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Retail in the Rhine

A walking tour to holiday shopping in Over-the-Rhine

By Sarah Laubacher · November 24th, 2010 · Holiday

Although I grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from Oak Hills High School, I haven’t spent a full holiday shopping season here since around 2006, when I spent a few post-college months living with my parents. I gave a half-hearted attempt at sorting out Cincinnati’s arts/entertainment/shopping scene, but when I heard Over-the-Rhine was supposed to be the new epicenter of all things happening and hip, I just wasn’t buying it.

My memory of Main Street circa 2006 involves empty storefronts, sketchy street-corner activity and plastic bags blowing like urban tumbleweed down the street. I ran back to my college town as fast as I could, spent two years there and then two years in New York City.

Now I’ve been back in Cincy a few months, have reassessed the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and have decided that, “OK, I’m buying it!” Well, if New York hadn’t left me so broke, I’d be buying it. I’d be buying several things, actually, starting with a Patricia Savoie necklace ($65) from MiCA 12/v (1201 Vine St., 513-533-1974).

“It’s pretty amazing, the transformation that’s taken place,” says Brian Tiffany, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

Tiffany admits that, back in 2006, he also had his doubts. The process of converting rundown buildings into apartments and condos seemed painstakingly slow. Tiffany filled me in on how financial support from 3CDC sped up residential development, and (with a little help from Chamber-sponsored grants) restaurants and retail were soon to follow.

Starting Nov. 25 and continuing every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 19, Cincinnati’s first pop-up shop will occupy the empty storefront at 1213 Vine St., allowing locally owned businesses — like Studio Vertu, Powerhouse Factories, Chocolats Latour, Nati Evolvement Clothing Co. and Artfully Disheveled — a chance to test the waters without paying rent.

Along with the pop-up shops, galleries such as Mud on Main (1344 Main St., 513-313-7928) will be open during the special shopping days this season. Regularly a studio shared by four artists, the gallery will open its doors with mugs, bowls, pottery, necklaces, clay jewelry, prints, photos and greeting cards for sale. Check out the “Singing Vessels” by guest artist Dean Reynolds, currently in the window display. The curious-looking clay characters (no eyes, but a mouth) come in a variety of colors and sizes ($10-$100).

‘First to go green’

I had no idea you could drive downtown, park for $2 and be within walking distance of over a dozen shops. My mom had no idea either, and so (trend spotter and shopping expert that she is), I brought her along on my mission to determine whether someone could complete all of their holiday shopping without leaving Over-the-Rhine.

“Is the Wooden Nickel considered part of Over-the-Rhine?” she asks as we make our way down Central Parkway toward my planned starting point, around 12th and Main. Before I could say, “Sure, that’s on the list,” the car is parked and she is feeding a meter in front of a massive yellow building I’d always thought was abandoned.

Wooden Nickel Antiques (1410 Central Pkwy., 513-241-2985), on the contrary, is where co-owners Michael Williams and Tim Miller salvage architectural treasures that might otherwise be abandoned (or demolished, forgotten, irresponsibly dumped), and they’ve been doing it for 30 years.

“We were the first to go green,” Miller says with enthusiasm. Miller, Williams and my mom seem to be riding an Antique Road Show high, as they chat about a recent auction and lead me inside. Before long, I’m sharing their buzz — the place is packed floor to ceiling with marble statues, antique chandeliers, Victorian furniture, spindles, stained glass, massive mantelpieces from old mansions, gingerbread fretwork and columns of all kinds. It takes a certain type of person to appreciate these items, but if they’re on your list, you know who they are.

Under $200: a flush-mount-art-deco Vaseline light ($195) and several antique, clay chimney tops ($60-125). Great for plants, gazing balls and birdbaths, the chimneys add winter interest in the garden and can be decked out with lights, garland or other holiday décor.

New Day on Main

Head down Saturday, Nov. 26 (from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.) for Over-the-Rhine’s third annual “Holidays in the Bag,” when shoving as many goods as you can in a shopping bag (provided at two locations on Main and Vine) and receive 20 percent off your purchases.

