Richard Turbow, resident of Coventry for 40 years, discusses the many changes that the area has gone through. Turbow paints a picture that chronicles Coventry's shift from Hippies to Punks to College Students. He mentions many restaurants, shops, and hangout places including Irv's, Tommy's, and Seesaw. He also makes mention of the Coventry Street fair. He points out that the changes in housing in University Circle caused more and more students to move to Coventry, which accounts for the predominance of students today.
Turbow, Richard (interviewee)
Souther, Mark (interviewer)
Mark Souther [00:00:04] Today's June 18th, I'm Mark Souther and I'm doing an interview with Richard... could you pronounce your last name?
Richard Turbow [00:00:12] Turbow, Richard Turbow.
Mark Souther [00:00:13] Thank you. Thank you for being here today. You were starting to tell me a little bit about the northern end of the street, I think. What did they call that?
Richard Turbow [00:00:19] A lot of people called it the dead end of the street because people would come up here to shop back then, and this is in the '70s, and they'd walk down the Hampshire right by Irv's Deli. They would cross the street and come back. They never went further; never see stores down there. I mean, there's stores there I haven't heard people mention in years, even where the city parking garage is now, you know, there was the old pillow and quilt shop, guy did Coventry Beverage. There was a place called the Kasbah where they sold imported stuff from Morocco and all that. Moroccan [inaudible] There was a cleaners down there right on the corner. There was the bicycle shop and there was Alan Lock and Key was there. There was a little old man named Adolf had a shoe repair shop, and he shared that with a guy named Wilt who had a glass repair shop. And then there was the leather shop and then the wine shop, which name I can't forget or I can't remember.
Mark Souther [00:01:25] Corkscrew.
Richard Turbow [00:01:26] Corkscrew. Forgetting is easy at my age. And a lot of shops down there. There was even a pet shop on Coventry. A lot of people didn't realize for years and years and years. And across the street there was a little deli, ABC Appliance and the hardware store, which has been there, I think over 70 years the hardware store's been there. And I worked in the leather shop down there for years, so I was there for the first street fair. My kids grew up on street fairs and I've seen a lot of changes on the street. And, you know, I always had the opinion, well, landlords thought they had a gold mine so they would raise rent, and that's what put people out of business. And it still does. And then they came in and tore things down. And I mean, I saw a lot of changes on the street, and now we've got sports bars and trendy restaurants. And, you know, a lot of times I avoid the street, especially on weekends. But I always work better when asked questions, if you got any. Like I said, I've lived on Hampshire, which is all part of Coventry for over 40 years, and, you know, I've seen the changes from the hippies and now it's all college students and everything down there and all rentals.
Mark Souther [00:02:44] You mentioned before we rolled the tape that you came here in the, originally, in the mid or early mid-'70s?
Richard Turbow [00:02:53] Early '70s, I would say. I was trying to figure it out and probably I was here in '71, '72, in that time slot.
Mark Souther [00:03:05] What period, I'm not 100% clear about this, but people talk about the Hell's Angels on the street. What year... Was that when you were here or before?
Richard Turbow [00:03:14] That was when I was here, and before, when the C-Saw [Cafe], and that's where they hung out, when the C-Saw was still in business. In fact, going back to Hell's Angels, the leather shop that was down at the far end of the street was called Leathersmith at first. Then the name was changed to Bags to Britches. It was owned by a guy named Paul Rotman, and I worked for Paul. I worked for him for a year, left for a year there to go to Arizona, came back and worked for him again until he closed. And we were the only leather shop in Cleveland allowed to touch. We did a lot of work for Hell's Angels, made leather jackets, pants and stuff, and sew colors on their jackets for 'em. And in fact, when the leather shop closed up, they had my name and they would come to my house. You know, you'd have four or five Hell's Angels riding down Hampshire with three or four police cars behind them, wondering where they're going to until they pulled into my driveway. So I used to do all the work for... a lot of leather work for them back then.
Mark Souther [00:04:13] You mentioned the C-Saw. Can you describe that place? A little bit of what it was and what was it?
Richard Turbow [00:04:13] The C-Saw was actually, no, that was the donut shop where Big Fun originally opened was a donut shop. Next door to that was a little C-Saw place, probably not much bigger than this room. And it was a bar. I mean, I would go in there and nobody ever bothered me because I knew the Hell's Angels from doing the leather work, but it was a problem spot and I think, you know, shootings, stabbings, and luckily, knowing the people who were doing that I was protected, so. [Laughs] But yeah, that was by... It's all in the area where that Panini's is and the city parking garage. There were a bunch of stores. There was a guy who did, in fact, he was one of the only people left in Cleveland, and I don't know if he's still alive, but he would refurbish pillows and stuff. And there was a quilt shop and a cleaners like, and there was Coventry Beverage, where at four o'clock in the morning he could go get a piece of pizza if you were hungry. In fact, that's where my son, when he was 12, got caught out after curfew out there.
