Stained-glass company serves regional customers for more than 30 years

Pete Billington of Whitney Stained Glass working on a skylight

When you walk into the entry of Whitney Stained Glass where the uncut glass of every color is stored, it’s like entering a secret garden or the back, private, work area of a museum. There’s magic taking place, and things of beauty all around. The talent of the five full-time and two part-time employees is astounding. All have been with the company for at least five to six years. They make, restore, install and store stained glass windows and doors, as well as skylights, chandeliers, mosaics, lamps, backsplashes, and other unique restoration projects. The current and second owner, Pete Billington, says that working in the stained-glass business takes a specific skill set: drawing and illustration ability for new work, an understanding of geometry, handiness, having a good “eye,” attention to detail, construction ability, no fear of heights, carefulness, and the ability to lift and carry heavy objects.

Whitney Stained Glass raw glass supplies

The shop is comprised of four rooms on the first floor and an upstairs. On the ground floor is the drawing/pattern area, the glass area, the carpentry area, the cementing area, a welding area, and the firing/kiln area, as well as the office. Upstairs is a glass-painting space with a light table, a library, stained-glass storage for clients, and the kitchen/break room. The company has four glass kilns and a glass-paint kiln, since some stained glass that is painted is then fired for permanence.

Whitney Stained Glass workshop

Whitney Stained Glass was started in 1984 by Jim Whitney. He passed away at the end of 2005, and his primary painter, Pete, bought the company from Jim’s widow in 2007. Pete graduated with a painting degree from Cleveland State University and was working at an art-supply store after college, but he needed a more permanent position. Jim was a friend of the family and had come to Pete’s parent’s house for a Super Bowl party. Jim invited Pete to the studio. During that visit, Pete asked for a job. Jim said he wasn’t hiring a painter. Pete said he just wanted to work with his hands. Jim said, “Okay, you can start on Monday.” That was October 1998; the rest is history.

Pete does not market the business or actively look for new customers. All of his regional customers are repeat customers or find him from word of mouth due to the company’s reputation. His extensive list of customers includes Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Lakeview Cemetery, Trinity Cathedral, The Old Stone Church, Elizabeth Seton High School, and many other churches and private individuals for their residences. He says about 25 percent of his work is installation of new glass; the rest is restoration. These projects are intricate and time consuming. For example, one church’s stained-glass restoration project in Monroe, Mich., took five years to complete. Pete’s first big job with Jim was the First United Methodist Church at 30th St. and Euclid Ave., Cleveland, which also was a multi-year project.

I asked Pete which project was his favorite or most memorable. He says, “A lot of them. When you take apart a Tiffany, it’s really consuming for weeks. We also rebuilt a 40’-by-60’ skylight at the Calfee Building on E. 6th St. and Rockwell Ave. For that job, I had to get a custom roller made to match the texture. The roller, made by a company in New Jersey, was 6’ long by 7” in diameter and cost $35,000.”

One interesting topic came up during my tour: lead. Yes, all of the employees work with and are exposed to lead on a daily basis. They get tested annually and are well within the safety range. Pete says, “We wash our hands a lot. Mainly, the older stuff is dangerous as it deteriorates and oxidizes, but the primary concern is if you breathe it in or ingest it. Contact isn’t as much of an issue.”

Pete’s a trained fine artist who mainly paints in watercolor. When asked if he still does his personal art, he states, “YEAH! I need to do work that isn’t work-related, but I also do my own stained glass to make use of the facility and equipment. I encourage my staff to do the same.” He quotes the late, great glass artist Dan Fenton from his book Glass Under Heat: Complete Kiln Work Notes, 1982-2004: “Never let the sun set on a cold kiln.” About stained glass, he says, “Painted glass is my favorite, especially the Munich-style, old German stuff.” Check out the photo below to see why.

Munich-style stained glass

When asked what inspires him, he says, “The drive to stay successful, to stay in business, to pay my employees and keep them working. I want my clients to hire me again and tell others. The ability to work as an artist and support myself doing what I love.”

glass being restored at Whitney Stained Glass

Jewelry maker associates beautiful objects with taboo subjects in an effort to get people talking about mental health

Begin Again Jewelry jewelry making bench and tools

(an interview with Colleen Terry, owner, Begin Again Jewelry)

How did your interest in creating jewelry begin?

