Gary Rand discusses the history of Ohio Knitting Mills (1947-2003) in Cleveland's Midtown Corridor. The Ohio Knitting Mills created and designed garments for both men and women. He discusses the company's customer base, employment levels, pay scales, building upgrades, the production process, and union and labor relations. He discusses the various restaurants and shops in the Midtown area in the late 1960s and the change that took place in the 1970s. He also discusses the changing employee demographic and the ethnic complexity in the years throughout the company's existence. Other related topics include security and the company's relationship with the local political community.


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Rand, Gary (interviewee)


Hons, Justin (interviewer)


Midtown Cleveland



Document Type

Oral History


55 minutes


Justin Hons [00:00:01] Okay. All right. I’m Justin Hons, Cleveland State University’s oral history project. I’m here with Gary Rand from Ohio Knitting Mills. Gary, thanks a lot for joining us.

Gary Rand [00:00:13] My pleasure.

Justin Hons [00:00:15] Could you first tell us a little bit about how the Ohio Knitting Mills came to be? About the history of the company?

Gary Rand [00:00:25] Ohio Knitting Mills was formed in 1947 by my father, who was a son-in-law of the previous owner, Harry Stone, which also was a knitting mill. It was called Stone Knitting. Ohio Knitting Mills was in business from 1947 until 2003, and Stone Knitting Mills was in business from 1923 until 1947. The offshoot of Stone Knitting Mills, there was four other knitting mills in the United States that came from the core of Stone Knitting Mills and from the core of Ohio Knitting Mills, there was three other knitting mills that came from that. One mill was in Puerto Rico, and other two mills were in New Jersey. The interesting fact is that the building at 1974 East 61st Street was built between 1918 and 1922. That was the first building that my grandfather worked as a floor sweeper and basically as a salesman. That building was called the Rich-Sampliner Knitting Mill, and they went out of business approximately in 1941. Should I go on? Okay. The Stone Knitting Mills was located at 7500 Stanton Avenue, which was off of Woodland. The building that Ohio Knitting Mills occupied in the Midtown Corridor was purchased by a partnership from Case Tech University as, it was endowed to them, and Case Tech decided to sell a lot of their properties. We partnered up with part of the Ratner family, and we bought the building in 1953. The occupants of that building were Printz-Biederman, which was a coat manufacturer. That’s why the building was called the Printz Square building. Printz-Biederman occupied the top two floors in a firm called Cleveland Electronics occupied the bottom two floors. Printz-Biederman ceased operations in 1967, and Ohio Knitting Mills moved from their operation on Stanton Avenue into the building in 1968. The Ohio Knitting Mills occupied about 60,000 square feet at that time. The second and third floor. Cleveland Electronics occupied the first floor in the basement. In 1973, Cleveland Electronics closed their doors, and Ohio Knitting Mills basically took over the first floor of the building for storage of yarn and equipment. The function of Ohio Knitting Mills basically was a private-label manufacturer that designed and styled sweaters for the ladies and men’s and junior fashion houses. We owned 130 pieces of equipment. We had our own design staff, and we furnished to our customers the design, and we also financed the purchase of the raw material. Our customer structure basically was changed as the marketplace changed. We employed anywhere from a high of 140 people to a low of 40 people. We were a union shop. We pride ourselves- We were part of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, which later became UNITE [Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees]. We prided ourselves on being a good-quality resource. We competed with the world market. And we were the last knitting mill, one of the last knitting mills basically left in the country.

Justin Hons [00:05:58] Wow. It’s quite a history. Let me ask you, did you ever get a chance to speak with your grandfather about the location whenever he worked in it?

Gary Rand [00:06:12] Well, as a kid, I worked in the old mill on Stanton, but I never got to talk to my grandfather about when he worked in the building that became Ohio Knitting Mills in the sixties. My grandfather passed away when he was like 72, 73. So I was 14 years old, so I never had that relationship with him.

Justin Hons [00:06:42] What about when your father took over the building or whenever he started to work in the building? What was the building, and I guess the neighborhood that surrounded the building, like at that time?

