The intersection at Montgomery Road and Ridge Avenue in Pleasant Ridge is not a socialite’s dream dance night destination, nor is it the go-to spot for Cincinnati’s hottest bars or swankiest restaurants.
But for the Pleasant Ridge community business district, this crossroads functions as the backbone for a quiet residential community that values its long-standing, unassuming “Main Street” type-atmosphere that’s conducive to a Sunday night family stroll.
That vibe was recently threatened when rumors began surfacing of corporate intentions to purchase the defining block of the neighborhood to demolish the buildings, making way for a new, deluxe Walgreens including a drive-thru pharmacy. Exact details of the plan haven’t yet come forward, but the project would allegedly affect up to eight small, independently owned businesses and possibly a house. Those affected would include long-standing Everybody’s Records, the Gas Light Café, Ridge Jewelers, Royal Barbers and others.
The redevelopment effort is spearheaded by Anchor Properties, a Covington-based commercial real estate development firm that helps conglomerate retail chains like Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s expand their development bases. Numerous voicemails left for Anchor Properties representatives were not returned.
What opponents to the redevelopment plan find most perturbing, perhaps, is that there’s already an existing Walgreens storefront in Pleasant Ridge at 6204 Montgomery Road, just footsteps from the desired relocation that would displace several beloved neighborhood staples.
Because neither Walgreens nor Anchor Properties has released an official plan detailing the potential new location, it’s unclear what are the exact motivations in relocation, aside from adding a drive-thru pharmacy, which would require the property to be rezoned.
According to an email statement from Robert Elfinger, Walgreens media relations representative, “a new Walgreens store in Pleasant Ridge would be approximately a $3 million investment in the community and create hundreds of local construction jobs.”
That type of corporate response, though, isn’t one that considers the repercussions on the town’s signature verve. “It’s not about what they’re bringing, it’s about what we’re losing. It’s not apples to apples. Once those buildings and businesses are gone, they don’t just come back,” says Jason Chamlee, president of the Pleasant Ridge Development Corporation, a private non-profit group dedicated to advancing the development of the Pleasant Ridge business district.
Michael Shuter, general manager at Everybody’s, echoes Chamlee’s concerns: He’s fearful that even if the store could afford to relocate outside of Pleasant Ridge should Walgreens’ acquisition move forward, a new storefront would lose an irreplaceable part of the zest and personality that defines it now.
“I really think if we weren’t here anymore, there would be this strange void.
… When people are giving directions to somewhere in Pleasant Ridge, everybody always goes, ‘Well, you know where Everybody’s is, right? Turn left at the light…’ ”
It makes sense: Everybody’s is impossible to miss. The wacky storefront is accentuated by dizzying, groovy posters in an array of colors; it pops in a way a corporate chain like Walgreens simply never could.
“Could you really recreate the flavor and atmosphere what we have now? Thirty-four years — this store has experienced the entire evolution of the music industry,” adds Shuter.
Both Everybody’s and Gas Light Café rent their storefronts from landlords, who would have the ultimate say over whether or not to accept a buyout offer from Walgreens.
Bill DeJonckheere has owned the property housing Everybody’s Records for approximately 20 years and says he’s received numerous calls from Anchor Properties representatives presenting increasing offers to purchase the plot. “I’m just not interested at this point,” he says.
Since the buzz hit the public, Facebook group “Save The Gas Light Café and Everybody’s Records” has amassed more than 3,300 likes, serving as the hub for supporters of the small businesses from across the city to reverberate their opposition.
The designation name itself serves as testimony to the symbolism those two businesses hold in defining the corner as the lifeblood of Pleasant Ridge’s business district, according to Chamlee. Although businesses besides Everybody’s and Gas Light Café would be affected by the plan, these two are the prime exemplifications of the cohesive, close-knit nature of the urban business district that defines Pleasant Ridge.
“When we’re looking at building off the environment, these are the kinds of businesses and the kind of buildings that fit perfectly in a community business district. When we say, ‘What kind of businesses do we want to recruit?’ We want to build off places like Everybody’s. We want those kinds of places, interesting places to go. That kind of walkable, urban experience. If we lose it, we’re just another casualty.”
Safe for now
As of Tuesday, June 19, the day this story went to print, those advocates can breathe a little easier; at the recommendation of the City Planning Commission, City Council’s Livable Communities Committee voted unanimously to recommend that City Council establish an Interim Development Control (IDC) in Pleasant Ridge, which will essentially act as a temporary order of protection on the Pleasant Ridge business district, according to Chamlee. City Council was to take the final vote on the IDC’s establishment Wednesday, June 20.
An IDC is a tool city council can use while a study is going on — in this case, the city’s study on form-based code — that helps to protect changes to a geographic area such as the Walgreens undertaking, explains Alex Peppers, Cincinnati city planner. Implementing an IDC in Pleasant Ridge would temporarily regulate the establishment of uses, construction of new buildings and any demolition plans, effectively requiring any of Walgreens’ requests to go before the city planning commission in a public hearing, rather than just requiring a simple building permits approval.
The establishment of an IDC in the Pleasant Ridge Community Business District would last 90 days, with the potential for a nine-month extension once that time is up. According to Chamlee, an IDC would allow the Pleasant Ridge community and other advocates more time to mobilize and work with Anchor Properties representatives in hopes of finding a mutually beneficial solution for both parties — possibly a less controversial spot for relocation.
The City of Cincinnati’s Comprehensive Plan, designed to implement initiatives to improve the city, recommends that form-based codes be used in Cincinnati’s “Compact Walkable Areas” that surround neighborhood business districts (including Pleasant Ridge). The codes are intended to address modern issues such as urban sprawl, deterioration of historic neighborhoods and architecture and poor pedestrian infrastructure; a way to preserve community business districts such as Pleasant Ridge.
The Form-Based Zoning Code is still in the process of being developed, and text amendments are expected to be adopted this fall. Pleasant Ridge may or may not choose to adopt the use of form-based code, but according to Chamlee, it’s likely the neighborhood will opt in once the opportunity arises.
“The city in its entirety right now is bending everything it can to recreate what the city once had and has mostly lost in all these business districts citywide with form-based code, zoning, small business incentives. Pleasant ridge over 30, 40, 50 years has lost a lot of it,” he says.
“We’re not anti-Walgreens. We’re not anti-anybody. We’re pro-investment and pro-development, just not at the expense of what we already have,” Chamlee says.