I took my first jewelry class after receiving a medical treatment called electro-convulsive therapy to treat bipolar disorder. The treatment resulted in severe memory loss. I had previously been a pretty big geek, even earning an academic scholarship to Baldwin Wallace University. I prided myself on my nerdiness; however, without my memory, I went from having a 4.0 my first semester of college to getting Ds and Fs when I came back. My mom, an artist herself, recommended that I take an art class. So, I signed up for a jewelry-making class. I found comfort and renewed self-esteem in making things with my hands. I fell in love with the permanence of metal objects, and my passion grew from there.

Where did you receive your training?

After falling in love with jewelry making, I transferred from Baldwin Wallace to The Cleveland Institute of Art where I earned my BFA in jewelry and metals.

The “Our Mission” section of the website mentions a donation of 10 percent of each purchase to organizations near and dear to your personal story. What can you share about that story?

I started my business about a year ago. I was finding myself during a period of recovery. Three years ago I was smoking 2 and 1/2 packs of cigarettes, drinking 1/2 a liter of vodka and engaging in eating disorder behavior every day. In 2015, I found yoga. Within two months of beginning a regular practice, I was able to quit smoking, and one week later I quit drinking — both cold turkey and on my own. The eating disorder was the toughest to escape. Six month into yoga, I found the Emily Program Foundation, and, with their help, I became free of those behaviors for the first time in 20 years. As I began to find myself, I began to reexamine what I really wanted to be doing with my life, and I knew that part of that had to be making and another part had to be giving back and supporting others who had dealt with issues similar to mine and who were on the road to recovery. I also wanted to associate beautiful objects with taboo subjects in an effort to get people talking about mental health.

How did you create that business’ name?

Beginning again is what I am doing in my life and what I want to nurture and celebrate with my line and within the lives of the people I am able to touch with my jewelry, my cause and my philanthropy. It is also a yoga mantra that helped to change my life.

Where do you sell or market your products?

I am doing shows here and there and selling from my website primarily by word of mouth and social media.

How are the pieces made? Can you walk us through the process?

Typically, when it comes to designing my pieces I come to the bench with a general concept and then let my materials guide the rest of the process. I work primarily in 14k gold and sterling silver, and most of my work is hand fabricated. I do have a passion for CAD/CAM object-making and will likely be further incorporating this process within the line in the future.

What inspires your designs?

The symbolism and stones in my line all in some way represent hope, healing and rebirth in some facet. For example, some of the stones are known to facilitate calming and aid in meditation, and butterflies are a common symbol of rebirth.

What do you like to do when you are not designing and making jewelry?

I do a lot of yoga! I actually just earned my yoga teaching certificate and cannot wait to spread the love and healing with yoga and jewelry! I also treasure my time with family and friends.

Do you consider yourself a maker or a manufacturer and why?

I consider myself a maker because I am not mass producing and each piece is made with love, hope and gratitude.

What advice do you have for other makers?

Don’t be afraid to do what you love and share it with everyone!

Begin Again Jewelry butterfly pendantBegin Again Jewelry braceletBegin Again Jewelry necklacesBegin Again Jewelry butterfly chokerBegin Again Jewelry Colleen Terry

On the cusp of greatness

Did you know that Cleveland was ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 21 best places in the world to visit? It was called, “An industrial city that pulsates with creative energy.” And, they noted neighborhoods with great restaurants, including Ohio City, Tremont and East 4th St. Cleveland came in at No. 14 and was one of only two locations in the United States that made the list. The selections were made based on an evaluation of the city, nature and culture. Cleveland ranked third for culture.

