Rust Belt Chic – There’s Something About Cleveland…

By Sarah Valek

There is something especially intriguing about our city nowadays. Not that Cleveland ever was lame… but lately there’s an excitement, a feeling of resurgence, a desire to embrace what the city is and work to make it better. Downtown and the inner core are booming with young professionals moving in, bucking the previous trend of moving to the ‘burbs. The Midwest is being featured in national news stories for being the “cool new destination”… all without really trying.

National news outlets such as Salon and NPR have discussed our region’s brand of “Rust Belt Chic” and how there’s a distinct beauty in our decay and a comfort in our blue collar ways. Along with Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh are becoming destinations for hipsters… A new Brooklyn?

So… what’s going on here? Is Cleveland really part of a new cultural phenomenon? Or are we — and the nation — just learning to embrace our roots?

Instead of sitting back and reading what the national media has to say, local writers Anne Trubek and Richey Piiparinen decided to take hold of this “rust belt revival” narrative and allow Clevelanders the chance to define what’s happening in our city. To, as Trubek says, “tell it our (Cleveland’s) way, from the inside-out, instead of having others describe us to ourselves.”

And so they came up with an old-fashioned idea — create a book. Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology is a soon-to-be-released compilation of essays from Clevelanders that, taken together, sheds light on what it means to live in Cleveland… today… at this moment in time. Whether we’re “trendy” or not.

Says Trubek, “A book is a pretty old school way to do things, but we wanted to work on something that had a clear end point (as opposed to a website or magazine, say) that would sum up and document one moment in time. I wanted to do just an ebook but Richey was insistent we do a print book as well. As he put it, ‘We’re the Rust Belt; we make things here.'”

The book, to be published on Wed 9/5, features essays from published authors to beginning writers — and non-writers — all describing some aspect of their Cleveland experience.

Trubek and Piiparinen worked quickly to make their idea a reality. They put out a call for submissions this past summer and writers had three weeks to send pitches or submissions. They also contacted some people who weren’t writers, like Jim Rokakis and the Dean of Arts & Sciences at Oberlin, to contribute and both said yes.

Trubek says they were floored by the enthusiastic response. Almost everyone they reached out to said yes, and almost everybody seemed to understand what they were after “almost eerily well.” Many pieces were written specifically for the book.

A taste of what’s included: Connie Schultz has an essay on “Rust Belt Dreams,” legendary reporter Roldo Bartimole writes on “Pray for Cleveland: Reflections of an Investigative Reporter,” Rebecca Meiser uncovers “A Cove in Collinwood,” plus other reminisce of Speak in Tongues, the Number 9 bus, and famed rock writer Jane Scott.

And of course, there’s sports.

“We laughed at one theme that came up over and over: memories of trudging to a game with Dad,” says Trubek. “These weren’t always ‘oh yay take me out to the ballgame!’ memories but often kind of humdrum ‘then it was really hot/cold and we lost and blah’ kind of memories. By the end of the editing process we found ourselves having to cut those scenes — otherwise we would have had to rename the book ‘Trudging To Games With Dad.'”

Rust Belt Chic — the book and the movement — seek to capitalize on what makes Cleveland appealing. No, it’s not a specific thing… it’s not about Cleveland trying to be something else. It’s about embracing our authenticity. We’re not Brooklyn and we’re OK with that.

“Cleveland tends to live in its legacy of when it was great. We have too many ghosts around here,” says Piiparinen. “I am hoping that we stop bemoaning all that we aren’t and appreciate what we are.

“This book is in large part an exercise in developing a new narrative away from the ‘woe is me’ one that has lingered. Given all the interest in revitalizing the core — which means not being afraid or ashamed of our inner city — I think we are on the right track. I think the psychology of the city is changing from ‘the last one leaving turn out the lights’ mentality to ‘come back in we got lots of space.’ This mentality change can be huge for the future of Cleveland.”

After all, says Piiparinen, “Rust Belt Chic is about leveraging a person’s attachment to place to get them reinvested in that place. It is — ultimately — turning the Rust Belt moniker from a pejorative to a badge of honor.”

It’s something real,  it’s in the air — and Clevelanders are the ones to define it.

Meet the authors and hear from contributors at these upcoming events:

Tue 9/11: “Write to Assemble,” Sponsored by Ohio City Writers, Happy Dog, 7:30pm.

Fri 9/21: Third Friday at 78th Street Studios, opening of a show at Kokoon Gallery including Anne Trubek, Richie Piiparinen, Randall Tiedman and Michael Nekic.

Tue 11/13: Market Garden Brewery Reading Series will feature readings by Rust Belt Chic contributors.

Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology will be published on Wed 9/5. Pre-order it today. Get more info at Wish you would have submitted something? Guest posts will be featured on the Rust Belt Chic website. Submit your features to

[Photos by Elisa Vietri]


Cool Cleveland editor Sarah Valek graduated from Ithaca College with a double-major in arts and writing. After graduation, she came back to her beloved city and served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She currently spends her days chasing after her son, seeking soy lattes and digging up the coolest events around town. Contact her at






Post categories:

2 Responses to “Rust Belt Chic – There’s Something About Cleveland…”

  1. The first time I heard this phrase was in ’09 when a car full of brooklynites were on their way to Cleveland to catch a glimpse of the RBC! So I gave them a tour of Coventry, Little Italy and Tremont. Nice article and I’m looking forward to reading the book. FYI—There’s going to be a discussion at Mac’s Back’s on Oct 24th..

  2. I like the concept but think of it in these terms:

    Question: ‘Why do you live in Cleveland?”
    Answer: “Because it’s Rust Belt Chic?”
    Question: “What does that mean?”

    That is a lot to explain. Don’t Get me wrong, I love what they are doing and think they should keep it up for sure.

    Here is another way of looking at it:

    Question: ‘Why do you live in Cleveland?”
    Answer: “Because it is cheap and easy.”
    Question: “Okay. Cool.”

    There is no more to explain.

Leave a Reply