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Reporter’s Notebook: Exploring the city’s diverse shopping centers

Posted by Emily Thompson on March 3, 2014

On a cold January afternoon, I ventured out of the office to do some reporting for our March cover package. My assignment was straightforward—I was going to tell the story of Columbus’ culturally diverse shopping centers through the businesses that operate in them.

I spent most of the rest of my day wandering around Bethel Centre. Walking from market to restaurant to salon, I almost forgot I was still in Columbus. In a matter of a few blocks, you can eat authentic Mediterranean, purchase products straight from Japan and ship a package to Somalia.

When I walked into Philly Steak and Grill, my nose red from the brisk wind, I was greeted with a smell I couldn’t quite place. The scent of steak cooking and cheese melting was distinct, but a quick look at the menu confirmed what I suspected—this place offered a lot more than Philly cheesesteaks. Owner Khaled Casey, who’s originally from Palestine, serves hamburgers and french fries alongside falafel and shawarma wraps, an amusing mix of American and Middle Eastern dishes. He takes orders, cooks and runs the register by himself, but the consistent stream of customers suggests the food is worth the wait. He remembers customers, too, smiling and asking how they’ve been since the last time he’s seen them.

You’ll find a similarly welcoming staff at Al’s Delicious Popcorn. Although the business didn’t make it into the story, it’s worth a visit. Family-owned since it opened in 1985, the bright shop produces more than 70 flavors of popcorn. Vanilla butternut is their No. 1 seller, owner Sharon Shrock says, but they make flavors ranging from the expected (cheddar, caramel) to some as farfetched as pomegranate, buffalo ranch and coconut curry. They’ve always made their popcorn the same way, Shrock says, and you can see how it’s done by calling to schedule a tour (usually at 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.). 

My story was a quick snapshot of the wide range of businesses in just a few of the city’s eclectic shopping centers. But behind each counter is a business owner with a unique story of his or her own—and those stories are worth asking about. 

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