Polish Village Taking Shape In Parma

Jon Holt serves customers David, Julie and Anna Mika at The Little Polish Diner.

Nine-tenths of a mile doesn’t sound like a great distance, but it’s a journey into another world, or village, in the City of Parma. The wheels are in motion by Parma City Council to designate the nearly mile-long span along Ridge Road as “Polish Village.” The borders are Pearl Road to the north and Thornton Drive to the south. The many business owners between here and there, especially those near the busy intersection of Snow Road, seem ready to wave the red and white Polish flag to celebrate the news.

“I’m really excited because of the pride and support we’re showing – not only the businesses, but the residents and the city, too,” said David Kantor, owner of Grandma Helen’s Kitchen Restaurant. “We have a strong Polish community here, so I think we can build the same kind of spirit as the city and the residents did in Ukrainian Village on State Road.” Kantor displays his optimism on the chopping block, neatly slicing and dicing meats and potatoes as he prepares ethnic dishes like chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, Salisbury steak, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. “Our business is new and we’re doing okay,” said Kantor. “A lot of our success is by word of mouth. If people hear good things about us, they’ll give us a shot, and that seems to be happening.”

“There is a willingness among Ridge Road merchants to make this venture a huge success,” said Parma Mayor Dean DePiero. “Let’s face it, businesses along Ridge Road are stable, growing and willing to be pro-active in their neighborhood to make our community unique and exciting. People have the right attitude at the right time – and some of the best food in town.”

Angelo Colozza has been hearing a lot about Polish Village and he says the idea is good for local businesses and good for the neighborhood.  Colozza and his family have owned the bakery since 1975, relocating to Parma from Storer Avenue in Cleveland in 1980. “Even though we’re Italian, we sell a lot of paczki, kolaczi, poppyseed rolls and chruschiki (Polish crullers) all of which are enjoyed by our Polish friends,” said Colozza. “Anything that brings traffic and people to the neighborhood is good for everybody.  There’s a lot of space in this area to bring in new businesses. I really think it’s the right spot to get a new business off the ground.”

The Polish Village designation approval by Parma City Council is likely to coincide with the Polish Constitution Day Parade on Sunday, May 1, organized by the Polish American Congress. Participants will assemble in the Parma Circle area and march down Ridge Road beginning at 2 p.m., dispersing along side streets south of Snow Road.  Polish Village sits in Ward Two. Parma City Councilwoman Debbie Lime and Community Development Director Erik Tollerup have both been taking the city’s leadership role in making Polish Village a reality. “My motto is, ‘Good neighbors make great neighborhoods,’” said Lime. “Polish Village is a win-win proposition for the entire area.  Eventually, we will help businesses attract customers and neighbors with sidewalk cafes, quality landscaping and additional parking. My hope is to make Polish Village similar in nature to Coventry in Cleveland Heights and Detroit Road in Lakewood.” “We’re doing whatever we can to facilitate low interest loans and other programs that will motivate and enable entrepreneurs to take that giant leap into a new business,” said Tollerup. “I can envision this area as one that is primed for growth as we work to make it more pedestrian-friendly and accessible to residents and visitors from across Greater Cleveland.”

For several decades now, the ethnic enclaves of Cleveland – which were once the economic engines of its neighborhoods – were allowed to fracture, erode and dissipate. Each old neighborhood had its own baker, butcher, school, church, grocer, bar, restaurant and ethnic shop. Parma is 20 square miles in size and already has distinct neighborhoods that are their own villages within the city. The core small business models include State Meats, Breads & Beyond, Colozza’s Bakery, Little Polish Diner, Chuppa’s Marketplace and several others. Merchants say the “old school businesses” philosophy – offering fresh products at a reasonable price with friendly service – means you’ve won a customer for life.  The so-called mom and pop stores offer what Big Box retailing cannot – locally owned and locally run businesses by people who customers have come to know as a store owner, neighbor and friend.  Like Ukrainian Village, Polish Village now has a foundation of church, business and cultural interests that will rebuild and re-establish an important part of Parma’s culture and heritage.    

Charlene Darlington is the General Manager of the Ridge Road Burger King restaurant. She started at the Parma fast food outlet 18 years ago and has been with the company ever since. She had most recently been the boss at the Lakewood Burger King on Detroit Road but has lived in the neighborhood where she now works for more than 30 years. She says partnering with other businesses and neighbors puts everybody on the same page. “I work here and I live right over on the corner of Jamison and Frankfort, so I want Polish Village to thrive and prosper for betterment of our neighborhood,” said Darlington. “We did something similar in Lakewood and I know we can do it here in Parma. We need to bring in little specialty shops, coffee shops, arts festivals and an atmosphere that will be attractive to people of all ages, from here and outside Parma.” Darlington repeats the common thread – if she and Burger King do well, everyone does well. While admitting it won’t happen overnight, she is anxious to get the process moving sooner than later.  Darlington also says mini events by local businesses should be standard fare during throughout the year.  For example, she says offering modest discount tickets or coupons would be one small way to generate interest, with added personal connections to the community by utilizing a website and advertising.

Other retail proponents of Polish Village include Tal’s, Parma Café, Warsaw Deli and the Little Polish Diner.  Owner Jon Holt says the diversity and ethnicity of Ridge Road is the best possible location for Polish Village, claiming the timing couldn’t be better. “The feedback I’m hearing from folks in the neighborhood is genuine excitement for what’s to come,” said Holt. “The businesses are pulling together, most will be open after the Constitution Day Parade, and that shows solidarity for the neighborhood and for one another. There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to work.” 

Angelo Colozza jokes that having an Italian bakery in the heart of Polish Village is a bonus. Colozza  says he’s not going anywhere, that he and his family will stay put where they are best known and have been successful for decades. Others, he claims, have the same opportunity, “This is the right neighborhood for ethnic businesses, there’s no doubt about it,” said Colozza. “You start bringing in more businesses and that means more people. And that’s good for the city, our neighbors and visitors who will want to come back again and again.”

The amenities will undoubtedly multiply as Ridge Road becomes a point of destination, easily accessible and simple to find.  Polish Village may soon become Parma’s very own Magnificent Mile, the place to go for enjoying the food, flavor and friendship of an old-fashioned neighborhood with a fresh, new look.

(Erik Tollerup contributed to this article)

Jack Marschall

Director of Communications and Community Relations for the City of Parma. Former broadcaster, living organ donor and active in civic activities.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 8:50 AM, 04.01.2011