Here’s the full list so that you can see our competition:

  1. Harar, Ethiopia
  2. Jujuy Province, Argentina
  3. Tbilisi, Georgia
  4. Sydney, Australia
  5. Oaxaca, Mexico
  6. Vienna, Austria
  7. North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
  8. Malmo, Sweden
  9. Jordan Trail
  10. Dublin, Ireland
  11. Madagascar
  12. Santiago, Chile
  13. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  14. Cleveland, Ohio
  15. Tetouan, Morocco
  16. Seoraksan National Park, South Korea
  17. Albania
  18. San Antonio, Texas
  19. Labrador, Canada
  20. Friesland, Netherlands
  21. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

We know that Cleveland’s great because of the amazing people and businesses that are located here. Although, I’m proud to call Cleveland home, I’ve made it to Vienna, Dublin, and San Antonio. Have you been to any of the 21 places on the list or have plans to visit soon?

Who is John Miller, and what’s this about an auction?

auction gavel

 

HGR Buyer John MillerLike the old Donny & Marie song “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll,” John Miller, one of HGR’s buyers who is located in St. Louis, Missouri, is a little bit sales, a little bit buyer. He works with both HGR’s Sales Department and Buy Department to bring in leads for brokerage equipment that we can sell through our website and those leads that we can auction. So, his position is unique because the items that he brokers are not rigged out to HGR’s Euclid, Ohio, showroom.

How did John make his way to HGR, and what is his experience? Well, prior to working for HGR, he worked in the industrial auction and machinery sales field. He has a longstanding relationship with HGR on the client side. He sold equipment to HGR’s regional buyers in the past, which is how he developed a relationship with HGR prior to coming on board as an employee.

Prior to John coming on board in February 2016, HGR occasionally participated in auctions with its auctioneer partners, but now there’s a focus on the opportunities and on getting the business. Miller says, “We most often partner with Cincinnati Industrial Auctioneers because they’re the top in the area for what they usually sell and what we usually sell. It’s a complimentary relationship that benefits both of our customers because our combined list of buyers and interested customers compliments each other.” HGR’s role in the auction process is to bring in leads for potential auctions and conduct the marketing for upcoming auctions through its website, email list and social media. Miller says, “We partner on six or seven auctions each year in the U.S. and Canada, and our goal is a couple of auctions per quarter. Nine times out of 10 the auction is being held because a plant closed.”

John’s auction leads often come from HGR’s buyers who are out in the field and may decide the situation is not a buy deal but rather an auction situation, and from HGR’s established relationships and contacts. He notes, “These auctions add to our value proposition for both customers that we buy from and customers that we sell to because we can either get things out of their plant immediately and into our showroom or maximize the value of the items by selling them from the factory floor at auction when moving them is not viable because would reduce the value. Auctions have been on the uptake for valuation recently.”

Here is a link to HGR’s next online and in-person auction of the assets from the former Allison Conveyor Engineering at 120 Mine St., Allison, Penn. This auction on Dec. 19 includes bridge mills, plasma tables, fabricating and welding equipment, CNC machining, and toolroom and support equipment.

If you need further information about the auction process or have an auction lead, please contact John Miller at 636-222-0098 or Jmiller@hgrinc.com.

 

 

HGR Industrial Surplus to host MAGNET’s The State of Manufacturing 2017 on Nov. 10

MAGNET: Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network

Last year, MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network hosted The State of Manufacturing 2016 at Jergens. Click here for a recap of that event so that you can get an idea of what to expect. This year, HGR Industrial Surplus, 20001 Euclid Avenue, Euclid, Ohio, is hosting from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 10, 2017. Tickets are required and can be purchased here for $10. You also can view the full agenda on that page.

Join us for a morning devoted to economic and environmental trends affecting Northeast Ohio manufacturers led by Dr. Ned Hill, professor of public administration and city and regional planning at The Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs and member of the College of Engineering’s Ohio Manufacturing Institute.

HGR Industrial Surplus is hosting F*SHO on Friday, Sept. 15

This is a reminder to stop by on Friday, Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the back entrance of HGR’s building to check out 30 contemporary furniture designers’ work, have a beer and eat some grub provided by Noble Beast Brewing Company and SoHo Chicken + Whiskey restaurant. Everything but the furniture is free! The ninth-annual show is presented by Jason and Amanda Radcliffe of 44 Steel.

