Remembering Halle’s, An Iconic Institution
By Mara Biggs
It was around four in the afternoon when I walked up on 1228 Euclid Ave. in downtown Cleveland, the former home of the Halle Brothers Company and one of the city’s oldest landmark buildings.
I’d never been inside the Halle Building before. Upon hearing so many enchantingly nostalgic stories of the vivacious department store it had once been, and with the wind blowing up off the curb to bite me in the face, I was lured in for a personal tour.
When I entered the building, my nose was immediately filled with a strong, pleasant aroma – a sugary, bubblegum smell, like a thick square of original Double Bubble gum, or the red clovers I used to pick at the park as a child, which I had called bubblegum flowers because I thought they smelled that way.
I sat down in one of the arm chairs in the lobby to take in the grandeur of the ground level. The walls and floor are made of terracotta marble, and great, cream-colored pillars rise to the intricately plastered, ivory ceilings. Every last door, railing, knob, handle, and button is trimmed in bronze.
A woman in a business suit came clicking across the marble floor. As I looked over in her direction, I noticed two large, glass-enclosed offices on the level above me. One office had a bunch of Cleveland radio station decals on its door. I could see disc jockeys sitting around inside, uttering words into their microphones that I couldn’t make out from the lobby.
The other office was filled with cubicles, and I could see people moving about within it, some carrying paperwork.
The Halle Building now serves as office space for multiple tenants.
Echoes of low voices and ringing telephones bounced back and forth through the enormous emptiness between the walls and the pillars. Other than the faint echoes and the hum of the vents above me, the building was quiet.
I tried to imagine all the noise that had consumed the space around me many years ago. How high the sounds of clip-clopping feet, schmoozing sales associates, clanging coins, opening and closing metal registers, and excitedly scampering children must have climbed along the majestic, marble walls –and how brightly the bronze embellishments must have gleamed in all of Halle’s glory during the golden era of downtown shopping from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Before shopping malls, downtown department stores were the place where shoppers came to find everything.
Cleveland’s downtown was illuminated like The Land of Oz by the storefronts of Halle’s, Higbee’s, The May Company, and others, drawing masses of inspirited families and frenzied shoppers to the city streets.
Going downtown was an all-day event, described by many as magical and an adventure –It was the place to see and be seen.
“When Halle’s and Higbee’s and May Company were open – they’re trying to do it a little bit at the Horseshoe – if you went past a Halle window, they were the most magnificent things you’ve ever seen,” explained Barbara Ragon, who served for over a decade as Halle’s executive vice president, and, in the store’s last two years of existence, its chief operating officer.
“It was when downtowns were alive,” said Barbara. “It’s almost amazing that Cleveland’s coming back, because there’s no retail downtown.”
Suburbanization depleted much of downtown’s energy in the second half of the twentieth century.
Recently, the City of Cleveland renewed its initiative to revitalize downtown, spending around $200 million on mixed-use development, adding a 750,000-square foot convention center, and making extensive plans for lakefront development, many of which are now underway.
The City would like to see downtown’s residency increase to 20,000. The district’s population has already nearly doubled in the past two decades.
Several other Cleveland neighborhoods have also seen rises in population and are undergoing new housing developments. Current trends show that young generations and the creative class are diverging from suburban living, a dream of their parents’, in favor of urban dwellings.
Perhaps the most eye-catching of all the new developments in downtown Cleveland is the transformation of the PlayhouseSquare district – the area in which the Halle Building is located.
The centerpiece of PlayhouseSquare’s new design is the world’s first outdoor chandelier, standing 20 feet high and suspended from a 44-foot steel structure. It contains over 4,200 crystals sure to draw and dazzle pedestrians on Euclid Avenue as the front window displays of Halle’s once did.
Halle’s changed their window displays on Thursday nights. People would stand outside the store the next morning, eagerly awaiting the moment that the curtains would be pulled back from the window to unveil the latest masterpiece.
