While living abroad and working on his master’s degree in England, Cleveland resident Zach Cooper would collect hats as keepsakes to remember his travels. He found himself spending a lot of time in suit stores and retail stores all around the world, just talking to people who would notice his accent and want to know his story.
“And then next thing you know, it’s been an hour and a half and I’ve looked at two hats, but I’ve just had this incredible conversation,” he said.
At one shop, someone offered him a beer. They opened a hidden compartment in the wall, revealing two little brew taps.
That experience inspired him to bring something similar to Cleveland. The business he’s planning to open at a former funeral home at 3929 Lorain Ave., a suit shop, event space, and speakeasy called Sartorial, will have some similar “hidden elements and fun surprises,” he said.
Cooper said the business will cater to neighborhood needs while also outfitting groomsmen from wedding parties in suits and providing a space for small gatherings.
A former U.S. Marine with an interest in helping veterans, Cooper, who is 37, said he and his wife are purchasing the building and moving there from downtown Cleveland. They will renovate the property and live in an upstairs apartment while operating the business on the first floor and in the basement. Cooper is purchasing the building from Triban Investments, which is an affiliate of Knez Homes. He said he is creating the business out of a general need for more retail in Ohio City and a specific gap in the market when it comes to wedding event spaces and suit shops geared towards groomsmen.
Sartorial is Cooper’s first solo business venture. Before this, he was an independent contractor in luxury home renovation sales, and he’s also worked in the restaurant and hospitality industries and had stints in retail. He was a Rotary Peace Fellow and got a master’s degree in conflict resolution from the University of Bradford in England, working for the nonprofit Combatants for Peace in Israel-Palestine as part of the program.
The project has gained the support of Ward 3 council member Kerry McCormack and the Cleveland Planning Commission. This week, it was also approved for zoning variances by the Board of Zoning Appeals. “Ohio City has some pretty incredible entertainment options, but there’s a void in the retail environment,” Cooper told the BZA, stressing that while he is intending to have a liquor license and serve alcohol, his primary business is retail (clothing and suit sales). “These days, shoppers don’t just want to go shopping, they want an experience. That’s what we’re trying to curate here.”
Business will replace vacant storefront, attracting customers (and cars)
The business will operate from Tuesday through Sunday from 12-8 p.m., generally, but will also be open for appointments outside of those hours. Responding to questions at the BZA hearing, Cooper said shoppers could purchase a drink while they shop, but the primary intent is not to open a bar. He hopes the space will make fittings for groomsmen more of an event.
Sartorial will sell clothing essentials including T-shirts, jeans, golf polos, socks, and underwear, as well as both off-the-rack and custom suits. Suits from Sartorial’s wedding line will cost around $300-$500, and the cost of business attire suits will have prices comparable to those at chain retail stores. Custom suits will have a higher price point, and the cost will vary depending on customers’ choice of materials and style and the amount of fabric needed.
To source the clothing and suits for the shop, Cooper said he’s working on finding companies that produce garments sustainably in the U.S. and that are focused on giving back, including a denim company he found that also supports veteran organizations. For the custom suits, he’s working with the Knoxville, Tennessee-based tailoring company John Daniel International.
In the meantime before its opening, Sartorial is offering custom made-to-measure suiting, including jackets and two-piece, three-piece, and double-breasted suits.
During a tour of the building with The Land, Cooper pointed to the high ceilings and leaded glass windows throughout the property as elements that originally drew him to the space. He’s planning on restoring these historic features while bringing in modern lighting, furniture and other elements to create a lounge-like environment that can serve multiple functions. The exterior of the building will also be refurbished, and he noted that the new interior layout will be very similar to how it was from 1930 until the early 2000s, when the Bodnar Funeral Home closed this location.
Cooper’s proposal has met with some opposition from neighbors who say that the lack of parking for customers will cause them to spill onto side streets, creating a hardship for residents who rely on street parking. The property only has four off-street parking spaces, but there is street parking on Lorain and the area is well served by public transit and bus routes. Cooper said he would encourage people to park on the street when his parking lot is full, and to carpool, walk, or use ride sharing or public transportation to get to his shop.
Some residents also objected to alcohol sales at the property, while others supported the project.
Council member McCormack told BZA, “This is a blighted building on a busy historic corridor. I support a positive, active use at this location. This is an innovative business.”
The council member noted that the building has been vacant for more than 10 years and in densely built Ohio City most buildings on Lorain do not have sufficient parking to meet the code. He also stressed that he did not want to see buildings torn down for parking lots. “We will not support buildings on our historic corridor being torn down for parking,” he said.
Even though development has been happening all around it, the building at 3929 Lorain has been vacant for more than 10 years. It was built in 1920, according to property records, and is owned by Triban Investments, an affiliate of Knez Homes. Triban owes more than $65,000 in back property taxes on the property, which is in foreclosure. McCormack confirmed that the blighted property is the subject of frequent phone calls to his office, from residents who complain about its condition.
Shannan Leonard, chief city zoning administrator with the city of Cleveland, said that the city also supports the project, because it will renovate an empty building and create a new business. This is especially important, she said, in a world where retail is often struggling to survive. “After Covid, we need to think about how we use vacant storefronts,” she said. “In a post-Covid world this is something business owners are looking to do in the city of Cleveland.”
Plans to support veterans with work, re-entry assistance
In addition to his business, Cooper aims to create a separate nonprofit that would help to provide military veterans with suits, to help them get ready for job interviews and careers. Cooper is a former U.S. Marine. While he and his wife intend to live upstairs, they may ultimately move out and rent to a veteran as part of helping that individual transition into the working world, he said.
“I personally know what it’s like to not only have that experience (of serving in the military), but one of the really unique parts of having that experience is at some point for all of us, we have to transition from military life back to civilian life,” Cooper said. “And that can be really, really hard.”
Inspired by EDWINS, a restaurant in Shaker Square that offers a reentry program for formerly incarcerated people, Cooper wants to employ veterans at Sartorial.
While studying to get his undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University after his time in the Marine Corps, Cooper was involved with several veterans organizations, including serving on the board of a nonprofit that his friends created. He said he found the work of supporting fellow veterans to be fulfilling, and he wants to continue this work with his new venture.
“Experiencing my own transition, I had my own hardships and being able to use the knowledge and the information that I had gained through those hardships and being able to share that and relay that with other folks who were experiencing it, it was an incredible opportunity to share that part of their lives and share that part of my life with them,” he said.
Cooper’s tentative timeline for Sartorial’s opening is June or July, depending on how long construction takes, he said.
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