Mark Souther [00:05:27] What's the most unusual thing that happened at Coventry in years that you've been watching it? Has there been anything that has just really stood out in your memory as something that...
Richard Turbow [00:05:37] Well, the one time Cleveland Heights policeman Mark Lovequist ... and Lee's remembering this now... caught a streaker running down Coventry and handcuffed him with his hands behind his back in front of a crowd of people with nothing on but tennis shoes. That would be one of the unusual things I remember. [Laughs] And Mark will love hearing that. He's still a Cleveland Heights policeman. Yeah. He's a captain now. That was one of the unusual things. I had a dog I got on Coventry. We were working in the leather shop one day and we hear a squeal of tires and a dog yelping and we go outside and there was a little puppy there, about 3 months old that's maybe 4 months old at the time, was hurt. Friend of mine showed up with a car. We put him in the back of the car. I said, "Take him to this vet." And then, you know, the vet says, "Well, I'm going to need, you know, $175 to do this." So the leather shop, the saloon; there was a little deli across the street called Tony's where Grum's is now, and a couple other stores, put out collection boxes to help the puppy. And we collected the money to pay the vet bill. I said, "All right, who's gonna watch the puppy?" I said, "Well, I'll do it until we find a home for it." Well, eleven years later, he was still with me when I had to put him down from cancer. But that was another unusual thing that happened around here.
Unknown speaker [00:07:10] What was the dog's name?
Richard Turbow [00:07:10] His name was Lokey and he was a black and white dog I had. But as for real unusual, there wasn't a lot of unusual because anything that went on with the generation that was here then, the hippie generation, anything unusual was normal. And you know, to me, a lot of the changes on the street, I mean, it was a shame that it became so commercialized and everything. And I liked the old days. And it's like, I mean, Lee can agree with me, you know, he's... When you're around here long enough and you see the changes and you go, I miss those old days when, you know, you could do stuff, you could walk the streets without worry. Now you got problems when you're walking the streets, which is why a lot of times I don't come up here at night.
Mark Souther [00:08:04] Can you tell me anything about maybe your favorite place, you know, back in the '70s to get a bite to eat on Coventry?
Richard Turbo [00:08:13] Well, back, actually back then, you know, now you've got a handful of shops and a dozen restaurants. And back then, there was only Tommy's, Irv's... And really, those were the only...
Unknown speaker [00:08:30] Chester's.
Richard Turbow [00:08:31] Chester's. [crosstalk] Right. That was bar food, and of course, I forget that when it became Turkey Ridge, I worked there for almost two years as a bouncer at the Turkey Ridge. But, you know, I would say Tommy's was still good. And, you know, corned beef, some of the best corned beef in town was Irv's, as dirty as the place was, he at least made good corned beef.
Mark Souther [00:08:51] What happened to Irv's? Did it just go out of business or did it move somewhere?
Richard Turbow [00:08:54] It just went out of business. I think the times caught up to it. The city caught up to it. And he just... I'm not sure what year he closed in, but it was just time for him to go. Did he pass away or something? I can't remember that far back.
Mark Souther [00:09:10] What was his full name, do you know?
Richard Turbow [00:09:11] Irv... It began with a G, I think, but I can't remember his full name. [crosstalk] Yeah. But like I said, there was Irv's and the hardware store, I've seen it through two owners, three owners actually...
Mark Souther [00:09:24] Do you remember anything about Rock Court? Do you have any memories of anything that went on there?
Richard Turbow [00:09:32] Well, actually a friend of my... friends of mine still live in... own and live [in] the one of the houses up there. And I remember that back behind there, there was the row of four houses where, the crazy old man lived in one... [crosstalk] Were there two back there? I don't know. And then...
Unknown speaker [00:09:56] Max.
Richard Turbow [00:09:57] Max is the one, yeah. And then... That's it, Max. And then Larry and Bobby lived in the other house with their son, who works for the city now. I can't remember his name. Actually, I got him the job. They lived in another house there and they were all forced out by the city, which tore it down to make room for more parking and Rock Court. The road, if you walk back there, you could still see traces from where it comes from the last house all the way down. Used to go all the way through, but not a lot. There were some parties there and stuff. And in fact, when I was looking at the pictures that Joe had taken, I saw a picture of Larry and Carl, her husband, who used to live in that one house. Carl since passed away and Larry, I haven't seen... as a woman.
