at the southeast corner of Lorain and West 136th Street
by Gary Swilik
Windy’s Beverage occupied the southeast corner of Lorain and West 136th Street in the same building that is Vinny’s Beverage today. Older residents will recall Windy’s original wooden building which looked more like something you’d see on a farm than a modern business. In fact, the structure had been built for a very different purpose and became a beverage store only through the entrepreneurial spirit of Lawrence “Windy” Kunes. Mr. Kunes was born in 1904 in Cleveland and grew up on West 56th Street. He attended St. Procop Catholic High School on West 41st but left before graduating when school officials decided he was responsible for a prank in which pungent limburger cheese was liberally spread over a warm car radiator. It takes weeks for the odor to burn off! Just how Kunes picked up the nickname “Windy,” or whether this incident had anything to do with it, hasn't been determined.
His experience spreading cheese came in handy sometime later when, after working for some years as a wallpaper-hanger, Kunes decided to go into the restaurant business. In 1945, he and his wife Bertha opened Windy’s Sandwich Bar at 5324 Storer Avenue at West 54th Street. The restaurant became very popular both for its friendly owners and the steak, mushroom, and onion sandwiches. Kunes had the Bohemian Rye bread prepared to his own recipe at a local bakery. With the success of their sandwich shop the Kunes began to look for another business opportunity. Standing on the southeast corner at West 136th and Lorain Avenue was an ice house which had been built by the City Ice and Fuel Company in about 1929, one of many small branches the company used to distribute ice throughout greater Cleveland. Modern refrigeration had cut the demand for ice and the company was selling off many of its old sites. The opening of Fairwood Shopping Center on the big empty lot next door in November 1951, had helped make this a very well-traveled corner. The Kunes decided the old ice house was a promising location, bought the property in July 1956, and converted it into a beverage store. They originally called it “Windy’s Beverage Depot.” What literally had been only a “depot” used to store ice now held a huge variety of pop, beer, and snacks. The brightly lit, whitewashed, wooden building, with its high loading dock and rustic construction, seemed to be from another century. The place looked like a train station and the author, when a young boy, was always fascinated to go inside.
Windy’s Beverage, however, soon outgrew the old ice house. Kunes had it completely torn down around 1963 and replaced with the modern building that still stands there today. In 1967, Lawrence and Bertha Kunes sold their sandwich shop on Storer Avenue though it was known as “Windy’s Bar” for many years thereafter. They ran their beverage store for another four years, retiring in 1971. The store continued to operate as Windy’s Beverage through two new owners. In the 70’s, a pizza shop was added and the place became known as “Windy’s Beverage & Pizza.” Also, a Fotomat Drive Thru, once so common throughout the city, was built in the parking lot in front of the store and remained until the early 90’s.
In 1985, Vincent Vasko bought the property and continued to operate the beverage store as “Vinny’s Beverage” while adding a coin laundry! He even sold ice cream for a while calling that part of the business “Dairylicious.” Today, Vinny’s Beverage and Johnson’s Coin Laundry are well established in the same building known for so long to so many as Windy’s Beverage.
Lawrence “Windy” Kunes died at age 77 in 1982. His wife Bertha lived to the age of 92, passing away in 1998. The Kunes rest in Holy Cross Cemetery on Brookpark Road.
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