Stores had full departments dedicated to designing and setting up window displays, as storefront decorating was a true art form, meant to garner attention and, of course, customers.
Displays were elaborate and hand-crafted with animated dolls and puppets and hanging objects, some of which were even life-size.
In addition to the grand chandelier, PlayhouseSquare has recently created other elaborate displays that bring visual and atmospheric allure back to Halle’s old neighborhood.
One such display is a retro-looking, stick-built PlayhouseSquare sign that sits atop several buildings near East 13th Street and Euclid Avenue, paying tribute to the 1920s, the era in which PlayhouseSquare was born.
All outdoor signage for the Playhouse has been replaced by new, energy-efficient LED signage, and district buildings will receive up-lighting treatments, giving the neighborhood an inspiring, ambient glow.
A digital signage network is being implemented for more color, movement, and vibrancy as well.
The Playhouse has also amplified its Star Plaza with a new stage and sound system, a large fire pit, and a restaurant called “Dynomite” by Cowell & Hubbard’s Zack Bruell, featuring an outdoor dining experience with sandwiches, beer, and wine.
PlayhouseSquare has planned a community celebration for May 2, 2014 to commemorate this return of elegance and awe to Euclid Avenue, which we can hope will in turn bring back the wide-eyed crowds too.
Few places could cast such awe upon people as Halle’s did during the heyday of downtown.
The Halle Bros. Co., a carriage trade store, is remembered as the most glamorous and sophisticated of all Cleveland’s department stores, providing products and service of the highest quality.
Barbara’s eyes, shining like two timeless, chocolate diamonds, told the story of Halle’s unforgettable hallmark as much as her words did during our two-hour conversation over dinner at Olive Garden one Thursday evening.
When the waiter –a young man, probably still a student –came to take our order, I decided on the eggplant parmigiana, and Barb ordered penne pasta with Olive Garden’s sundried tomato sauce and shrimp.
The waiter gave his spiel about what the meals come with and then proceeded to go through the soup list.
When he came to the chicken and gnocchi soup, Barb chuckled and said to him,”Nyaw. Nyaw-kee. You said it wrong.”
The stunned waiter had said something that sounded more like “no key.”
Barbara went with the chicken and gnocchi soup, and I had a salad.
Barbara’s career at Halle’s began in 1963 when she was just in high school. She worked there through a school program, like an intern, for 30 hours each week.
As one of five children to a widowed mother who scraped by for the family as a tomato packer, Barbara was initially quite intimidated by Halle’s. It represented a lifestyle that was out of her reach. She said at first she always felt she wasn’t dressed well enough to be there, but as a family store, Halle’s had a wonderful atmosphere and became comfortable to her quickly.
Her first position was in the millinery department, which I hadn’t known until she told me was the name for a hat department.
“Everybody wore hats then,” she said to me. “It was a big, big thing. Men wore hats, women wore hats—very, very fancy designer hats.”
I told her I guess I never knew the word “millinery” since superfluous hat wearing went out of style before my time.
“It went out of style when John Kennedy quit wearing a hat,” she said.
Barbara was a National Honor Society student with a college scholarship, but never attended college. She married her high school boyfriend so he could avoid the Vietnam War draft and kept working to help support them.
Two kids and two-and-a half years later, Barbara’s marriage took a turn for the worst. That was when she knew she needed a career for herself.
Barbara worked her way up to executive vice president by the time she was 34, which was quite rare, especially for someone without a college degree.
Doing so after growing up rather deprived and having “no favors from anyone” in a world that Barbara said “was truly a man’s world” was quite a feat for her.
“I never became conceded about it,” she said. “That atmosphere I worked in that was so beautiful, to me was a privilege – it was something special. It was a part of who I was, but I didn’t become anybody different than I was because I experienced it.”
As she was telling me this, I spotted our waiter heading back over with our entrees.
He set the hot plates down in front of us and started to ask if there was anything else we needed, but before he could finish his sentence, Barbara interjected.
“I thought I ordered sundried tomato sauce,” she said brashly. “Where are the sundried tomatoes?”
