According to National Geographic, documentarian of the most unique and interesting places on the planet, here are a few of the Places You Need to Visit in 2018: Harar, Ethiopia; Sydney, Australia; Vienna, Austria; Friesland, Netherlands; Cleveland, Ohio; Tbilisi, Georgia; Jujuy Province, Argentina; Oaxaca, Mexico; Malmö, Sweden; Madagascar; Santiago, Chile; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

If you are looking at that list thinking that one of these things is not like the other you might be right. In the middle of these exotic and unique locations sits Cleveland, Ohio. If you are wondering how this U.S. city caught the attention of Nat Geo, you won’t be for long.

According to Nat Geo – “Cleveland Rocks” and I have to say I agree. In addition to the fact that the phrase “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was coined by Cleveland based DJ Alan Freed in 1952, the Clevelanders and their businesses in this midwest industrial revival manifest big city appeal with a small town feel.

To give you a taste, I will share the stories of five of the many unique and distinct small businesses that make Cleveland, Ohio a must see.

West Side Market

When I said five Cleveland businesses I should have said 105. Talking about Cleveland without talking about the West Side Market is like talking about Egypt and not mentioning the pyramids.  

The West Side Market has seen it all as Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market, dating all the way back to 1840. What began as an open-air landowner attraction evolved into an architect-designed interior concourse complete with a yellow brick market-house and 137-foot clock tower that has been a Cleveland landmark for over 100 years.

Today you can comfortably walk through the now enclosed and heated market while you peruse a diverse selection of the 100 vendors who call the West Side Market home.

This selection is a perfect mix of local providers and international craftsmen offering everything from fresh fish and baked goods to local and international cheeses, fresh produce, and flowers. By the time you leave, you can have an entire meal planned and a full belly in the meantime. It’s no wonder this Cleveland staple has attracted attention from major foodies like the Travel Channel and Food Network.

CLE Urban Winery

Cleveland is a special place where you can have historical, cultural, and urban experiences all at the same time. For this reason, I have to talk about CLE Urban Winery. This Cleveland Heights gem not only produces and sells their own handcrafted wine, they also celebrate Cleveland with each variable. To make things more interesting, at CLE you can have a wine tasting tour of the city without ever leaving your seat.

You can start at their Murray Hill Pinot Grigio or Cedar Lee Chardonnay and then travel on to their Drawbridge Pinot Noir. All before finishing your tour with their Mighty Cuyahoga Merlot and Lake Effect Snow Vidal Ice Wine. While CLE Urban Winery compliments Cleveland they also appreciate the city’s rich history. This is why you’ll find their tasting bar in a former 100-year-old garage in the Cedar Lee Neighborhood (their chardonnay is best on location).

Naming their handcrafted wines after their beloved city and their historical appreciation aren’t the only things that make CLE Urban Winery a standout. They also make their wine from ingredients sourced in the U.S.A. (like grapes from California, Oregon, New York, Washington, and Ohio) and remain active community service participants and charitable fundraisers.

Pair this with their philosophy of “Good Wine Made Fun, Celebrate Cleveland, and Drink Wine and do Good” and you have one amazing Cleveland business vintage.

Mabel’s BBQ

What happens when you combine rich Eastern European Northeast Ohio heritage, the beloved traditions of BBQ, and a Cleveland native Iron Chef who wants to invigorate the restaurant scene in his hometown? The answer is Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Mabel’s BBQ – a ‘family-style’ restaurant that is revitalising downtown while redefining BBQ in a distinctly Cleveland way.

At Mabel’s BBQ You won’t find any “coursing” or reservations, but you will find “spaetzle instead of mac ‘n cheese, rye bread instead of cornbread, and a dish called “This is Cleveland” (I recommend it – classic kielbasa and spare ribs with spicy pork cabbage).

In addition to the seasoned and smoked meats (served without added sauces or glazes) that draw people in from the street there is also a healthy selection of bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys, Scotch blends, single malts, and a popular selection of Cleveland beers on tap.

So if you are in Cleveland take the advice of’s Joe Crea: Get a bunch of friends together, at least another couple or two, and go and share the feast. Mabel’s may be an upscale restaurant in a sophisticated urban setting (with commensurate prices) but it’s essentially a big picnic – with food just made for sharing.

CLE Clothing Co.

Because I’m a sucker for a locally well-made soft tee with a great design, I have to spotlight the CLE Clothing Co. – a truly locally focused retailer that started with a screen printing press, some blank t-shirts, a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, and an idea hatched over beer, chili, and burgers at Whitey’s in Richfield (as all good ideas are).

The company started with two founders (Mike Kubinski and Jeff Rees) creating a single shirt at a time while touring and selling at local festivals. From there, they opened a holiday mall kiosk in 2009 which was quickly followed by a physical location all their own in Cleveland’s Waterloo Arts District. This location was key since it gave proud Clevelanders a place to purchase CLE Clothing Co. items.

Because their foot-traffic was seeking local goods, CLE Clothing Co. saw the opportunity to partner with other “Local-Makers” to offer jewelry and furniture in addition to their popular tee designs. This local smorgasbord paid off and CLE was voted “Best Boutique – East Side” in 2010 by Cleveland Magazine.

The good press, reputation, and local boom lead to the opening of their flagship store in 2012, a popular location which quickly became a Cleveland staple appealing to both locals and tourists. Even though the growth was immediate CLE Clothing Co. never forgot its roots as it continued to carry over 40 local artisans, designers, and makers.

If all of this isn’t reason enough to look into this locally focused Cleveland business add the fact that 98% of their products are Made in the U.S.A. while still being printed in Cleveland. As for the 2% of their products sourced outside the U.S…. Those items are still provided by companies in Ohio.

78th Street Studios

Because I started talking about the West Side Market I have to finish by talking about 78th Street Studios. This Northeast Ohio design meca features a whopping 170,000 square feet of art galleries, artist studios, performance spaces, and even recording studios. If that isn’t enough this creative haven also houses the region’s top internet rock station, oWOW Radio and the country’s 2nd largest rock n’ roll magazine, AltPress.

Oh… and all of this comes with free viewing hours open to the public.

So, the inside of 78th Street Studios is amazing but what about the building itself? You won’t be disappointed to find that the location has a history as rich as the creators it houses. The original 1905 warehouse home of the
Baker Electric Motor Vehicle Company has all the dated appeal of an old building renewed. 78th Street Studios has continued to pay homage to Cleveland’s past by maintaining the building’s “original hardwood floors, metal track doors, and old freight elevators where the vehicles were taken down to the loading docks for distribution until 1914.”

While there are many more interesting facts about 78th Street Studios such as being the location where Lava Room Recording worked on new projects with INXS and Creed, while also being a place where Papa Roach, Warrant, and The Pussycat Dolls all recorded, what really drives their local roots into the ground is their function as an incubator for other businesses focused in product design, publishing, music, and more.  

Be on the lookout to vote for your favorite of our finalists in 2018’s “Best Small Business in America” Competition — starting November 5th!