Gary Rand [00:06:58] When we moved into the building, the building on 61st Street, the neighborhood was fair. It had started to go downhill a little bit. But Euclid Avenue was still- Euclid Avenue from 55th to 71st was still, in the late sixties, was still a pretty high-commerce area. You had restaurants there. One of the famous restaurants was the Excelsior Restaurant [5601 Euclid Ave.], which was a corned beef deli. The thing about the Excelsior Restaurant was the gentleman that owned it, his grandson was killed in Munich and part of the terrorists of the Olympics in the year 1975, ’76. I’m not quite sure. His name was Burger. That restaurant closed probably in 1973. There was another restaurant called the Play Bar [6301 Euclid Ave.], which was another delicatessen, which was a very- A place to go eat lunch. And a lot of businessmen came there. There was a lot of different- There was two hardware stores on Euclid Avenue. There was U.S. Wallpaper Building, which was a big area of commerce. There was a couple other service-type frontage on Euclid Avenue. After 55th, there was a little- By the bridge of 55th, there was a little White Castle or a little White Tower, which a hamburger place. Then you had the old Pennsylvania Railroad station on the other side of 55th. You had just basically sorts of commerce. Euclid Avenue was a fairly heavy traveled road. And it started to change basically in the early seventies, where the infrastructure of that area became sort of blighted. There was two big fires. The Ohio Sanitary Building burned down. The 57th Street Hardware burned down. You had one of the buildings on the corner of 61st and Euclid was the old Sherman Clothing Building [5906 Euclid Ave.], which eventually became Dubick Fixture and then it turned into a daycare center. The other thing that happened in the seventies is as they tried to clean up Prospect. We got the influx of prostitutes. And the city- It became a problem because the city, the U.S. Wallpaper Building was sold to Carmen DiGeronimo, where we had an offer to buy that building because we had accumulated a lot of property around our building. And we lost the deal. Eventually Carmen held the building for about three years and sold it to Winston Willis. Well, Winston Willis was a crusader of civil rights. He ran a big operation up at 105th and Euclid. His land was taken away from him by the Clinic, so he set up his operation in the old U.S. Wallpaper Building. It became an infested, non-desirable, almost threatening area with the after-hour spots, the prostitution, the porn, and anything else that followed that. We had to put in our own security. Our women felt threatened as they walked to the bus to end their shift. And one of the reasons, I’m going to go back a little bit, one of the reasons we moved into that building was most of our employees were women. And we felt at that time, in the late sixties, the bus service and the transportation service along the Euclid corridor at that time was very, very beneficial both to our west side employees and our employees from the ethnic areas of Cleveland. But as time went on, most of those employees retired and we replaced them with other ethnic groups that moved into the Cleveland area. And the people from Southeast Asia, the Russians that came into Cleveland, the Yugoslavians that came into Cleveland, also the people from Hungary. So our help and our trained people were mostly immigrants that came to the United States. They came with a skill that they could sit down at a sewing machine. They didn’t need the language barrier, they could sew, and they didn’t have any problems with the language barrier. But eventually, as they got accumulated or acclimated to the life in the United States, and they learned the language and they were aggressive and determined to make a better life for themselves from the country they came from, they bettered themselves and they left our job for better jobs. For better jobs. The pay scale of Ohio Knitting Mills was not at the low end of the totem pole as far as pay scale, but being in a competitive world market, our pay scale was not huge, but we did guarantee our people a job. They come to work, they had a paycheck every week, and that’s all we really required of our people. Our mixture of employees ranged. We had a good cross-section of different ethnic groups. They were good workers, and our management theory was what was good for the owners of Ohio Knitting Mills was also good for the people that we employed. We approached it as a team and we felt that our management style was very, very good to work with and for. No one worked with us, no one worked for us. Most of our employees worked with us. As the Euclid-55th area started to decline in the mid seventies, we experienced a few security problems and we had purchased a lot of the land behind us. We tore all those buildings down and we put in a secured parking lot and we added more security to our environment. The city of Cleveland really was not on our side. I hate to say this, but in 1978 they put new infrastructure of sewers and water lines into the seven-block area east of 55th. 61st Street was not done because being the largest employer at that time east of 55th, given it was a federal granted fund, we had to sign off on showing our records, showing our employment, showing our ratios, and we would not do that. As an afterthought, what happened was we had to put in a fire pump because the lines from the city were all tuberculin and we lost the opportunity to buy the U.S. Wallpaper business building and try to develop the frontage on Euclid Avenue because of the city, the problem with the city and the politics of the city. We employed a lot of- If I go, it’s all right for me to go back?

