Spotlight – The Merchants of Waterloo

We talk a lot about the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District like it’s one big machine, churning out awesome … which, of course, it is. But it’s each individual merchant with their hand on that machine – their investment, their sweat, their tears, their energy – that makes Waterloo a place like no other. A place where dreams come to life in buildings, on walls, in greenspace. Where music and art flow out of performance venues and galleries and onto sidewalks. Where arts businesses rub shops with industrial companies and sausage shops.

It’s all of these merchants on their own and together than lend the district its charm and authenticity … What our Cleveland Councilman, Michael Polensek, explains is quickly becoming the “preeminent entertainment district on Cleveland’s east side”.

“There will be nothing else like it combining a historic village concept with arts, entertainment and restaurants all tied directly to a residential neighborhood bordering the lake and I-90.”

So now it’s time to take a look at just some of the merchants who are making that preeminent entertainment district come to life. First, a note of orientation … The main thoroughfare of the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District is Waterloo Road, with additional activity spilling over onto East 156th Street. The District lies just north of I-90 East, making it incredibly easy to access by car and by bus. Heading eastbound, look for the East 152nd Street exit (Exit 180b). Heading westbound, look for the East 156th Street exit (Exit 181). For bus service, check out the routes and schedules for the #30, #37 and #39.

Now let’s get to the fun part! We start our virtual tour on the eastern end of the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District, near the intersection of East 161st and Waterloo. Here, we find Blue Arrow Records & Boutique, home to a stellar collection of thousands of records, as well as high-quality vintage clothing and furniture. Just a few steps east sits the aptly named Different Styles of Dance … A place where you can get training in ballroom, belly dance, Zumba or tap. While you’re exploring in this stretch of Waterloo, take a minute to share your thoughts about our neighborhood on our Community Chalk Board. Also nearby: Hoffman Construction Company; the SS&W Boardwalk (bar and restaurant); and McPhillips Plumbing, Heating & Cooling.

Now we hop across Waterloo for a trio of arts champions at one site! First up is No Problem Printing & Design Studio, a business that does awesome work all over town but also for the other merchants along Waterloo. Tucked behind No Problem is Gallery One Sixty. You might not know it from their street entrance, but this is a massive space … And one that’s increasingly recognized as a top-tier contemporary art destination. Just outside their doors, lies the Waterloo Sculpture Garden, artist Omid Tavakoli’s effort to bring to life a great community gathering space, complete with yoga classes, art workshops, an outdoor stage and a rotating collection of sculptural work. Also nearby: R & D Sausage and St. John’s Grand Lodge.

We cross Waterloo again, to East 160th Street, where we find ourselves at STAR POP vintage + modern. Whether you’re a toy collector, a kid or a kid at heart, this incredible selection of vintage toys, clothing and video games will fill you up with happy. Next door on East 160th Street, the Maria Neil Art Project is helping to showcase unrepresented and underrepresented artistic talent from across Cleveland, while also serving as a satellite location for Frameworks, your stop for custom and creative framing services.Back around the corner on Waterloo, don’t miss Native Cleveland, a beautifully curated collection of local clothing, jewelry, books and art … Everything you need to fulfill your love affair with the Cleve!

Heading to the west along Waterloo, we’re running into more stellar arts and entertainment locations. Music Saves has become the city’s preeminent music shop, bringing us tons of contemporary music on both vinyl and CDs. Next door, Cleveland RocksSpace:ROCK serves as a great art gallery celebrating Cleveland’s rich music history. And what a perfect location … Just next door is the Beachland Ballroom, one of the country’s most celebrated venues for indie music. As just about anyone would tell you, without the Beachland, there never would have been a Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District. Enjoy music in the intimate Beachland Tavern or in the more expansive Ballroom, and make sure to grab some tasty grub while you’re there! Before you leave, don’t forget to check out This Way Out, sporting a great collection of rock-inspired vintage. Also nearby: Cakes by Sweetwater and Little Hands Daycare.

We keep walking west along Waterloo for our next burst of creativity. First up is the artistic talent behind Rebel City Tattoo Studio, consistently one of the top-rated teams of tattoo artists in the city. Up next is Waterloo Arts, one of the longest-running champions of the District. This nonprofit arts organization exhibits a wide array of media and visual art for the public and doubles down by overseeing a ton of arts programming for neighborhood kids. Before we head back outside, we walk into Callaloo Cafe and Bar, serving up some incredible Caribbean-inspired food and tons of great live music. Outside, we cross Waterloo, ending up at Azure Stained Glass Studio, an incredible fine art business devoted to the creation and restoration of highest-quality stained glass. Also nearby: A2D2 Electronics; Freeway Sunoco; J Harvey Realty Company; Mac’s Lock Shop; Neighbor’s Choice Market, and Northeast Mower Service.

We cross East 156th Street, all the while taking in Zoetic Walls, one of the district’s distinctive artistic features. This large-scale art project by Waterloo Arts brings some of the world’s top street artists to the walls of Waterloo. Walking by these massive murals, we arrive at Waterloo Studios, a giant facility that provides both studio space and exhibition space for a cadre of tremendous emerging artists. Now we cross Waterloo to arrive at a neighborhood institution – the Slovenian Workmen’s Home. If groups like the Beachland Ballroom, Waterloo Arts and Music Saves parented the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District, the Slovenian Workmen’s Home has been its loving grandparent. As Pat Nevar, the group’s Vice President explains, the organization has been “in business in the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District for almost 90 years, and still going strong, with a Fish Fry every Friday and Polka dances every Sunday, October through May, along with many other events.” Also nearby: Advance Glass Sales; CJ Industrial Supply; Nagy’s Monument Company; and NuLife Fitness Camp.

We cross Shiloh Road, and in just moments we’ve arrived at the whimsical work of Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery. Here, talented local sculptor creates a broad array of high-end work. Even before you walk in the door, though, you’ve gotten a chance to see Jerry’s work … As he’s shared dozens of pieces of work with the community, placing them on sidewalks and sideyards throughout the district. Across the street, we close out our tour of the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District with yet another fun community creation. Ivana Medukic of Project Pop-up Galleries has converted an unused phone booth into Phone Gallery, a streetside gallery for miniature art.  Also nearby: A & A Auto Center; Allstate Auto Sales; B & B Upholstery; Gas USA; Russ’ Auto Care; Styles with Confidence; and Tony’s Furniture Refinishing.

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So there you have it – a half-mile walk with 48 opportunities to stop and support a neighborhood champion along the way. We hope to see you on your own Waterloo adventure soon!