Growing up in North College Hill, BuyCincy.com co-founder Brian Fisher says he witnessed firsthand how important local businesses were to the community by not only providing goods and services but also by keeping neighborhoods vibrant and connected. Fisher says he and co-founder Kurt Myers started the site as an economical way to bring attention to these “hidden gems of business” which might have limited or no advertising dollars.
The site recently promoted Cincinnati Unchained, an event that took place Nov. 19 and involved more than 80 independently owned, local businesses in 15 communities asking residents to shop, drink and dine only at locally owned businesses for one day, enticing them with incentives such as discounts, food and drink specials and give-aways. The event gains in popularity each year, with many merchants reporting it as their biggest sales day of the season, Fisher says. He believes those who give shopping a try at neighborhood stores will be pleasantly surprised, as the experience has a more inviting, casual vibe.
“I know, for me, when I go into a large chain store, I leave drained, I leave tired and just wanting to go home and get away from the crowds after looking through a five acres of store,” he says. “But I’ll go to places like Bellevue or Northside or Over-the-Rhine and pop in and out of little shops and it’s a really relaxing, rewarding experience.”
Neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine hope to entice holiday shoppers by sponsoring a number of events this season. OTR Chamber of Commerce President Brian Tiffany points to a number of compelling reason for residents to shop local. He explains that when consumers buy from local independent store owners, around 70 percent of the money stays in the community compared to 43 percent when shopping at national retail and zero when shopping online. He adds that shoppers are more likely to find unique gifts at independent stores, as owners go to great lengths to feature one-of-a kind or small production merchandise. As an added incentive, he points to how independent businesses sell items from local artists and craftsmen that even further energizing the economy.
“It’s very difficult to walk into a Walmart and purchase something that was made by hand by someone in Cincinnati,” he says. ”We think especially in a time of downturn in the economy, people are looking for unique gift ideas, and clearly if you’re shopping an independent local merchant your chances of getting something unique is much higher.”
One of the biggest hurdles OTR has to overcome is the perception of being unsafe, Tiffany explains.
He says during the last six years, OTR has seen a 50 percent drop in the overall crime rate. He touts the chamber’s efforts to improve safety and cleanliness, thus creating the right kind of foot traffic on the streets. He credits the Cincinnati Police Department along with local business owners and residents who have helped reduce crime by keeping their eyes and ears on the streets.
“The next step really is how do we change perception,” he says. “That’s why we created the holiday campaign in Over-the-Rhine. We’re convinced that if someone from, say, West Chester comes to Vine Street and visits one of the restaurants and shops here at our stores, we’re convinced they’ll come back and they’ll tell their friends.”
Stores like MiCA 12/v located at 1201 Vine St. feature an array of affordable, unique merchandise, with many of the items produced by local artist and craftsmen. The store, co-owned by Carolyn and Mike Deininger, even accommodates those who refuse to leave the comfort of their home by offering items online at shopmica.com. Mike says businesses in the area are highly supportive of each other, as they would be struggling as individual destination stores by themselves. He says the plan is not to replace big box retailers or malls, but instead to offer a shopping experience that showcases the city.
“Everything in Over-the-Rhine is uniquely Cincinnati,” he says. “From the architecture to the restaurants to the stores; if you want to experience what’s unique to our city, you really need to come down here.”
As a former OTR Laundromat, Lavomatic Cafe, located at 1211 Vine St., features innovative American cuisine topped off with an extensive wine selection. Manager Brian Firth says in addition to participating in sponsored events, the eatery will host a Christmas Eve brunch/early dinner. He says the venue is no stranger to holiday cheer, as last year more than 220 Santas engaged in revelry as one of the early stops for “SantaCon 2010,” essentially a pub crawl for the Santa-clad. He says folks that haven’t visited OTR in a while always tell him they’re pleasantly surprised.
“It’s good energy down here,” Firth says. “It’s not as stagnant as sometimes downtown can be — it’s a little edgier. From 12th until 15th, at least if not 16th, everything on Vine Street is independently owned and there aren’t many places in the city where you can find that.”
As the new kid on the block, Sloane Boutique, located 1216 Vine, just opened its doors for business Nov. 15, 2011, selling women’s clothing and accessories. Owner Duru Armagan says as a resident of OTR for the last few years, she felt her neighborhood was the ideal location for her business. Armagan describes the store vibe as contemporary and edgy, featuring designers who are new to this area including Kenny, Duffy, Myne, Aro and Aaron Ashe. Besides featuring affordable, unique items, Armagan explains store owners in the area are all so incredibly inviting and helpful.
“The restaurants are also so cool — I think they’re the hippest in town,” she adds. “When I’m on Vine Street, I feel like I could possibly be in Soho, New York because it gives you that kind of big city vibe.”
MORE HOLIDAY EVENTS IN OTR:
OTR Bar Crawl, Nov. 23
Spend the night before Thanksgiving in Over-the-Rhine. Hop to all the bars on Vine, Main and in between.
Holidays in the Bag, Nov. 25
Avoid the rush of the malls by shopping Over-the-Rhine for unique, local gifts in a relaxed atmosphere. Over-the-Rhine is holding its fourth Holidays in the Bag event. Buy the official “Holiday Bag” and receive a 20-percent discount at participating stores. Proceeds from the sales of the holiday bags benefit the Freestore Foodbank.
Stroll and Shop, Dec. 3 and 4
Main Street rolls out the red carpet for this holiday favorite. Come to Over-the-Rhine to find the best, most unique gifts from your favorite stores and party with A-Line magazine.
Caroling in the Quarter, Dec. 10
The third annual Caroling in the Quarter will offer the change to enjoy restaurants and shops as local choirs and roving carolers perform throughout the neighborhood, spreading holiday cheer. Get your holiday shopping done at the “Wrapped Up” City Flea. Find this hip, creative urban market at 12th and Vine streets.
Light Up OTR, Dec. 16
Light Up OTR is a community-based holiday party hosted by Ionic Collective. Guests work together to assemble and distribute more than 1,000 luminaries throughout Over-the-Rhine. Once the candles are all lit, all guests are welcomed back to Neon’s Unplugged for the lighting of the holiday Christmas tree with entertainment and fun.
The Final Friday before Christmas, Dec. 23
Over-the-Rhine will sparkle for last minute shoppers at December’s Final Friday before Christmas. It’s the perfect time to pick-up unique, locally-sourced gifts at the stores and galleries as well as celebrating the season at your favorite restaurants and bars.
Other exciting Holiday events in Over-the-Rhine:
St. Francis Seraph Live Nativity, Ensemble Theatre's Snow White, Know Theatre's Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, OTR Foundation's Holiday Fundraiser, CSO holiday program.