The Plan to Bring Retail Back to Cleveland's Warehouse District, By Shrinking it

Do you remember when Rustwire posted this shocking image of Cleveland’s Warehouse District? The animated gif immediately went viral.

So much surface parking, so many historic buildings lost. It was devastating to see what had happened to the downtown of this once bustling city. Despite a few gaping holes in its urban fabric, the Warehouse District is once again a thriving residential community.

Nearly all of the remaining historic buildings have been rehabbed and residential units are at 97 percent occupancy. The next big piece in that puzzle is diversifying the current business mix by attracting more retail that services the residents, while activating some of those parking lots until larger developments can be attracted.

Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation (HWDDC), the community development corporation that services the District has a plan to put a new face on one of those surface parking lots, while providing affordable retail space for local businesses. They’ve partnered with Cleveland Container Structures, an early stage company that specializes in the adaptive reuse of recycled shipping containers, to install a marketplace along one of the parking lots.


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retail development initiative called Small Box will convert used shipping containers into small stores, turning an existing parking lot into a unique public space. It will also make the street more walkable by creating a building edge along the sidewalk.

The advantage to using shipping containers is that they are relatively low cost and can be moved to a different location if a permanent development were to occur. This was the case for Dekalb Market, a similar project in Brooklyn that is now the site of a new mixed-use development project.

In addition to starting the conversation about new uses for Warehouse District’s parking lots, Small

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Box creates an opportunity to grow retail in downtown Cleveland and will generate jobs by supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Small Box addresses some of the challenges that local business owners often experience when considering opening a business downtown. Rent tends to be higher than surrounding neighborhoods and smaller storefronts are hard to come by, especially in the Warehouse District where much of the commercial space used to be large warehouses. Small Box offers them a manageable storefront so they can focus on developing a customer base and sustaining their business.

HWDDC has been selected as a finalist for the “Enterprise Nurture an Idea Award” and is now competing against other Cleveland-area projects in a crowd-funding campaign to win $10,000 towards making Small Box a reality. If you would like to support this project, visit

(The crowd-funding campaign ends Friday, November 8th at 11:59pm.)

–Ashley Shaw

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