To an ordinary person, the term “general store” might conjure up images of a podunk warehouse of sorts, nestled in a dusty, countryside town. A stop for horses and buggies along the Oregon Trail.
Self-described as Cincinnati’s only “green general store,” Over-the-Rhine’s Park Vine is anything but podunk. Hip but surprisingly unassuming and devoid of kitsch, it’s the only retailer of vegan marshmallows and cloth diapers in the city.
Almost everything is reusable, renewable, non-toxic and sans animal by-products. In August the store hosted “Chickens in Your Backyard,” a class designed to enlighten urban-dwellers about creating poultry-friendly pens.
In one corner of the store, buy biodegradable soap. The other, raid a “foodie fridge” overflowing with Melt sandwiches and coconut milk ice cream. Turn around, you’ll stumble on a cluster of trendy T-shirts promoting things like the Cincinnati streetcar system. Artwork from local artists peppers the walls.
This place has swagger. Since its inception in June 2007, Park Vine has played a titan role in redefining what’s known as Over-the-Rhine. And store owner and founder Dan Korman knows it.
Oh, and be warned: It’s not just a store.
“The space we’re in now is the first and only location we looked at,” he says. “Two and a half years ago there was some retail, but not anything like what we have today. There’s momentum, simultaneous change happening; Over-the-Rhine is coming to have multiple layers.
“We’re not just about increasing our own numbers, but also those of other local businesses. We’re constantly seeking to source even more locally-based goods. Our ultimate goal is to encourage people to become more aware of the environmental impacts of their consumption choices, using events and sustainable goods.”
The Park Vine Web site (www.parkandvine.com) is just as much a haven for avid greenie hipster urbanites as is the store itself.
Smart blogs, a thorough green living guide plus a handbook for shopping other trusted local and independently owned businesses combine to culminate in the ultimate how-to manual for living green in Cincinnati.
After neighborhoodscout.com released its controversial “25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America” and an area in Over-the- Rhine only blocks from Korman’s store took the top honors, it seems reasonable to assume that area business owners like Korman were discouraged. But it didn’t happen.
“I never heard anything about the rating, and if customers did they weren’t bothered by it,” he says. “We never heard any comments about it in the store. Our primary goal is to keep Park Vine in Over-the-Rhine and to continue to serve as one of many reasons why people might come here.”
According to Korman, approximately 40 percent of the store’s customers fall in the 25-34 age demographic.
“It’s encouraging to know that a huge portion of our clientele is within the age range that cities are trying to keep,” he notes.
He’s right. Post-graduation, Ohio college graduates are leaving the state in alarmingly high percentages. According to a study released in June by the Thomas P. Fordham Institute, around 60 percent of students are moving elsewhere after graduation in pursuit of places that not only have better job markets but that are “active, exciting and fun.”
Park Vine is certainly one reason to stay. The store’s products focus heavily on utilitarian items, so shopping there is not only “excit ing” and “fun” but actually practical.
“We want to make going green fun and accessible,” Korman says. “As people become more aware of their consumption choices, they’ll become more conscious of the overall gratification of supporting a store like ours and supporting the health of our city.
“I had a couple come in the store the other day and I asked them if they’d ever been to the store before. They said that they ‘weren’t regulars yet.’ Yet. It amazes me that we have regulars sustaining our business.”
What’s on the horizon for Park Vine? For starters, a whole cluster of cool classes kicking off fall season. Check out Bike Dine, a 20-mile bike tour starting at the store that includes pit stops at local vegan-friendly restaurants. Buy a ticket at Park Vine and part of the sales benefit Queen City Bike, a local bicycling advocacy organization.
In October, Bokashi 101 will coach apartment-dwellers on composting kitchen scraps. That approach will continue on an almost weekly basis, as Park Vine offers inventive, fuss-free ways to supplement an eco-friendly shopping experience at the store.
Even better, Park Vine might be classing up another street corner near you sometime in the future.
“We’re certainly interested in the possibility of adding a second location, but there are no plans right now,” Korman says.
For now, one is plenty. One small step for Cincinnati, one giant leap for greenie-kind.
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