The owners of Boca Restaurant -- which has become something of a culinary anchor among the often-flighty strip of shops and eateries along Hamilton Avenue -- plan to open a restaurant in Oakley, leaving unresolved questions about the restaurant's Northside location.
Rumors circulated during the past few weeks that Boca might move to Oakley and shut down its Northside operation, causing concern for some members of Northside's growing but fragile business community.
"I don't know if it's a second location or if they're moving," says Cathy Fletcher, president of the Northside Business Association. "Anytime you lose a business it's a blow to the community. I hope we don't have a vacant storefront."
But that won't happen, according to Bawe Shinholster, Boca's general manager and co-owner. Boca has plans to open a larger restaurant on Madison Avenue in Oakley sometime in September or October, he says.
"It just makes business sense," Shinholster says. "Northside is a great neighborhood. It's very eclectic and a neat area of town. But it's kind of out of the way, especially if you're coming from the East side -- Hyde Park, Anderson, Indian Hill, Mason."
Boca, whose price range for dinner is $17-$30, might benefit from proximity to some of Cincinnati's wealthier neighborhoods. Right now, Fletcher points out, not much of the restaurant's clientele comes from Northside.
The current Boca location in Northside will continue to operate as a restaurant of some kind but might change, Shinholster says.
"Let's put it this way -- in the fall we will have two restaurants," he says.
Several days later Shinholster said plans are still in flux.
"This place will stay Boca but we are opening a new place." he said. "We don't have a name for it yet."
While he and co-owner and chef David Falk are hammering out details for their Northside spot, others are doing the same.
A sign in the window at 4181 Hamilton Ave., one storefront south of Ali's Boutique, boasts, "Sidewinder Coffee and Tea Coming Soon."
Sidewinder is one of three coffee shops Fletcher and other business owners on Hamilton Avenue expect to open in Northside during the next few months.
Another will open next to The Serpent, according to Leslie Scott, owner of Ali's Boutique and Avant Garage.
Along with the One Mo' Cup coffeehouse -- a Northside staple for several years, catering to an early morning and afternoon crowd -- the three new establishments would create a strong coffee house atmosphere that could complement its already strong bar scene. (See Upside to Northside, issue of Feb. 25-March 2.)
Other signs also point to a vibrant and growing business community on Hamilton Avenue, despite potential changes to one of the neighborhood's best-known restaurants.
Within the past few months, several new shops and services have opened. Potluck, which features gourmet carryout and catering, and Blue Room massage therapy have moved into the recently renovated space next to Northside Tavern. Vintage clothing store Pixel 19 and imported clothing shop Gypsy Moon also opened on Hamilton Avenue within the past three months.
"We saw that Northside had a lot of potential," says Wayne Berg, who runs Gypsy Moon with his wife and store owner, Linda Berg. "It's eclectic, and it seems like things are turning around in Northside."
Fletcher owns several buildings along Hamilton Avenue and just finished renovating the space north of Northside Tavern. She agrees with Berg.
"We have people call every day wanting to open up in Northside," Fletcher says. "The business district is definitely on the upswing."
The business association is working on improving parking along Hamilton Avenue. With money from a Safe and Clean Grant from the city of Cincinnati, the association installed and improved lighting around parking spaces last year. Landscaping and new parking signs are in the works for this year, Fletcher says.
One challenge in improving the district continues to be the condition of the building stock, especially in the first two blocks of Hamilton Avenue after crossing over Interstate 75.
"There's a lot of interest," Fletcher says. "We just don't have enough buildings to put them in. A lot of these vacant buildings need a lot of work." ©