“Uh, they’re in there,” the waiter answered slowly. “They’re just cut up small.”
“Oh,” Barb sighed. “I guess I’d expected it to be different.”
As she suspiciously inspected her food with her fork, I shot the waiter a sympathetic smile. He gave me a sheepish half-grin, then turned and swiftly walked away, saying nothing more.
“I can remember when I was the assistant buyer and my boss got promoted, and I so wanted [his] job,” Barbara continued after the waiter’s departure, “and the vice president of personnel said, ‘Barbara, you will never get that job.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Because, there are people ahead of you in the buyer training program.’ And I said, ‘I need this job. They don’t need this job.’ I’d get in the elevator, and they’d go, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m going to wear on my date this weekend,’ and I’d go, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m going to feed my kids.’”
According to protocol, Barbara said there was no reason she really should have got the job –But one day, she was called into Halle’s President Bob Carlson’s office, where she was told, sure enough, that the job was hers.
“Don’t let me down,” Carlson had said to her.
“Halle’s allowed me, as a woman, to prove myself and raise my children,” Barbara told me. “[They] believed in me.”
From its inception, Halle’s always welcomed women to work, eventually employing thousands of them, and gave women opportunity to take on critical responsibilities within the store.
Department stores were so busy in the early to mid-twentieth century that they’d have upwards of 3,500 employees working just in sales, not to mention those working in the countless other divisions of labor within the store.
“It’s one of the great social changes in American history,” said Dr. John Grabowski, a historian at the Western Reserve Historical Society, “is as retailing grew, particularly department stores, women who had very limited opportunities to work in the late-nineteenth century suddenly found another avenue open to them.”
Sam Halle, who would remark to his brother Sal how fortunate they were to employ so many delightful women, married a saleswoman from the suit department — an Irish-Catholic named Blanche Murphy.
Sal Halle also married a woman he met in the store – a frequent customer named Carrie Moss, whose family was part of Cleveland’s Jewish elite. She later became one of the company’s directors.
Salmon Portland Chase Halle and Samuel Horatio Halle, later known within The Halle Bro. Co. as S.P. and S.H., came from a long line of entrepreneurs. The German-Jewish Halle family is credited as one of the families who built the city of Cleveland, which one of Salmon and Samuel’s cousins, Aaron Halle, discovered on a trip along the Erie Canal.
As James M. Wood says is his book, “Halle’s: Memoirs of a Family Department Store,” “From [the mid-nineteenth century], when the first Halles had settled in Cleveland, a sleepy town of 6,000, whose residents traded in lumber and farm products, Cleveland’s commerce was essentially a family affair, and hundreds of family decisions helped to shape the city’s future.”
Sal and Sam grew up privileged, attending social clubs to which wealthy and prominent Jewish families belonged. They were encouraged by their father, Moses Halle, who owned Halle’s Hall where such social clubs would meet, among his other ventures, to take advantage of Cleveland’s possibilities.
The boys’ mother, Rebecca, died of tuberculosis when they were very young. Moses was later remarried to opera singer Rosa Lowentritt, who gave the boys a stepsister and a half-sister, Jessie and Minnie.
The boys, frequent cross-country travelers in their youth, once took a trip to Chicago, where Sam Halle was very intrigued by Marshall Field’s department store. He wrote in his journal that he’d be proud if someday he owned a store half so grand.
When Moses gave his sons a gift of $10,000 to either attend college or start their own businesses, the boys agreed to use the money as an investment in their lifelong dream of owning their own company.
The brothers’ company grew slowly in the beginning. Their first real surge in business came after the highly-skilled, father-daughter cap-making and furrier team, Charles and Emma Ziska, who were Czechoslovakian immigrants, came to work for them.
Charles began selling contracts to make streetcar conductor caps for companies in Cleveland, Detroit, and Denver. He soon sold more contracts to streetcar lines in Duluth, Fort Wayne, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Electric streetcars commonly ran down main streets from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. One streetcar line ran from Cleveland’s suburbs down through bustling Euclid Avenue and was widely used by department store shoppers.