Mark Souther [00:10:47] So what, also, I wanted to ask a little bit about the first Coventry Street Fair, back in the mid-1970s if you think you recall that.
Richard Turbow [00:10:56] It was... I'm sure I was there, and it was a big thing. I don't remember a lot about it. If I knew the exact date and time if I... With me, I have trouble with dates and times. I'll think something only happened five years ago and find out it happened ten years ago.
Mark Souther [00:11:12] What memories do you have of the Street Fair more generally?
Richard Turbow [00:11:15] I used... well, like I said, I did a of work at a store and I used to do it on my own and I used to set up a booth out in front of stores, even after the leather store I worked at closed. And I remember selling and my wife at the time would come up with the kids and everything. And we made it a family thing just sitting there partying, selling my leather goods and stuff. And well, other thing we had a friend who lived in the house. Her name was Judy Natco. Her mother was Joan Natco who was on the school board here. And then I knew this other person, and Judy used to help me at my booth, and one day I introduced her to a fella, Muhammad Calfoon, and they got married. They're still married. And they've got two kids who are now outta Heights and everything. But the Streets Fairs were always fun. I always thought they were quiet. You'd always have a scuffle somewhere, because I think the first years you were allowed to drink outside. I... That... Whether that was legal or illegal, I don't remember, but there were some scuffles, but I never heard of anything bad happening. There were never any knifings, any shootings. No knifings and everything. But the crowd... And the crowds apparently towards the end is when they were getting rowdier and rowdier and the police were having more and more trouble controlling them. But I'd say the first five years there was no problems at the Street Fairs at all.
Mark Souther [00:12:40] So it sounds like the recent concerns last year, are not necessarily anything new. They were portrayed almost as a turn for the worse, for the Street Fair. In some ways, maybe not.
Richard Turbow [00:12:52] I don't think so.
Unknown speaker [00:12:54] This is very different. It's a different thing that happened. They do something different than they used to but it's the same basic problem. Mass of people.]
Richard Turbow [00:13:08] That's it. You know, and it's 'cause your crowd changes as years go on. The little kids get bigger and they think they can handle the world and attempt to cause trouble. Let's go to the Street Fair and see if we can get in a fight, you know? But the first five, six years there are no problems; it was fun, you know, you had all the hippies, and you got all the tourists who came from the suburbs to come and see the hippies who lived in Coventry. And that's what it was, as we always called them the tourists. Anybody who came from, not just outside Cleveland Heights but even a lot of your Cleveland Heights people were your tourists. You know, they never hit the area, and you'd come down here. And I would go back even till the... I'd say the '80s when I lived here, you know, you'd come up and the streets would be crowded. People would be walking, kids would be sitting around. But it was a different generation. It was the spiked hairdos. And that's when, you know, and the piercing started and all the tattoos, which don't bother me. I've got tattoos, I've got piercings. But, I'm just saying that the crowd changed; it went from the hippies to the punk to the essentially troublemakers.
Mark Souther [00:14:19] You mentioned the so called tourists. Do you recall Coventry being much of a hub for people coming from farther away, either elsewhere in Ohio or beyond, the way Haight-Ashbury... [crosstalk]
Richard Turbow [00:14:33] Well, what what I would hear is- people would hear.. I never ran into it, but I would hear stories of people would say, oh, you know, Cleveland's got their own Haight-Ashbury. Let's go check out Coventry and see what it's like. And like I say, back then, the shops were so different that people could walk in and there was lots of spur of the moment impulse buying back then. Now they don't impulse buy anymore. But it may have been Coventry at the time because even I think Lolly the Trolley used to make tourist stops up here, would bring people up this far.
Mark Souther [00:15:08] In more recent years.
Richard Turbow [00:15:09] Yeah, they've [been] going back ten years.
Mark Souther [00:15:13] That's recent to a historian.
Richard Turbow [00:15:15] Oh, Ok. But, you know, it's.. there's a lot of things that went on in a lot.. you know, I mean, used to be people- actually kids would walk down the street. Last was a lot of problem with the police was kids; would walk down the street in the Streets Fair smoking pot or they'd be up in the apartment smoking it. And, you know, this was a big area for pot at the time, and that was really the only drug that they worried about... Was pot.