Justin Hons [00:18:36] Sure. Oh, yeah.

Gary Rand [00:18:37] All right. We employed a lot of women. The question about safety and acts of coming to work via transportation or bus or rapid was of big importance to us. One of the things that we asked prospective employees is if they had any fear coming into the area. Some of the answers were yes, some of the answers were no. The area from 1975 really until 1990 was blighted. We had a lot of buildings that were owned by Winston Willis, which was a big [detractor] for getting employees into the building. You had the Wood & Spencer building [1930 E. 61st St.] next door, which became vacated in 1991. That became an eyesore. You had homeless living there and it was not a very, very good environment for having employees come to work. When they tore down the building, the old Ward Baking Company [4801 Chester Ave.] where they had a homeless camp there, they moved to the vacant building on 61st. One of the other problems that came up in the early 1999 and 2000 was that they took the Margaret Ireland School and made that school for discourageable children. They came from all over the city. We had to- Our women were accosted at the bus stop and we had to put our security, our own security there. And the- Finally, I went to the Cleveland school board. They understood my problem, and they gave us their own- They gave us their own security. That problem really continued until we vacated the building in 2003.

Justin Hons [00:21:41] Well, there’s a lot of stuff that I wanted to follow up on, what you were just talking about. Let me ask you, the change in the workforce. What groups of people were working for Ohio Knitting Mills in the sixties? And then how did that workforce change? Was it always women, primarily?

Gary Rand [00:22:05] Primarily, it was always women. Our ratio was probably four to one women. As you go through the fifties, our workforce was basically Italian immigrants, Hungarian immigrants. We did have some people that came from Cuba in the sixties. Our employment force was pretty stable. You had a combination of the Hungarians and the immigrant Italians and some people from Hungary. That started to change in the early seventies as the workforce got older and we started to employ some of the Russians that came into the United States. From 1975 to 1980, our ratio of immigrants was probably three to one. We also did some programs with the inner-city schools to try to train some of the students. One program was at Shaw High School, where they had a home economics program, and we put time and some expertise into that program, and we did a- It wasn’t a present-, but we did a program where the girls would come to work in the afternoon, and we provided summer jobs for them. Our busy time was the months between March and October. We ran two knitting shifts, sometimes three, 24 hours a day. We ran one sewing shift. There was lots of overtime. We worked every Saturday because that was our busy period. We had to deliver our production in a timely fashion so the customers would take it and be able to ship it to the retail stores. So the workday was very active, very, very, sometimes very mentally stressing the employees if they didn’t show up, it hindered the flow of work. And my father and myself and the designer, Elizabeth Foderaro, we were shirt-sleeve managers. We didn’t sit at our office. We didn’t sit at our desk. We were on our manufacturing floor 80% of the time because we wanted to prevent any problems before they happened or before they became very costly to us. In the manufacturing business, you have four operations. You got raw material, you got knitting, you got washing, you got cutting, you got sewing, and you got finishing. If you don’t solve the problems before it gets into those operations, you’re not gonna be in business long. The workday was long. The building was not air-conditioned. In the summertime, it became a little uncomfortable, but we were able to better the building. We tried to make it a good work environment for our employees. We put all new windows in the building. It was a product called K -Wall that gave us, not an air-conditioned feeling, but a feeling where the sun did not penetrate into the building as much. And it was a very, very good product for our type of operation. We also upgraded all the plumbing and all the boiler work. Our boilers were a very important part of our function, because we did process steam in manufacturing for our pressing and our washing operation. We improved all the bathrooms. We did at one time have a full-service cafeteria. And we tried to make it a good atmosphere to come to work with our employees. We treated them as family.