The Halles hired Emma’s cousin, Julie Votava, to assist with cap making as business picked up. They then began making fur caps, yachting caps, which were popularly worn by people bicycling downtown or swimming in Lake Erie, and other custom-made fur garments. The family did alterations for customers as well.
Soon Sal and Sam began obtaining cap contracts from major railroad companies around the country, and business was humming with the shears of dozens of newly-hired seamstresses.
Despite all the activity, the brothers were still at a deficit by the end of their first year in business.
They then decided to rent out more floor space in the Nottingham Building – one of the places that had housed the company before the Halle Building was built – to sell more merchandise, including ready-to-wear.
By 1896, Halle’s had become a women’s specialty store, with women’s national retail sales rising above men’s, and the store began prospering more than the Halles had ever imagined it would. Later, the company would have a department for just about everything you could imagine – from men’s wear to fine wine.
Halle’s new merchandise wasn’t the only reason for the store’s sudden success, however. The city of Cleveland was in a time of great economic prosperity as well, adding to residents’ disposable income. Cleveland’s network of ship docks and railways were rapidly distributing Rockefeller’s oil and petroleum products, iron ore, steel, and other materials to a hugely industrializing nation. Cleveland became America’s largest shipbuilding port and the world’s greatest iron ore market.
S.P.’s innovative inventory tracking and S.H.’s way with employees also contributed to company profit.
S.H. took interest in the personal lives of every Halle employee, as did Blanche, who visited the store almost daily to ask of workers’ family engagements and well-being. S.H. was a father figure to many employees and received much affection and respect within the store.
S.P., on the other hand, was more aloof and planned to retire by age 50 to devote his time to recreational things outside of business. Due to the challenges World War I threw at the company, he was unable to retire until he was 52.
S.H. thought that the Halle Bro. Co. held a lifetime of opportunity and wanted to continue growing the store to nourish the city and the lives of people looking for work.
For S.H., Halle’s did hold a lifetime of opportunity. Five interurban branches and the first suburban branches were opened before his passing in 1954. Halle’s number of branches eventually totaled 15 across Ohio and Pennsylvania, and its selling region also included western New York and Indiana.
The “Halle family,” as the company employees were called, embodied the hospitality and warm-heartedness that S.H. and Blanche made Halle’s tradition until the company too was laid to rest in 1982.
“I would say what I enjoyed the most is what the Halle family established,” said Barbara. “The warmth, the family atmosphere, the caring about each other – just being able to do something beautiful.”
“My designer buyer, she called me on the phone,” Barbara explained, “and she said, ‘Honey, I want to be your friend. Someday you’re gonna need friends here, and it’s important that you make them, because we’ll be here when you need help.’ And I mean the minute that I went through my divorce, she was there to say, ‘OK, we’ll help you get through this.’’’
Halle’s workers had always associated very closely with one another. The company’s Employees Association would sponsor over 100 clubs through the course of Halle’s history, starting with a drama club. Every Halle’s employee who served in World War I or World War II was thrown a party upon their return home, and every worker who’d been there for 25 years was given a reception and $1,000.
Barbara told me she used to throw a Christmas party in her home for the Halle family every year.
“There were so many people in the house, you couldn’t move,” she said. “Everyone just had a good time.”
The Halle family took care of their customers as scrupulously as they took care of their own. Then, customer service was taken to levels rarely seen today and was key to department stores’ success.
“People who waited on you in stores generally were very accommodating,” Dr. George Knepper, a historian at the University of Akron, once noted. “Most of them were pleasant. Many of them were very patient.”
“An example would be, if a customer asked you for directions to another department, you were not allowed to point or to tell them,” said Dixie Lee Davis, former Halle’s fashion director. “It was your duty to escort them to that area and to introduce them to someone in that particular department.”
