Sanders Henderson calls himself a workaholic. In his case, the term seems inadequate.
Out of Nikki’s, he makes balloon arches for weddings and other occasions, in either single-string configurations or clusters.
Oh, and on Sundays - his day “off” - he runs an informal landscaping business.
“I guess I like doing my own thing,” he says, standing behind the counter of his stocked-to-the-gills store - and somehow not collapsing from exhaustion as he talks. “When I hear people need something, I figure out how to give it to them.”
The idea of doing the balloons, for example, came when he used to DJ weddings. People would ask him where they could buy balloons and he didn’t know anyone. Eventually, he bought a helium tank and a new business was born.
Nikki’s is still Sanders’ first love: He’s run it for 30 years, originally from a location on St. Clair and E. 154th. R&B, hip-hop, rap, gospel and oldies are the store’s specialties.
He plans to press on for the foreseeable future, even though the digitization of music has made times crushingly tough for traditional record stores.
“I’m still doing OK, thanks to the old heads,” he says, “but I probably wouldn’t be able to stay open if I didn’t own this building.”
Wait, old heads? Did I hear that right?
He laughs. “Yeah. The ones who still like to buy their stuff on CD.”
Or (gasp) cassette: A whole wall is dedicated to that archaic format. He’s even got a robust inventory of sealed cassette singles, which saw their heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The store is named after his daughter - his only child - who died in a car accident when she was in high school.
“It’s a way to carry on her name,” he says.
Her favorite artist was Prince - “she used to call him by his government name, Roger” - so Sanders always makes sure to stock plenty of Prince records in the store.
Sanders is most animated when he talks about the industry awards he’s won for his creative marketing displays. Before music retail shriveled, there were entire conferences dedicated to the craft of making creative displays from record label-issued swag (posters, photos, etc.).
I ask him how Buckeye Road has changed in the time he’s been there. He says in some ways it’s gotten better: Prostitution was a big problem when he arrived in the 1980s, but not anymore. He credits Buckeye Shaker Community Development Corporation and local policing efforts with the change.
But other types of crime are on the rise - particularly drug dealing. He mentions the teenage boys who hang out on the corner, the same group that raised Reggie’s ire yesterday - and refers to them by the same term, “drug boys.”
It’s crime, and perceptions of crime, that keeps Buckeye Road from attaining the vibrancy of nearby Larchmere or Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, he says. (He himself is a Cleveland Heights resident.)
“In those places, people walk down the street holding hands,” he says, whereas on Buckeye they don’t.
It’s an interesting metric for neighborhood health, one I haven’t heard before. I ask what he thinks it means.
“It shows people are comfortable,” he says. “They’re not in a hurry to leave - both because they feel safe and because there’s other stuff to do.
“Here, my customers come in here and they go right back out. I want to see them go window shopping up and down the street.”
When Seth tells Sanders he wants to buy CDs by Drake and the Spinners - everything is kept behind plexiglass, with warning signs that cameras are present - Sanders lets out a hoot.
“What do you know about the Spinners?” he asks, fishing out the CD’s.
“Detroit boy,” Seth says.
“Ha! All right, then.”
As we walk out, we talk about how Sanders is a great example of a person who may not describe himself as an artist, but who’s clearly making art - via his balloons, display designs and decades of organizing musical performance.
That’s exactly who we hope will help us shape the next phase of our work in Buckeye, when we’ll launch a small-scale “creative placemaking” initiative that builds on the creativity of people already living in the neighborhood - creativity that we're witnessing more and more every day.