Park and Vine (1202 Main St., 513-721-7275) is taking 25 percent off for early birds, 6:30 a.m.

to noon. Cincinnati’s “general store of the future” offers vegan, organic, sustainable versions of everyday essentials, as well as a wide variety of eco-friendly gifts. Owner Dan Korman suggests stocking up on supplies to pickle and preserve your way through the holidays. Alongside jars and lids in every size, you’ll find “Perfect Pickler” pickling kits ($22) and utensil sets for preserving ($10). And if you shudder at the thought of Christmas-morning clutter (tacky, clunky, Fischer-Price-type toys), then pick up a slick, toy recycling truck made by Green Toys ($25).

A few doors down is Atomic Number 10 (1306 Main St., 513-226-0252), the most artfully planned vintage-store venture I’ve ever seen. Owner Katie Garber graduated from UC’s DAAP in 2009 with a degree in industrial design and opened the refined (yet affordable) second-hand store a little over a year ago. The concept and branding behind the boutique, as well as the store’s signature display solutions (a giant, skeleton-adorned peg board of ties, for example) was developed as part of her senior thesis. Garber describes the selection as “found treasures from the ’50s through ’90s, fun vintage clothing and accessories for women and men and plenty of retro finds for your home.”

Basically, she scours every Goodwill, second-hand store, garage sale, estate sale and auction in the Tristate area so we don’t have to.

“I like to pick things that make me smile,” she says. “If it reminds me of my childhood, I know someone else will relate to it, too.”

She said business is going well and has gotten even better since Park Vine’s relocation has ushered more foot traffic on Main. “It’s a lot of people my age, opening stores that are different, following their dream and trying to make money while doing it,” she says. “And the whole thing is green.”

And to combat any critters that could come along with buying used, Garber has a washer and dryer on location. No bedbugs here among the retro T’s ($6-$8), long-sleeved men’s shirts ($12-$16), dresses ($14-$24), men’s lightweight jackets ($14-$20), men’s coats ($32-$40), women’s coats ($24-$40) and household items ($40 and under, except furniture).

Are you part of a large Catholic family where all “the cousins” pitch in to buy your grandparents one really great gift? Head down to Classical Glass (1333 Main St., 513-381-4334) and custom order a stained-glass work of art ($150-$800). Not to say stained glass is for Catholic grandmas only — artist David Duff produces traditional designs as well as avant garde. (Place an order by Dec. 15 to guarantee your gift in time for the holidays.)

Next up is Iris BookCafe, Another Part of the Forest and Urban Eden, which make up a triad of shops. Iris BookCafe (1331 Main St., 513-381-2665), co-owned by Mike Markiewicz and Julie Fay, is an unassuming coffee shop at first glance, but after being given a quick tour by Markiewicz, an archetypically white-bearded man, I feel I’ve stepped through the Narnia of rare poetry to enter the land of 10,000 records. The BookCafe boasts the best poetry collection in Southern Ohio, Markiewicz says (although he suspects a competitive collection could be found in Yellow Springs), and offers science-fiction rarieties as well as a wide foreign language selection.

Another Part of the Forest (1333 Main St., 513-371-2455) the vinyl/pulp-fiction portion of the triad (owned by Markiewicz), can be accessed on Main or by walking around the back.Most of the books and records are used ($3-$8), making them the perfect gift for ambiguous dating situations — if the situation calls for a gift, you can say you stumbled upon this little “Let It Be” 45. If not, you keep it for yourself.

Fay’s Urban Eden (1313 Main St., 513-621-EDEN), a few doors down, completes the triad with a solid selection of (mostly local) arts and crafts.

Original Thought Required, located near the corner of 13th and Main (1307 Main St., 513-246-4362), didn’t grab me at first, but I’m glad I stopped in. Being more of a skirt/sandals girl, I wasn’t drawn to the casual sneakers and Ts, but I would totally wear one of those thin little Out of Print shirts, featuring the original cover of Catcher In The Rye ($24).

