One of the best-selling T-shirts at Steve Presser's Coventry Road novelty store, Big Fun, is the "Cleveland: You've Got to Be Tough" model, with its black-and-white smokestack logo. The sentiment's true enough. But as any Clevelander will tell you, there's plenty to cherish about our city that has nothing to do with hard times. Cleveland is lovable for its history, its unpretentious people, its storied sports teams, superb arts institutions, ethnic diversity, and gritty determination to transform misfortune into a better future.
So this year consider celebrating a "Made in Cleveland" holiday, avoiding the flat-screen TVs and other imported geegaws, and celebrating with gifts created right here in our hometown.
Old World Flavor
Cleveland once had the world's second-largest population of Hungarians, many of whom lived in the Buckeye-Woodland neighborhood. One of the last survivors of the old neighborhood is the charming Lucy's Sweet Surrender, an authentic Old World bakery and neighborhood fixture since 1962. Co-owner and baker Marika Feigenbaum tempts you with a heavenly array of homemade breads and pastries: Lucy's famous strudel, dobos torte, nut and poppy rolls, and a swoon-worthy selection of cakes ($25-$38), in varieties like rum, black forest, German chocolate, chestnut, and the Triangle Cake, a house-shaped confection that makes a gift almost too beautiful to eat. Lucy's offers local delivery and shipping to anywhere in the U.S. Visit them at 12516 Buckeye Rd.; 216-752-0828.
Asians constitute one of the city's fastest-growing immigrant populations, a trend that brings us lovely delicacies like those at KoKo Bakery, where cases beckon with sweet and savory buns, colorful whipped-cream cake rolls (sampler $5.99), and — perfect for gift-giving — the Yule Log Cake ($58), a whimsical, labor-intensive creation depicting Santa and reindeers perched atop a chocolate-frosted log. KoKo's is at 3710 Payne Ave.; 216-881-7600.
Buy the Book
You can't call yourself a true Clevelander unless you've experienced the emotional roller-coaster ride of rooting for our hometown sports teams. In his new Gray & Co. book, Things I've Learned from Watching the Browns ($14.95), Plain Dealer sportswriter Terry Pluto collected 1,000 readers' responses to a crucial question: Why, despite a relentless pattern of heartbreak, do you stick with the Browns? "The only time I remember hugging my father was the moment when the Browns finally beat the Broncos with a last-second field goal in 1989," responded one fan. Also from Gray is Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It ($14.95), in which veteran sports journalist Dan Coughlin recounts 45 years of encounters with eccentric characters like George Steinbrenner and Sun Newspaper sportswriter Pete Gaughan, known for ripping open beer cans with his teeth. No publisher is more dedicated to mining Cleveland nostalgia than Gray; for these and other titles, visit www.grayco.com.
Paula Atwell founded her Lake Erie Artists Gallery at Shaker Square to showcase art and crafts by Clevelanders. The shop's paintings, glassware, photographs, and jewelry are thoughtfully selected, although Atwell laughs at the term "curated," which she finds too pretentious for what she does. Among the gift-ready items are hand-painted glassware by Mindy Sand ($22-$129) and colorful, handmade Lampwork Glass Beads by Berea's The Velvet Box, ready for stringing on Pandora bracelets. Atwell says the beads are "as nice, if not nicer than" the popular, nationally distributed Troll Beads. Find them at 13129 Shaker Blvd.; 216-752-9960.