“The more I worked there, I came to understand it was something that I could never experience again,” Barbara said. “It was a rare, wonderful environment. If I run into somebody from Halle’s, it’s just like, we go, ‘Oh my god, could you just go back to that?’”
Many shoppers and former Halle’s employees have described the department store as a one-of-a-kind place.
Florence Kraft Heaston, who cashiered at Halle’s as a young woman in the 1920s after moving from Rochester, once said, “I didn’t know a place like Halle’s existed. When I walked in and saw the marble staircase leading to the balcony overlooking the first floor, I was spellbound.”
As was I that afternoon when I stepped inside the Halle Building for the first time.
I admired the way each staircase in the building spirals, like the staircases of a palace, or a stately Victorian mansion, I thought.
I had to take the staircases to explore the second floor occupied by the radio stations and cubicle-filled offices and the basement level, which holds the food court. All the escalators were shut down and roped off like broken theme park rides.
I tried to take one of the elevators to the other floors, but when a security guard asked me who my appointment was with and I didn’t have an answer for him, he forbid me from wandering to any higher levels.
Halle’s bronze H insignia emblazons every entranceway – including the one on the front of the building – and every window, elevator, and fountain in sight.
The proud insignia of the Halle Bros. Co. and the lustrous building that was once its home are tangible reminders, like artifacts, of Halle’s tradition of quality and prestige – a tradition that can still be experienced when you see it yourself.
There is one other Halle’s tradition that lasted beyond the company’s closing – a Christmastime character by the name of Mr. Jingeling.
Mr. Jingeling was created in 1956 for what was supposed to be a one-time promotion. His maker was a man named Frank Jacobi, an advertising agent from Chicago and an associate of Walter Halle.
Walter Murphy Halle, son of Sam and Blanche Halle, took over the company in 1951.
Mr. Jingeling was so loved that he became an annual Halle’s Christmas promotion.
As the story went, Mr. Jingeling saved Christmas one season when Santa lost the keys to his Treasure House of Toys where he kept all the presents to be delivered to the good girls and boys on Christmas Eve. Mr. Jingeling, a locksmith elf, fashioned Santa a new set of keys so that he could access the Treasure House. As a reward for saving Christmas, Santa made Mr. Jingeling “keeper of the keys.”
Mr. Jingeling, who always carried a large ring of keys with him, made appearances on the seventh floor of Halle’s during the Christmas season. Children could sit on his lap and received their own cardboard cutout key to Santa’s Treasure House of Toys.
Mr. Jingeling also made appearances on Channel 5’s “Captain Penny Show.” Max Ellis, an actor from Playhouse Theater, played Mr. Jingeling originally for the television show, while Cleveland police officer Tom Moviel played Mr. Jingeling for in-store appearances. Ellis filled the TV role until his sudden death in 1964, when Karl Mackey took his place.
Mackey had a background in performance and was the managing director of Lakewood Little Theatre. However, he found the role to be too time consuming when combined with his duties at the theater, and after just one holiday season as Mr. Jingeling, he relinquished the role.
After Mackey resigned, the television role was filled by Earl Keyes, who is the best-known Mr. Jingeling. Keyes had been a long-time producer, director, and actor at WEWS Channel 5. Keyes played the character from 1966 until 2000 when he passed away. When Halle’s closed in 1982, Keyes brought Mr. Jingeling to Higbee’s tenth floor. When Higbee’s too closed, Mr. Jingeling moved to Tower City.
The Christmas season was such a special time for downtown department stores. Every store had a Christmas tradition that was unique to itself. For instance, Higbee’s had the Twigbee Shop, a store within the children’s department where kids could purchase affordable gifts for their parents and families. Sterling-Lindner was known for its giant, decorated tree, which topped out at 73 feet tall one year.
In addition to its Christmas tradition of the jolly Mr. Jingeling, Halle’s was known for having the best Christmas window displays in town.
As one shopper by the name of Steve Presser recalled, “My favorite window displays were Halle’s. They were fantasy. I think probably the greatest lost art of the holidays is the art of window dressing.”