But, this year, there’s a twist: Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel, Aaron Cunningham of 3 Barn Doors and, possibly, one other surprise designer will be picking out industrial items from HGR’s showroom the night of the show to work all week after and all weekend (Sept. 22-24) at Cleveland’s Ingenuity Festival to build their pieces of furniture. They will be delivered the week of Sept. 25 to HGR’s lobby for display. Then, that same week, we will post them on our eBay auction site that you can get to via a link on our home page at hgrinc.com. The donated furniture will be auctioned to the highest bidder, and proceeds will be donated to an arts organization in Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey relief.

The F*SHO is a win for everyone and a mighty good time! We hope to see you there. F*SHO ad

F*SHO comes to HGR Industrial Surplus; win a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture by a famous designer

F*SHO ad

In two weeks, the F*SHO, a contemporary furniture show and brain child of Jason Radcliffe of 44 Steel, will be coming to HGR Industrial Surplus. Join us Sept. 15 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 20001 Euclid Avenue, Euclid, Ohio. Entry is through the back of HGR’s building.

There will be approximately 30 furniture designers showcasing their work while a DJ spins tunes, and food, courtesy of SoHo Chicken + Whiskey, and beer flow freely. Everything’s free, except the furniture!

In 2015, Jason competed in FRAMEWORK, a furniture and design reality-TV show, hosted by hip-hop superstar Common on SPIKE TV. The winner of that show, Jory Brigham, who also teaches furniture building, will be coming from California to premier a new piece at the F*SHO, and Jason will be heading to California to teach a class at Jory’s studio.

In addition, you will have a chance to win a piece of furniture designed by either Jason Radcliffe, 44 Steel, who works with steel, or Aaron Cunningham, 3 Barn Doors, who works with wood. They will select items from HGR’s showroom to use in the furniture design then will be building the two pieces live at Ingenuity Festival on Sept. 22-24. Contest details to be announced shortly. Stay tuned!

HGR Industrial Surplus to host F*SHO, contemporary furniture show, Sept. 15

F*SHO contemporary credenza

Come join in the fun on Sept. 15, 2017, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at HGR Industrial Surplus, 20001 Euclid Ave, Euclid, Ohio!

We are pleased to announce that HGR is partnering with Jason and Amanda Radcliffe of 44 Steel to host this year’s F*SHO, Cleveland’s premier contemporary furniture show that features work from local designers and makers.

Free parking, free admission, free food and beer! A DJ will be spinning some tunes. And, Dan Morgan of Straight Shooter will be photographing the evening.

Food will be provided by SOHO Chicken + Whiskey. Beer will be provided courtesy of 44 Steel.

Jason and Amanda Radcliffe 44 Steel

Cleveland artist creates home décor products from reclaimed materials

Susie Frazier in front of welder

I know that your career in reclaimed art started when you rescued broken slate roofing tiles being torn off of buildings. Why did you do that?

I saw the tiles leaning on the side of a random building as raw material that was neglected. There was something so beautiful sitting there broken. It prompted me to buy an industrial-grade wet saw so that I could cut the fragments into small pieces that could be used for creating mosaic surfaces. I guess that I saw myself in the tile as I went through periods of neglect and wanted to be scooped up and turned into something new. It was subconscious. We learn and heal by doing. It was the beginning of my therapy. I went on to create an entire product line of picture frames, mirrors, benches, and tabletop accents that I sold through stores and galleries coast to coast. Now, 20 years later, I design products in a wide variety of reclaimed materials, including wood, steel and glass.

Did you create art prior to that time? Were you always an artist?

I have been selling my handmade creations since I was 14 years old. Eventually, I began freelancing as a graphic designer and worked in sales and marketing. In 1997, I was between jobs and bartending at night so that I could have time to make and sell my functional art during the day. Starting and growing is thematic for me. I found that I missed the process of building with my hands when using a computer all the time, but working with reclaimed construction materials was a bit of an education back then. This was before the term Going Green had been coined or the Maker Movement was a thing; so, people had to be taught about why industrial salvage was so amazing.

How did you go from being an artist to having a business and a fabrication shop that sells to top U.S. companies?

