Staycation: Little Italy

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CLEVELAND – Forget the plane tickets and suitcase.

Some say Cleveland’s historic Little Italy is the go-to spot for summer.

“The food is good. The people are friendly, and you never know who you’re going to bump into,” said Frank Mastromatteo, of Cleveland. “During the summer, it’s wall-to-wall people, usually, weather permitting. A lot of outside eating. People love it here.”

The area has more than a dozen restaurants and is also home to one of Cleveland’s oldest restaurant, Guarino’s, which has been there for 94 years.

“A lot of people love our lasagna and so many other dishes,” said owner Nancy Phillips. “We’ve been through two wars, several conflicts, a recession, a depression, another recession, an almost depression, and we open up every day of the week. Be it one customer or 100, we try to be the same to everybody.”

While food is certainly at the heart of Little Italy, it’s home to more than 20 galleries and shops. Popular events like art walks have become a tradition in the area, dating back to the mid-1800’s.

“This is a beautiful necklace,” said Jacquie Meyerson, co-owner of Pennello Gallery. “It’s hand-embroidered on leather. It looks heavy, but it’s light and very comfortable to wear.”

The area isn’t just about Italian culture but features products from around the world.

“This is Kakadu,” Meyerson said. “It’s done on African mahogany, and then they’re lacquered with three coats, and they’re heat resistant, water resistant. Very beautiful works of art.”

Around the corner, Anne van H Boutique houses fashion-forward trends from Europe.

“I have beautiful clothing you won’t see anywhere else,” said Anne van Hauwaert, who owns the store. “I design my own line of jacket that I use vintage fabric, and they are most one-of-a-kind.”

Originally from Belgium, van Hauwaert said she loves the area, as it’s a constant reminder of life back home.

“It’s great,” she said. “People walk in the street. You can just walk to go to the bakery; you can walk to go to a restaurant. I love it.”

No matter where people go, many say the area is a cultural gem, with a little something for everyone.

“It’s just a great place,” said Cleveland resident Anthony Nunes. “When they come here, and they leave here, they leave happy. They don’t leave disappointed. They have so much to offer.”

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