“I remember going downtown to see the wonderful windows. Halle’s department store always had the best of them,” said Bill Hixson, another shopper.
Halle’s began working on its Christmas window displays in March. The window theme would be established at a meeting between all the members of the fashion and display departments. Once a theme was decided on, the display department would begin planning out the animation. They would then actually take their animation blue prints with them to a convention held in New York City every June, where the animated pieces were designed.
The extravagant Christmas spectacles were a reflection of how much downtown department stores cared about presentation and the customer experience.
People dressed to match the regal appearances and service of department stores when they went downtown to shop.
“Your hair was combed, you were washed up. Cleanliness was next to godliness,” said Bob Render from special projects outreach at the Western Reserve Historical Society. “You were all duded up to go downtown. It was almost like going to church.”
“It was an elegant time,” Barbara said. “It was a time when women went out at night and got dressed up and men wore suits when they went out. Now it’s a totally different world.”
Barb told me about an evening during this elegant time when she and her second husband, Victor Ragon, went to see Frank Sinatra perform at the Coliseum.
“He had his tux on, I had an evening dress on – we go to the Coliseum, and most people were dressed that way, but we saw people walking in in blue jeans, and we were like…,” she paused to re-enact their dropped jaws, then continued, “You know, you thought they were the workers – they weren’t, they were the guests. They just changed, just overnight.”
The scope of downtown Cleveland changed just as quickly as the way of dress. The ‘60s marked the torrent of suburbanization and the beginning of the age of convenience when people not only opted to dress themselves in a less-hassle fashion, but to shop in a way that was less hassle too. As more and more families transplanted themselves in the suburbs, department store chains increased their number of suburban branches. People preferred the short drive and free parking of stores’ suburban locations to the trek downtown, despite how scaled-back suburban department stores were from their mother stores on Euclid Avenue.
Soon shopping malls arrived and became the project choice for department stores. As the rule in retail goes, when the buyer speaks, the seller listens, so stores were forced to embrace the suburbs to survive.
However, the move to suburban shopping malls would not save Cleveland’s largest department stores for long.
Sterling-Lindner and Bonwit Teller, two department stores located across the street from Halle’s, closed first during a time when PlayhouseSquare theaters were also in decline. The reduced traffic in the struggling neighborhood was a blow to Halle’s flagship store, which was still trying to regain its footing from the hit of suburbanization.
Downtown’s center of gravity shifted back to Public Square, where Higbees’s and The May Company were still operating with easy access to the Rapid Transit. As an attempt to counter this disadvantage, Halle’s began leasing shuttle buses to take people from Public Square to PlayhouseSquare. Unfortunately, these efforts were offset by the rate at which downtown Cleveland itself was deteriorating.
Marshall Field’s bought the company in 1970 and attempted to modernize it, retiring Halle’s Old English Script logo and giving it one that was closer to Marshall Field’s logo.
“Marshall Field’s was the same type of high-end, carriage trade store, so the transition was pretty seamless,” said Barbara.
Under the leadership of then-President Chrisholm Halle – Walter Halle’s son and Sam Halle’s grandson – the company also tried to draw less-wealthy patrons by carrying mid-priced goods as a way to possibly increase sales. However, it only angered loyal carriage trade shoppers, and Chrisholm was forced to resign in 1974.
In 1981, Field’s sold Halle’s to Associated Investors Corporation, headed by Jerome Schottenstein, whose primary holdings were in Value City.
According to Barb, Schottenstein was known to be a liquidator. When the Halle family found out that he had bought the company, Barbara said, “We were all told we should pack up our offices and leave.”
Halle’s employees believed their stores were closing immediately.
“It was very emotional,” said Barb, “because many people there had worked there for 40 years, 50 years.”
Then, in the midst of the heart-wrenching news, Barb was called to the boardroom. There in the boardroom, she was asked if she supposed she’d want to run Halle’s if Schottenstein kept the stores open.