I spent many years selling my handmade art, furniture and gifts at festivals and trade shows across Ohio and beyond. Every year taught me something new about consumer buying habits, my products’ unique selling features, and how to drive more sales. In 2010, I grew out of the festival scene and set up a permanent showroom inside 78th Street Studios. Once I presented my work in a more sophisticated manner with an actual point-of-sale system, I was able to attract more serious customers who wanted me to create custom furniture, wall features, corporate gifts, and high-end home décor. Once the demand grew, I had no choice but to farm out aspects of production to various fabricators I trusted. That was the only way for me to scale.

How has your work evolved?

I went from being known as just a fine artist to being a successful product designer to now expanding into interior design services. Recently, I curated the two-bedroom model suite of a 306-unit multi-family housing development at The Edison at Gordon Square, filling it with custom art and furniture that I designed with the help of many local makers in Cleveland.

Who is your favorite artist?

Andy Goldsworthy, a prominent eco-artist of our time, works with found organic materials to create biomimic outdoor sculptures. He then takes photos as they decompose over time. It’s stunning work. Since I’ve been focusing more on accessories and small furniture these days, I have been very interested in other product designers and what they are doing. I’m a huge fan of Nottingham Spirk and all the products they’ve invented for major brands around the world. They design for function not just beauty, and that’s very important to me.

The Cleveland Bolo, jewelry by Susie FrazierWhat kinds of items are you currently making?

I just launched a new jewelry item a few months ago that I can’t keep in stock – The Cleveland Bolo. It’s made from real leather and scrap pieces of .5” square steel rod from my buddy’s metal shop. It’s very simple but modern. Other makers in town build tables out of reclaimed wood, and, sometimes I will dig through their piles of scrap for discards that I can repurpose into some small product. I call that polyclaiming, when the material is on its second or third generation of being repurposed.

Why did you locate at 78th Street, and why Cleveland?

In 2010, I went out to look for a location where people were already starting to migrate for art and design. 78th Street had the only thing going with dozens of makers in one place, as one destination. Plus they had the marketing and programming to back it up rather than simply being a sleepy live/work building.

I’m from the Southwest – born in Los Angeles but grew up in Scottsdale, Denver and Boulder. The desert and the mountains have definitely influenced my aesthetic. Right out of college in 1992, I married a man from Cleveland, and through that experience I also fell in love with the city. Before that, I had never been further east than the Mississippi. Ultimately, I became fascinated with the organic and industrial paradox of Cleveland, which has inspired my design aesthetic from the beginning. We truly are a forest city.

What made you decide to make Movers & Makers, your TV show that was piloted locally on WKYC and is being shopped to networks right now?

Having been in business for 20 years with a distinct brand around handmade, artistic products, I felt it was time to share my story with a broader audience both inside and outside of Cleveland. The purpose of Movers & Makers as a TV show is to propel the Maker Movement and my role in it through an entertaining platform. I see great value in giving more air time to the creative process and not just to the before and after. Besides, there’s a huge audience of women out there who are strong DIY champions and who are capable of things their mothers weren’t. Through woodworking, welding, and computer technology, they’re making all kinds of things and becoming entrepreneurs in the process. That’s what it’s all about. I love the instant gratification skills, like welding, and showing women how easy it is to try something new without fear. By following the furniture or art projects my team and I work on, Movers & Makers shows America that when you apply your creative mind, amazing things are possible. People don’t have to be intimidated.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working in your studio?

I really enjoy yoga, which grounds me physically and spiritually, but I’m a huge fan of horses, hiking, walks along the beach and dancing. I was also an all-state shortstop in high school; so, I love throwing the baseball around. Three years ago, I got behind an indie folk rock band as a manager and helped them produce and promote two albums. I have three kids — 15, 13 and 12; so, I guess I just wanted them to see by example how to experience the richness of life.

Have you shopped at HGR?

In 2010, I became a customer when I heard about HGR from a guy in my building. I told him that I was looking for a rolling cart. He sent me to HGR where I met Tom Tiedman, my salesman, with whom I’ve worked all these years. I’ve repurposed carts, cleaned them up, and inlaid reclaimed wood to make killer side tables. Recently, I bought a bin of washers that were welded into a sculptural award for Crain’s Cleveland Business. I’ve also purchased practical things like filing cabinets and office equipment.

What’s next?

