trying to live her best Carrie Bradshaw life in Cleveland.