Justin Hons [00:28:07] As your workforce changed over the years, the neighborhood obviously was changing at the same time. You talked a little bit about the interactions between your workforce and the people in the neighborhood, and you seem to almost say that it kind of got progressively more difficult to deal with problems of security, and there was issues of harassment. Was there a lot of tension between your workforce and kind of the changes in the residents of the neighborhood? Could you talk a little bit about that?

Gary Rand [00:28:38] Well, the neighborhood there was- There was- As the Euclid Avenue became more and more blighted, what happened was, with no people around and no commerce around, you begin to get the undesirable characters in the area. I think maybe the problem really almost got better with the formation of Midtown. I think Midtown, the formation of it, there were some hiccups, there were some politics. But I think without Midtown, the area would have gotten much more, much worse and more blighted. But the formation of Midtown, I think, really saved the area for us from probably from 1980 to 2001. I think, I’m not sure when Midtown was formed. I think in the early eighties.

Justin Hons [00:30:12] You talked about the shop was a union shop, and that it was competing with this increasingly more competitive global market. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how the union came to be formed in the shop and then how your relationship with the union changed, or maybe it didn’t change, as you know, manufacturing as a whole, but particularly with textiles, began to be more and more, not common, uncommon in the United States.

Gary Rand [00:30:43] Well, our relationship, our shop was always a union shop.

Justin Hons [00:30:51] Was that a decision that you guys made in the beginning?

Gary Rand [00:30:53] Well, we had no choice. Stone Knitting Mills was a union shop. Since we bought the assets of Stone Knitting Mills, we were a union shop. The union was- It was good to work with, and yet they were their own worst enemies, because we would have treated our employees, if we were not a union shop, better than the union treated them. They had certain rules, certain parts of the contract, which really sometimes hindered our ability to be competitive in the marketplace. We negotiated our contract with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, with a group of the manufacturers in the sixties, seventies, and eighties that were in Cleveland. We were all one union, one union group. We were doing Ohio’s was doing probably the middle road of the apparel business. And some of the other people that were negotiating the contract were in the upper level, but our pay scale was basically all the same. My personal feeling is the union really sold out, sold out the members.

Justin Hons [00:32:41] Since we’re kind of on the topic of work, could you just kind of describe the materials that were made, the clothing that was made a little bit, like what kind of clothes?

Gary Rand [00:32:51] Okay. We really started making, in the forties and fifties, we really started making men’s t-shirts after World War Two. You know, when the war was over, people came home. They were tired of wearing olive drab, and they wanted bright color, you know, novelty clothes where they could make a statement. We had the type of machinery that was able to do that. We were selling men’s t-shirts in the forties and fifties for $24 a dozen. That was $2 each. And that was one of our big, big areas because we had the equipment to make a novelty product. We used mostly cotton in the fifties, in the, cotton and wool, in the fifties. Our fibers became more and more novelty. We used a lot of novelty yarns because we had the equipment that was able to handle it. We used a lot of synthetic yarns. And we also probably were the largest manufacturer of woolen yarns in the country. Our yarns, we purchased contracts, and we imported some of our yarns. And also we bought a lot of domestic yarns, the raw material. We did a lot of polyester. We did a lot of rayon. We manufactured what the marketplace wanted. One of the reasons why we were successful was that we were able to adapt and be known as, as a very versatile, flexible mill that had a good design team that could market products into today’s marketplace, what the marketplace was asking for. We did a lot of catalog business with Sears, Montgomery Ward, Lane Bryant, Spiegel. And as their business changed, our business changed. We started to do business with the go-go junior houses, as I call it, in the seventies, firms like Offsprings, Bananas, Hangups, anything with a little catchy name to it, we did their design and manufacturing. We had, as I mentioned before, our design team was the best. We had the best technical designers probably in the country, where our designers were very technically knowledgeable. A lot of the so-called hotshot designers out of New York, they knew what they wanted, but they couldn’t get what, they didn’t know how to get to where they want. And we, with our expertise, we usually got ’em to the point they want to be. One of the funny things, one of the things that happens is the New York designers come in, and we have archives of styles. We kept one of everything we ever made. And they would come in and they say, well, can we change it this, change this, change that yarn, change this color? We went through and made the changes. And usually what happens is they say, well, that’s not exactly what I meant. Yours is better. So, you know, we feel that with our technical knowledge and our expertise, we were able to survive in the marketplace. Our business in the eighties changed a little bit. As the marketplace got more competitive, we upgraded our product. We started to make merchandise for better fashion houses. People like Liz Claiborne, Jones of New York, Pendleton Woolen Mills, Evan-Picone, a lot of the other fashion houses, because we felt our knitting time basically was the same. Our labor costs had gone up, our raw material costs had gone, gone up, our energy costs have gone up. So we were better off going into an upper and a better market where we could still be competitive in the marketplace, as well as make money to keep us in business. We always were on a program to update our equipment. We always budgeted money to buy new equipment, to be there when our customers wanted a certain fabric out of a certain machine. In the seventies, we bought a lot. We bought probably ten pieces of equipment, probably over to the tune of $100,000. In the eighties, we bought a new type of equipment called Caperdoni machines. Probably an investment of maybe 150-, $200,000. In the nineties, we bought some new electronic flat machines, probably an investment of over $200,000. We kept our mill modern, we kept it competitive, and we were always upgrading our equipment, and we had pretty good vision forward of what the marketplace was dictating to us to do. The apparel business is something that changes every eight weeks, so you have to be flexible. You have to be, you have to be deliver the merchandise on time, and you have to be fashionable, and yet you have to be priced right.