In the coming weeks, my partners at Mont Surfaces and I are launching a webisodes series about my Reflective Design philosophies for creating a sense of calm through various home improvement decisions. I’m a big fan of designing mindful spaces, so the furnishings, the materials, and the colors support well-being. Sourcing salvage items that hold special meaning for the homeowner is a huge part of that. The series will be posted at www.susiefrazier.com, or you can come to one of 78th Street Studios art walks, called THIRD FRIDAYS, taking place on the third Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. We will most likely run this on a monitor throughout the night.

What is your philosophy?

Making the brokenness beautiful.

coffee table from recycled wooddriftwood wall design

HGR stands out from the crowd at 2017 Ceramics Expo

HGR booth at 2017 Ceramics Expo

(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Matt Williams, HGR’s chief marketing officer)

HGR Industrial Surplus recently had the opportunity to exhibit at the Ceramics Expo at the I-X Center in Cleveland for several days. Nestled among shiny, new, three-dimensional printers and exhibits displaying new advances in technology were a couple of old pieces of equipment, including an oven and a piece of air handling equipment. Being different and standing out from the crowd can work to a company’s advantage when it comes to marketing, and HGR’s booth was certainly a different look.

Over three days, Matt Williams, HGR’s chief marketing officer, and Mike Paoletto, one of HGR’s buyers, greeted a steady stream of traffic from current and former customers and vendors as well as from industry professionals who were drawn in by the odd juxtaposition of old equipment at an exposition featuring state-of-the-art processes and machinery. But these industry professionals almost immediately divined why a company like HGR would exhibit at their convention. HGR is in the business of helping companies at every stage grow and transform their businesses. HGR holds a special place in the business ecosystem where it interacts with large, publicly traded multinationals that are transforming their businesses, as well as with nascent startups that are capital constrained, for whom acquiring used and surplus equipment is fundamental to their early success.

The three-day exposition was a great success for HGR. Mike Paoletto reconnected with several vendors who he hadn’t seen for a while–some of whom had moved on to different roles and different companies. While the questions directed at Mike and Matt were as varied as the types of equipment inventoried in HGR’s 12-acre warehouse and showroom in Euclid, Ohio, nearly every conversation started with some observation about the stack of ginormous pens sitting on HGR’s table. Invariably, the engineers at the conference wanted to know why we had such large pens. Our response? “Well, you’re asking us about our pens, aren’t you?”

Large HGR pen giveaway at Ceramics Expo

Get the flavors of Jamaica right here in Euclid, Ohio

Irie Jamaican Kitchen jerk chicken
Irie Jamaican Kitchen’s jerk chicken
Irie Jamaican Kitchen's curry chicken bowl
Irie Jamaican Kitchen’s curry chicken bowl
Irie Jamaican Kitchen's fish stew
Irie Jamaican Kitchen’s fish stew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I was planning a business lunch to talk about the Waterloo Arts District, redevelopment, travel and other things with a colleague at The City of Euclid. When I asked where we should go, she suggested a new Jamaican restaurant that people are raving about on E. 185th Street: Irie Jamaican Kitchen.

This small, cafeteria-style takeout is decorated in the bright colors of Jamaica (black, red, yellow, green). There is bar-style seating with a few stools, too. We dined in and got to meet Omar, the owner, and chat with him about his inspiration. It turns out he went to Cuyahoga Community College and Kent State University for culinary arts and hospitality management. He worked at restaurants his entire life.

Three years ago, he decided to fulfill his dream of owning a restaurant and working for himself. He opened Irie Jamaican Kitchen at Richmond Mall. One month ago, he moved to Euclid, where he currently lives, because he loves the community and felt it would offer a great customer base. So far, he’s doing well.

And, we can see why! Everything was fresh, tasty and full of flavor. There was so much to choose from, including healthy options. You could get a bowl (Jamaican version of Chipotle) with either salad or rice as the base. I got a salad bowl with jerk chicken, vinegar cucumber slaw, pineapple coleslaw and heavenly, carmelized, fried plantains. I also ordered a cup of thick, rich chicken-feet soup. My colleague had a rice bowl with curry chicken, mango salsa, plantains and sour cream. I wanted to try the fish stew in brown sauce, but there will always be another time.

