If you go to Westgate Shopping Center looking for a Claddagh ring, chances are the jewelry vendors will shake their heads and point vaguely east.
"You want Casey's," they'll say. "About a mile down the road."
Zero-point-seven, to be exact, on the left hand (north) side of Center Ridge, just before it deadends into Wooster. It's Casey's Irish Imports, Cleveland's one-stop-shop for authentic Irish gifts and goods — including Claddagh rings
"Everyone comes here for the Claddagh rings; that's probably our biggest seller," says Kathleen Casey Proctor. She and her sister Maureen Casey Brubaker own and run the store. "But we carry pretty much any Irish thing that you can think of to buy: traditional Irish sweaters; Waterford Irish Crystal; brides will even register with us; Irish dry and frozen foods; Irish tea, which is another huge seller for us; and of course, Irish candy."
That's all in addition to the domestically produced Irish-themed items that Americans love to buy around St. Patrick's Day.
"You don't see people in Ireland getting those things," Kathleen says, "but we carry the products that our customers want to buy. And we're unique because we've got customers from multiple generations: great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, daughters."
Kathleen and Maureen's parents, Tom and Vera Casey, opened the store 28 years ago. Vera was a beautician by trade and, because she returned to Ireland so frequently, she would bring back items for her Irish customers.
"The girls at Casey's House of Beauty spent more time selling Irish things than they did doing hair," Kathleen says.
So when Vera Casey retired, she decided to open up an Irish imports store. The transition was natural, and the Rocky River location was just a short drive from her Lakewood beauty shop.
"She'd done her research," Kathleen says. "At the time, it was in the center of about five Irish Catholic parishes. There was a real need for an Irish store."
And who better than Tom and Vera to run it? They were married on St. Patrick's Day, 1952, in London, where they'd traveled for work after the war. They first came to the United States in 1956 on the Queen Elizabeth and bounced back and forth between Ireland and the U.S. for many years, undecided about where they wanted to settle down.
Vera Casey is from the small village of Cong in County Mayo. It's famous as the filming location of the 1956 film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
"My mom knows all the extras," Kathleen said. "My grandfather had a drink with John Wayne in the local pub."
Tom and Vera's kids actually lived in Ireland for a few years as well, but the Casey family moved to Cleveland for good in the 1970s.
These days, Kathleen describes the store as a true family affair. She and her sister own and run it day to day, but her brother built the website and handles the computers, Kathleen's daughter and nieces work there, and they have family friends who help out when they need it.
Tom Casey passed away last year, but in 2012, when Tom and Vera celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, Vera was named the Irish Mother of the Year and led the Cleveland St. Patrick's Day Parade downtown with the Grand Marshal.
"That was the year it was 70 degrees outside and there were half a million people downtown," Kathleen says. "We all got sunburned, but it was a huge honor for our family."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the St. Patrick's Day season is the busiest time of the year for Casey's Irish Imports, other than Christmas. Kathleen and Maureen have extended the shop's hours so that Cleveland's Irish families can stock up on all the items they may require for St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
"But we're closed on St. Patrick's Day," Kathleen makes very clear. "We always have been. We consider it a religious holiday."