“I don’t suppose I’d do anything unless I talk to this man,” she replied.
A flight was promptly booked to New York City for Barbara, where she met Jerry Schottenstein.
He told her that he wanted to keep Halle’s open, but only in Columbus, his hometown.
“I said to him, you don’t understand – Halle’s is an institution in Cleveland. Columbus is just a new acquisition,” Barbara told me.
“He said, ‘OK, well if I agree to leave some of the stores in Cleveland open, would you run it?’ And I said, ‘I need to go back and talk to my people because they have reputations – they’re known all over the United States and Europe, and if they can’t stay with me, than I can’t do this company,”’ Barb explained. “So that’s where we left it. I got on the plane, I got off the plane in Cleveland – the entire media of Cleveland was there with cameras, half the Halle employees were there. He announced when I was in the air that I was going to run Halle’s, so I became the chief operating officer of Halle’s.”
“For two years,” she continued, “we reopened the stores, we restocked the stores, we returned Halle’s to what it was – and two years to the day, he shut it again. What I didn’t know is that he simply opened it because it was a real estate transaction.”
Schottenstein himself had actually placed full-page newspaper ads promising to restore and continue Halle’s tradition of quality products and service.
“He ran these ads that said ‘yesterday, today, and tomorrow,’ and then he still closed it,” said Barbara.
For weeks after the announcement of Halle’s closing, camera crews and reporters came to Barb’s home for more details and coverage.
She said every day Victor would call from work and ask, “Can I come home yet? Is there a TV camera there?”
In 1982, all the Halle’s stores were closed or sold.
Barbara had to go through litigation to make sure all the employees received their pensions and insurance.
During the two-year period when Barb worked as the chief operating officer, she and the other Halle’s workers tried to rebuild the company’s image and reputation, running their own ads and commercials and designing new shopping bags that donned the geranium, Halle’s official flower.
“It was like a dream come true,” said Barb. “We were like in this utopia for two years. Everything was magical, and it was all back again. And then it went away.”
She said that she also met with some of the most powerful and influential people in Cleveland to see if they could help find some way to salvage the store, even if it were on a smaller scale, since Halle’s was such an iconic part of Cleveland culture.
“It wasn’t a store, it was an institution,” Barbara told me very matter-of-factly. “That’s what it was.”
She paused for what seemed like a somber moment, then broke into a laugh, saying, “Anyhow, I’m very passionate about Halle’s.”
I asked her, “Was there anything you didn’t like about Halle’s?”
“No,” she answered. “Ask me about any other place I worked.”
We both laughed then as the waiter reappeared to ask if we were still doing all right and if he could get us anything.
“I guess I should probably get the check now,” Barb said. “And I guess I should start paying you rent.”
The waiter cracked a wide, toothy grin this time and went off to print our check. It did look as though it was getting pretty late and we might wear out our welcome if we stayed much longer. Most of the booths and tables around us were empty, and another young man was sweeping the floor behind us. I could see through the windows that the sky was nearly black.
I had felt inspired watching the ardent memories Barbara had of Halle’s and of Cleveland’s illustrious past glow in her eyes like rekindled flames. It made me sad to see them extinguished as we paid for our meals and gathered our coats and bags to head back out into the modern world. The world too made me sad afterward, and seemed fuzzy and surreal for the rest of the night.
I ended my exploration of the Halle Building when the lobby began growing louder with the echoes of the end of the work day. After pushing through one of the bronze-trimmed, revolving doors on the front of the building, I turned around to take one more look at the place. In doing so, I felt like the treasured memories Barbara shared with me that night at Olive Garden were glittering somewhere in my eyes too.
PlayhouseSquare’s chandelier had not been erected yet over Euclid Avenue the day I visited the Halle Building –It was still being constructed on the asphalt in front of the theaters when I walked back through the district to my car.
Every passerby’s pair of eyes stuck astonishedly on the half-assembled chandelier, and I smiled, not thinking this time of what the district and downtown had once been, but of what they could be.
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