 

Nickel Plate Road Historical & Technical Society donation for convention luncheon

HGR donation to Nickel Plate Road Historical & Technical Society for annual convention luncheon
Chuck Klein, NKPHTS convention chairman, with Matt Williams, HGR’s chief marketing officer

On Sept. 28 – 30, The Nickel Plate Road Historical and Technical Society (NKPHTS) is hosting its annual convention in Cleveland, one of the stops on the Nickel Plate Road railroad, which connected New York, Chicago and St. Louis. If you missed it, you can learn more about the society in this 2015 HGR blog. HGR’s current facility was one of the Cleveland stops on the line where GM’s Fisher Auto Body Plant used the railroad to transport automobile bodies to Detroit. You can read about the history of the site on this past blog.

So, why are we talking about an event that doesn’t take place until September? Well, because pulling off a convention takes planning, and Chuck Klein, NKPHTS’ convention chairman, is running the show. On March 7, he visited HGR’s showroom in Euclid to pick up his “check” for $1,000, donated by HGR. Matt Williams, HGR’s chief marketing officer, is a member of NKPHTS. And, HGR cares about preserving the heritage of its site, which was an important part of the war effort and industrialization in Cleveland.

Williams joined the society because his grandfather worked in Nickel Plate’s Canton, Ohio, railyard, and his father, an electrical engineer, was The Orville Railroad Heritage Society’s president. While Klein, a retired optician, is a model railroad enthusiast and a committee member for the National Model Railroad Association, which is how he came by the job of convention chairman.

Klein says, “We almost didn’t do the luncheon because it wasn’t financially feasible, but with the donation from HGR to cover the room rental, we were able to pull it off.” And, pull it off in style they will do. The society is shuttling convention attendees from The Holiday Inn South Cleveland — Independence to The Terminal Tower with a special stop along the way. A visit to the tower’s observation deck also is planned. The topic of the luncheon presentation will be “From Chicago World’s Fair to Cleveland’s Public Square: the Story of the Terminal Tower.”

For lovers of Cleveland history, especially of Public Square, Klein provides a wealth of information. I learned more in an hour with him about the history of the buildings on Public Square and the Van Sweringen brothers who built them than I’ve learned in my (ahem) undisclosed number of years on this planet where I’ve lived in Cleveland since birth. He recommended the book Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland’s Van Sweringen Brothers by Herbert H. Harwood Jr. It’s now on my Goodreads list!

If you are interested in joining the society or attending the convention, you can get more information on the society’s website. We’ll be at the luncheon looking for you!

 

Actress Monica Potter’s heart belongs to Collinwood and manufacturing

Monica Potter

From 1993-2005, I worked for a construction trade newspaper with Monica Potter’s Aunt Sue. I heard office tales about her stunning niece who was doing catalog modeling and commercials and even got to meet her once at some company event or other. I also crossed paths with Monica’s Uncle Bill of Brokaw Inc., an advertising agency, since I had begun my career in advertising.

Fast forward to October 2016 when I heard about Monica’s newest TV venture, “Welcome Back Potter,” a reality TV show on HGTV in which Monica, her mother and her sister work to renovate their family home in the North Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, which is right around the corner from my office at HGR Industrial Surplus. I decided to send her a message on Facebook to see about an interview. I figured, “What do I have to lose?” A few days later I got a response basically saying, “Yes.” I messaged her the questions. I got a message back with a phone number. After some phone tag and texts, we chatted for almost an hour. Who knew that she cares so much about manufacturing and a skilled workforce, and is actually doing something about it?

She is a passionate, intelligent, earthy, kind, fun, friendly, infectious person that you immediately want to hang out with for hours over a few double-dirty martinis with blue-cheese stuffed olives. In the first few minutes of our conversation, she jumped right into the nitty gritty of her philosophy, “It’s not about the business or the house but about doing something on a bigger scale, which I have wanted to do since I was 10. My projects can be a catalyst for people in Cleveland to begin a dialogue with government and politicians.” She says that when she opened her second Monica Potter Home store in The Old Arcade in Cleveland, it was timely because she wants to bring back small businesses and jobs to Cleveland but can only do so much; she need everyone’s help – the mayor, councilmen and law enforcement.