Justin Hons [00:40:05] So in 2003 Ohio Knitting Mills was-

Gary Rand [00:40:09] In 2003, we had had some discussions with the Midtown Corridor in 2000 that they had on the drawing board to build a tech center. And they were interested if we were interested in maybe selling the building. And that discussion really dropped dead in, you know, the end of 2000. [In] 2001, they came back to us. We negotiated a deal, and we were able to finalize the deal, but the deal was delayed another year because of the economic conditions of the city of Cleveland. We finally closed the deal, and we started to vacate the building in June of 2003.

Justin Hons [00:41:31] Now, when was the clothing discovered by- I’m not sure. Could you talk a little bit about how there was a certain amount of clothing that was discovered, and now some of it’s being sold?

Gary Rand [00:41:48] As I mentioned, we kept one sample of everything we ever made. We had an archives that consisted of about 15,000, 20,000 pieces of knitted fabric and sweaters and garments ranging anywhere from dresses to pants to tops, socks, ski wear, ski hats, scarves. We made it all. And we had the archives because our archives was very important to our customers that came in, and we went through the old archives when we were starting to close the factory down, and I found some people in the country that were selling vintage clothing. There was a fellow in Cleveland by the name of Steve Tatar that came to me, and he was very intrigued with the vintage sweaters, and he thought we had a great marketplace for it. And I entered into a relationship with Steve, where he eventually took our vintage sweaters from our archives and opened a small store on Spring Street in Brooklyn. And I licensed the name of Ohio Knitting Mills to Steve, and he has really set the apparel, the apparel atmosphere in New York. He’s become very, very successful and very popular because he’s selling things that people don’t see in their everyday department store, specialty store, or discount store. In fact, we have even looked into the possibility of trying to remanufacture some of the merchandise that has been well-received by a vast number of customers. And that is the project we are working on right now.

Justin Hons [00:44:28] Now, you were alluding to the future plans of the building, but just kind of, if we could step back, I do want to talk about those future plans. Could you just kind of describe the building itself? How is it built? How large is it? Because it’s on a national historic register.

