There's something unprecedented going on at the Dollar Spot in Ohio City. You see, the West 25th Street store is having a sale. All items normally priced at $1 now cost 88 cents.
But here's the rub: If there's a gold standard for dollar stores, it's this: Stuff costs a dollar. You might charge more for, say, a Tsunami electric shaver kit. But you never, ever charge less.
So something this apocalyptic can be attributed to only one thing: "It's because of Wal-Mart," says owner Mann Asal.
It's been five months since the so-cheap-it's-evil superstore opened in Steelyard Commons. Activists and politicians did their best to prevent Wal-Mart's entry to Cleveland, fearing that it would kill off unionized groceries. But the first victim is a small business that shares a specialty with the superstore: selling cheap crap.
Asal tried to lower his prices by going with a new 88 cents model. "But it didn't even work," he says. "Yes, we got a few new customers, but not the volume required to stay in business."
After all, the dollar-store racket is based on delicate math. Asal's products — plastic padlocks, Little Mermaid backpacks, dusty cans of Barbasol — cost him 78 cents each in bulk. But factor in rent and wages, and you need to sell a lot of Garfield ponchos to turn a profit. Business has dropped 35 percent since Wal-Mart's opened. "We ain't making nothing these days," he says.
So Asal is resigned to closing the Dollar Spot. "It's time to find another trade. This one is not working."
Helping Hungry Jews
Though 2007 was a huge season for the Tribe, forgive observant Jews for not sparkling with enthusiasm. Two years ago, the Jake stopped selling rabbinically approved kosher hot dogs, meaning members of the Original Tribe went hungry.
The Jake was the second stadium to offer real kosher franks in the late 1990s. "It led to the Yankees and the Mets and everyone else serving them," says Tom Sudow, a Beachwood entrepreneur who helped bring the kosher stands to the stadium. "We were the trendsetters."
But in 2006, the kosher dogs disappeared. This wasn't due to a pernicious plot by fundamentalist Christians in the Tribe front office, which would have made for a cooler story. It was sadly because of that omnipresent problem native to Cleveland: a communication breakdown between the food service and local rabbis.
Enter the Period of Great Sorrow.
Yet kosher dogs are back this year, thanks to — weirdly enough — a Lebanese Christian named Ghazi Faddoul. Faddoul, who operates a kosher Subway, agreed to open Naknik Plus (naknik being Hebrew for hot dog) in section 149.
In related news, Catholics are now petitioning the Tribe to open a stand that sells $1.50 shots of whiskey, so they too can maintain their ecumenical balance.
Meet the New Neighbors!
The subprime crisis may mean heartache and woe for Cuyahoga County, but the glut of foreclosed homes translates into two irresistible words for those yet to go broke: bargain shopping!
Such is the case for RECA, a South Carolina firm that went on an East Cleveland buying spree earlier this year.
As the number of foreclosures soars — the county hit 15,000 last year — bankers become desperate to unload the homes they've repossessed. So lenders like Fannie Mae resort to bulk sales.
RECA was able to buy 300 homes at once, with some coming in at the low, low price of just $2,000 apiece. Their locales range from Memphis to Mississippi to our very own East Cleveland.
Of course, this is not particularly good news for The Land of the $2,000 House. Bankers have left thousands of abandoned homes to rot across the county, making them the Official Real Estate Provider to the Crack Distribution Industry. So it's probably not a good bet that we'll see South Carolina land speculators driving up for the weekend to lay linoleum.
RECA's Tom Reaves says the company's in touch with local contractors. But the goal is to flip 'em within 60 days. That may be harder than he thinks in East Cleveland, where per capita income was $16.42 last year, and the words "fixer-upper" and "buyer beware" take on a whole new meaning.
"Obviously, I think the houses in Cleveland are more valuable than the people of Cleveland do," Reaves says.
That would be correct, Mr. Reaves.