Mark Souther [00:15:45] I have a question actually that you just made me think of when you mentioned this counterculture, the hippies and whatnot, and we know that it's trans... sort of transformed into more of a college hangout. I guess my question is that even back in the '70s, why there weren't more college kids up here, because Case Western Reserve is just as close then as it is now, so did they not come up as much, or were they just not the dominant... How would you describe... [crosstalk]
Richard Turbow [00:16:12] They weren't the dominant... I would say that, you know, 'cause even like the apartments and the houses in this area were all rented out by what you would call the hippies. And the rents were cheap then. But as the times changed and the college students... I think a lot of it had to do with a lot of times that colleges require you to live in dorms for a long time.
Unknown speaker [00:16:36] They also have more housing in University Circle.
Richard Turbow [00:16:37] Yeah, they had... [crosstalk] Right. It's gone. And they started finding, oh, Cleveland Heights right up there. It's convenient. There's these stores here, let's get an apartment up there. In that- that's what's changed the housing, like down on Hampshire where I live, let's say there's 50 houses on the street from Coventry to Euclid Heights Boulevard. Out of those 50 houses, I only know of three that are actually owner-occupied. All the others are rentals, and they're not just college students. So people who have jobs, people who have work are renting them now. But, you know, it used to be that that whole street was, you know, it was like a blocklong party almost every night on a weekend, Fridays and Saturday nights. I mean, you could walk down the street and get high just from the smells.
Mark Souther [00:17:27] Were these owner-occupied before or... [crosstalk]
Richard Turbow [00:17:28] Nah, they've been... They've been rentals for... These houses have been.. The houses down there have been rentals probably for 40 years that I can think of, with only a few owner-occupied. And then the ones... There were others that were owner-occupied, but I know of three others and they've all since moved out and moved somewhere else, and they kept the houses and rent them out, or they've sold 'em to people who, I mean, you can go down there and you'll find people who own a block of 10 houses on the street.
Mark Souther [00:18:01] What would be... if you had to give, this is sort of an artificial thing to ask, but if you had to rank your top 5 hippie hangouts in 1972, what would be on your top 5?
Richard Turbow [00:18:14] Now are you saying as a particular place or an area?
Mark Souther [00:18:18] Well, on Coventry... You can tell me businesses or spaces outside businesses.
Richard Turbow [00:18:24] Well, the Saloon was one. I used to go in there all the time. I would go to Irv's occasionally and Tommy's occasionally, but I never really hung out. You know, you'd hang out at a saloon, you'd hang out at a restaurant. But you go into a store, you talk to somebody for a few minutes and leave. The one that was called the Kasbah, I knew the two owners of that place. I'd stop in and talk to them, but to hang out, it would be the Saloon, irv's upon occasion and Tommy's for lunch, because that's really... the Inn's been there 25 years, but at that, really that time the Inn wasn't there then, in the CoventrYard.
Mark Souther [00:19:03] Oh, the Inn on Coventry.
Richard Turbow [00:19:08] Yeah, the Inn on Coventry.
Mark Souther [00:19:08] Now, that corner, I know that by the time, when we were talking about, sort of the punk era, that was starting to become... that corner was kind of a hangout, an outdoor hangout.
Richard Turbow [00:19:17] Yeah.
Mark Souther [00:19:18] Was it a hangout before that time, or was there not really the space just for that?
Richard Turbow [00:19:22] I'm trying to remember what it looked like then. I think they had all the planners and everything. The people would hang out there.
Unknown speaker [00:19:30] But down this straight sidewalk.
Richard Turbow [00:19:33] Yeah.
Unknown speaker [00:19:34] Just a sidewalk. It was all big street.
Richard Turbow [00:19:36] Yeah. They built up because...
Unknown speaker [00:19:37] There was a time in the early '70s I think and [inaudible]...
Richard Turbow [00:19:39] Yeah. 'Cause even Washington right here used to come all the way, right through, before they blocked it off, so they changed the whole intersection and stuff. But yeah, kids would hang out on the street, not necessarily in front of the mall. They would sit in front of stores and hang out.
Mark Souther [00:19:57] Is there anything else you would like to add?
Richard Turbow [00:19:58] That's about all I can think of now. But, you know, that you know, you're welcome, if you ever want to talk to me again.
Mark Souther [00:20:05] Can you put down either a phone number or an email, whichever you prefer? That pen's kind of dying, don't use that. [Turbow signs release form] Thanks very much.
Richard Turbow [00:20:19] Sure, I'm glad I could be a part of something.
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"Richard Turbow interview, 18 June 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 911067.