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Clifton Jazzed by Garage Developments

Hardware store to open in Gaslight District; Blue Wisp might follow

By Kevin Osborne · April 15th, 2009 · News

Unlike most of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, residents of the Clifton Gaslight District don’t have to get in their cars or catch a bus to go about their daily lives.

Depending on their mood, Gaslight dwellers can walk to get groceries, watch the latest independent film, grab a bite to eat at restaurants featuring various types of cuisine and price levels and take their pick of assorted taverns to drink a cocktail, including the city’s oldest gay bar. They even have a wide choice of places to worship, ranging from a mosque to a Unitarian church.

Soon those choices will include a place to buy hammers and nails and possibly a venue to hear live Jazz performed nightly.

Already considered one of the city’s most livable neighborhoods, the Gaslight District’s versatile, metropolitan vibe continues to evolve. A new 9,000-square-foot Ace Hardware store will open on the ground floor of historic Ludlow Garage in June. The Blue Wisp Jazz Club also is considering moving into the building’s basement level from its current home on East Eighth Street downtown.

Most of the Ludlow Garage’s space has been vacant for months, since a bicycle shop and contemporary furniture store left the space, while the building’s owners decided on a new direction for the site.

The large structure first was used as a parking garage and car dealership when it was built in 1929 and was a storage depot for garbage trucks throughout the 1950s. But it’s best known as a trippy Rock & Roll club in the late 1960s and early ’70s operated by the flamboyant Jim Tarbell, who decades later became Cincinnati’s vice mayor.

After nervous city officials failed in efforts to keep the club from opening in 1969, the garage hosted big-name musical acts during its short-lived heyday — including B.B. King, Neil Young, the Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Mothers of Invention and Santana. The Allmans’ Live at Ludlow Garage: 1970 album was recorded there.

“The few of us from those days who can still see probably can’t hear,” Tarbell says, referring to the raucous time.

Once the music scene began shifting from intimate clubs to large-scale arenas, Tarbell’s club closed in 1971.

The site eventually reopened as a home to small retail shops. The building recently has been remodeled by Bryan Valerius, a former manager at nearby Keller’s IGA grocery who owns the local Ace Hardware store.

“I’ve worked in the Gaslight District for years,” says Valerius, a Madeira resident who has 26 years of retail experience in the grocery business and at another Ace location. “When I worked at IGA, a lot of people would come in and ask about a hardware store. People have really missed having one in the area.”

At the new Ace store, Valerius will manage day-to-day operations and oversee about 10 employees. The shop will have a soft opening in early June and a grand opening celebration near the end of the month, he says.

Richard Druffel, president of the Clifton Town Meeting community group, says the hardware store is a good fit for the Gaslight District and should help it keep thriving during tough economic times.

“It’s great news for us,” Druffel says. “The Clifton business district has been without a hardware store for about a decade now. When we ask people what they’d like to see here, that’s always near the top of the list.”

The hardware store will be open seven days a week and feature a full line of tools as well as electrical and plumbing equipment. Additional services to be offered include screen repair and glass and key cutting.

Further, the shop will stock several environmentally friendly products such as no-VOC paint and cleaners that use natural ingredients instead of harsh chemicals. Like all Ace stores nationwide, the shop is a co-op that’s locally owned.

The Clifton location is based on a new urban store model developed by Ace.

“It sounds great to me,” Tarbell says. “Apparently it’s working for them in other places.”

Besides Gaslight residents, Valerius hopes the store’s customer base will draw from professors and students at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State and Technical College, along with staff from nearby hospitals.

The new store won’t be the only Ace Hardware in the area — another is located about two miles away on Hamilton Avenue in Northside. But for Gaslight residents who value their pedestrian-friendly lifestyle, it can’t open soon enough.

“The reaction has been wonderful,” Valerius says. “The construction workers doing the remodeling say people stop by every day to check on the progress and ask questions.”

The Ace Hardware site might get a downstairs neighbor in late 2010 or early 2011.

The Ludlow Garage’s owners, who include local builder Jack Brand, are reportedly interested in luring the Blue Wisp to fill its basement space, say neighborhood sources. Brand couldn’t be reached for comment.

Ed Felson, the Jazz club’s owner, confirms the rumor and is contemplating a switch.

“It might be, it could happen,” Felson says. “We’re strongly considering it because we have no walk-by business at our current location.”

The Blue Wisp has another year and a half on its downtown lease, so there’s plenty of time to hash out details, he adds.

Moving the Blue Wisp to the Ludlow Garage has been a wish of the new owners ever since they bought the space, Tarbell says.

“Some of those guys are old Garage patrons who snuck into there as kids,” he says. “I think they like the idea of music being played there again.”



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