I asked her what she wanted to do when she was 10. She tells the story of calling then-Mayor George Voinovich’s office and leaving a message for him through his secretary because she had an idea. She wanted to take the old Memorial School Building in Collinwood where she went to kindergarten and have a place in that building where people could sleep, eat and learn how to do something in order to get a job, graduate, move out and get a house so that their families could be proud of them and they could feed their families.

Monica Potter with her dad and sisterHow did a 10-year-old come to have thoughts like that? It all goes back to her dad. He’s the reason she bought back the family home in Collinwood, started Monica Potter Home and is looking to do even more. He was an inventor, with 78 patents, who made all of his inventions in the basement of their house then started a fishing-lure business on St. Clair Avenue. She was included in his inventing process and tinkering. She says, “I always did small construction and renovation projects with my dad. I was the boy of the family – changing oil, changing tires, building things from nothing.” She worked at the lure business pouring molds, putting in wires and hooks, and packaging. He had an interest in chemistry, biology, medicine and alternative medicine. He experimented with essential oils and other compounds to treat her eczema. Now, she also is inventing and wants to patent her designs and currently works with a chemist to go through formulas to create the bath and beauty products available through Monica Potter Home. Her mother cleaned on the side at Euclid Square Mall and would take her kids with her. Monica says she learned to act by watching and imitating people in the mall. She started Monica Potter Home because she wanted to make great products for the home that were inspired by her father and mother who liked to keep a nice house and decorate even if they didn’t have a lot of money. You can see how much family, hers and yours, means to her.

Her family originally moved into Collinwood in June 1971. She was born two weeks later. They sold the house in 1987 to move to Alabama. She bought the house back in 2012 and had a film crew come from Los Angeles that summer to document more than 1,000 hours of footage on the work that they did on the home with the intention of creating a documentary. And, when something is meant to be, it is meant to be. Renovation was finished in June 2016 as her lease on a farmhouse in Hiram, Ohio, was up. She occupied the home on June 30, her birthday, and had her family’s priest come to bless the house. She says it was her best birthday ever. She still lives in L.A. full time and spends 10 days per month in Cleveland to work on Monica Potter Home and efforts to renovate more homes in the area.

She originally decided to film the renovation as a documentary because she wanted to tell a story; so, she banked the footage and was working with a filmmaker in L.A. Then, she was approached by a couple of

Monica Potter house after renovation on Welcome Back Potter
The exterior of the house has new white paint, fresh landscaping and a larger front staircase as seen on Welcome Back Potter.

networks about doing a home renovation show. She said she would do it as long as could produce it and not exploit her family. She went with HGTV and is really happy with result. She says that, “although they showcased the house, it was a different show for them because it showed the City of Cleveland, sisterhood, and what we are doing here and why, not just doorknobs and doors and hanging drywall.” The family worked 7 a.m to 10 p.m. each day, sometimes even sleeping in the car. Monica designed the fixtures, and everything is repurposed. She has an inventory system the documents everything down to the nails pulled from the walls, and she is recycling them to make other things.

With her roots in Collinwood and her passion for manufacturing, her ambitions include getting the useable space and machinery to make everything for Monica Potter Home from North Collinwood at a workshop with an apprenticeship program where people can learn from master craftsmen and technicians. This is a family grassroots effort, and she is working hand-in-hand with Brokaw Inc. to create a training space that currently is self-funded with no grants or partners. She said it’s not about a celebrity having a store or two but about creating jobs and making people proud of what they are doing, as well as helping people have incredible products at an affordable price in their homes that are made in the U.S., not overseas. She says that she wants to put up a sign that says, “Who wants to work? Who wants to learn to do something?” when she sees all the shutdowns and empty factories along St. Clair Avenue and as the Baby Boomers age out and are not being replaced with skilled labor.

With heart and soul, she blurts, “We’ve got to get our s!*# together. The Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers did great. I love that we’re winning, and our teams, and the resurgence in the area. It’s Believeland, but now it’s time for us to believe in ourselves. Our great sports teams are catapulting us and making us proud. Now, it’s our turn.”