And I didn’t have to deliver an original thought upon entering — owner James Marable strives for an in-store environment that’s comfortable and relaxed. The collection of T-shirts, outerwear and casual sneakers (by up-and-coming designers, local and abroad) is arranged for an art-gallery feel. Couches, magazines, Marable seated at a desk behind his computer — he wants customers to come in and shop, but also encourages drop-in conversations and a certain amount of loitering.

Gateway to Vine

4 U Fashion Boutique (16 E. 12th St., 513-407-8059) is the first stop when making your way from Main to Vine. This store confused me at first, and it was probably the large graffiti logo that threw me for a loop. Maybe I pictured some sort of baggy street wear, which would do nothing for my 5-foot frame, but instead I found two dresses in the window that I considered trying on ($99) — sheer layers of fabric, cinched-at-the-waist little frocks that would be good for a party or an effort-worthy night out.

“Not for work,” business owner Giovanny Mira says in a thick Columbian accent. “You can find work clothes anywhere.”

Owner Andy Worley elaborated that he and Mira opened the boutique this past summer to bring Cincinnatians the type of fashion they would normally have to travel to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago to find — not top name brands, but fun new lines that aren’t being mass produced. Flowy-but-fitted party wear similar to what you might find at H&M, except you won’t have to worry about “Who wore it best.”

There are plenty of burnout Ts and button-ups for guys, as well as some racier stretch denim items. And while none of the clothes are locally made, 4 U Fashion Boutique offers shelves upon racks of locally crafted jewelry and bags — a denim bag by local line, Rosebud 4 U, would make a great gift. Made from jeans with the pockets left intact, there are all kinds of compartments in these reversible, washable bags ($25-$120).

Unlike some of the newer shops that are still defining themselves and finding their way, MiCA 12/v has been around for a while. They know who they are, they know what they’re doing and (fortunately or unfortunately) I want to buy almost everything in the store. Owners Carolyn and Mike Deininger kept their O’Bryonville location for seven years before closing it in favor of the corner of 12th and Vine, where they’ve been located for three years.

“When we opened this location we thought it would take a while for the neighborhood to reach its potential, but it came around a lot quicker than we thought,” Mike says.

About a third of MiCA’s selection is local artwork, a third is handmade (from the United States and abroad) and a third comes from independent design lines that produce small quantities of their products.

As far as holiday gift-giving trends go, Mike sees a movement toward personal items (as opposed to home décor), practical accessories especially. Scarves, for example — practical, personal and capable of making a fashion statement — are always a reliable gift. Emma Burton scarves, made in England, feature a wide variety of brightly colored patterns, digitally printed on wool ($138).

Mike also predicts an appreciation for fine craft as opposed to kitschy, especially among urban professionals. The paper-mache animal heads (made in Haiti with recycled materials with support from Aid To Artisans) would be great home décor for a dude. Choose a goat, giraffe, zebra or rhinoceros ($68-105). And the lifelike little birds’ nests (made by Roost out of Sausalito) would be a great teacher gift ($10.50).

Another store where I’d end up shopping for myself is The Little Mahatma (1205 Main St., 513-723-1287). Featuring folk art and fine jewelry from around the world, the shop was located at Carew Tower for over 20 years before moving to its current location next door to MiCA, where it’s been for over two years.

Down the street a little ways at 13th and Vine is Joseph Williams Home (1232 Vine St., 513-721-3600). And while an “urban lifestyle furniture store” might not seem like a holiday shopping stop, I think it would be a good place for a clueless husband to shop. Because it’s a furniture store, there aren’t an overwhelming amount of choices, but that can be a good thing. They sell a wide variety of purses that have been popular ($19-39), a collection of mood candles ranging from “bitchy” to “butch” ($19), decorative glass wine bottle stoppers ($9) and plenty of decorative vases, picture frames and wall art.

Spent from all this perusing? Grab a drink at The Lackman, Lavomatic or Senate while you wait for fellow shoppers to catch up. Or, in my case, head over to MOTR for a happy hour PBR ($1.25) and one of the best vegan BLTs I’ve ever had, fries included ($7).

 
 
 
 

 

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