Gary Rand [00:44:46] Right. So the building was three floors and a basement. It had an English basement part where the boiler rooms were. It had one passenger elevator on the south side. The building ran north-south. On the south side, it had one passenger elevator. On the north side, it had one giant 3,000-pound capacity freight elevator. The beams were, the columns were 20-foot sections, and each floor consisted of 30,000 square feet. The total building was approximately 125,000 square feet. It had a marble, beautiful entranceway, very Art Deco, brass handrails marble lobby, very Art Deco type of lights, and it had character. The first floor, after Cleveland Electronics moved out, we used for our storage yarn, and old equipment. The second-floor floor, where our offices are cutting, our sewing, our finishing, and our shipping and sweater storage. On the third floor, which is a top floor, we had our three knitting departments, which included warp knitting, Rochelle knitting, Caperdoni knitting, circular knitting, and flat knitting. We also did- We had a full-service laundry. We washed most of our fabrics. We dried them, and we had a steaming situation upstairs where we had two great big Tubetex mangles where all our fabric was finished. We had an internal product elevator that we sent the merchandise after it was steamed and washed down on an internal elevator to be prepared for cutting. That was on the second floor. We prepared the merchandise for cutting. We had long cutting tables. We had nine cutting tables. And we would cut the merchandise. We would put it into little trolley cans, and they would be bundled and ticketed, and then they would be taken out to the sewing operators. Most of our sewers were on piecework, which was good and bad. The ones that wanted to work made good money. The ones that didn’t want to work were paid the piecework rate. After the garments were sewed, they were clipped, all the loose ends, all the fibers were taken off. They were laid up for pressing. We had three different type of pressing systems, and the garments were pressed, taking the wrinkles out, freshened up, and then the garments were examined. We had eight examining tables with women, checking to see if there was any flaws in the finished garments, checking the specs for the right size measurements. Then the garments were folded, and then they were either packed in bags and then boxes or just packed in plastic bags and put into shipping cartons. One of the operations we did do is we put the customer’s label on it. We also put their string tags on it with their pricing, and we also made the shipments to the customer per their specifications on, you know, what size box they want, how many pieces they want in a carton, and, you know, towards their, on their specifications. So basically, we were. We designed, installed, and manufactured the products for our customer that was totally our own design that we worked out with the customer.

Justin Hons [00:49:57] Now, the future plans for the building are for it to be a high-tech center.

Gary Rand [00:50:03] Right.

Justin Hons [00:50:04] How do you feel about having so much history in this building, so much of your history, your family’s history, being so involved about the evolution of this? What do you see it kind of being, and how do you feel about that?

Gary Rand [00:50:20] I hope it’s successful. I hope the building has another shelf life. Things change. One of the things that really helped me was three things. Number one, a lot of our machinery went up to this company in Gloversville, New York, that is- And most of the equipment that went up to Gloversville was equipment that was built in the forties. And it was built for the purpose of making military sweaters. And this equipment is being used today to make sweaters for the military. So these machines did not fall apart or did not become part of the scrap pile. There were other machines that there was no marketplace for, so they became part of the scrap pile. But the other thing was that Mr. Tatar has decided to keep Ohio Knitting Mills in the limelight. The name means something to me and means something to our family. And it becomes- Almost becomes like a shelf life. It’s not dead and buried. It has a second life. And maybe we’ll find the right manufacturer to be able to continue for another 15, 20 years.

Justin Hons [00:52:06] Anything you want to add?

Gary Rand [00:52:13] It was- The building on 61st Street was very good to us. We employed people from the city of Cleveland. We were one of the largest employers east of 55th. And the marketplace changed. And it was a good experience.

Justin Hons [00:52:44] I’m sorry, I forgot to ask you, too, how do you see the condition of the neighborhood today?

Gary Rand [00:52:57] Well, now that I haven’t been in the neighborhood for three years, it’s really, really hard to say. They got to solve the situation with the school and they need to have. When you have no one on the streets and you have no commerce on the streets, a neighborhood becomes more undesirable because you have no people around. So I hope the mass rail that they’re putting up Euclid Avenue changes the neighborhood. The concept is great to tie University Circle with the commerce at University Circle and the action of the Clinic and the arts at Severance Hall, the museums with downtown Cleveland, to get people to use and frequent the core of Cleveland. I think one of the lessons that we’ve learned is from when the Coliseum was built in Richfield, that took away a lot of the commerce from Cleveland. To survive and be economically viable, you need people. And the venues downtown draw people. Restaurants, baseball games, basketball games, football games, and you get the people from the outer-ring suburbs to come down. And eventually, maybe the mass rail will bring a little bit of urbanization to certain areas of Cleveland.

Justin Hons [00:54:53] Gary, thanks a lot.

Gary Rand [00:54:54] You’re welcome.

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