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Exodus

By Donna Covrett · September 29th, 2004 · Bite Me
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Mullane's is apparently serving their last supper on Thursday. According to owner Audrey Cobb, "Our business has been steadily declining since April 2001." While lunches are "pretty reasonable," dinners are spotty at best, leaving Mullane's in the dwindling pond that other small, downtown businesses -- particularly restaurants that depend on the higher ticket evening sales -- have been struggling to swim through.

Not only devastating to Cincinnati's vegetarian community (Mullane's is one of the few restaurants in the city whose menu largely caters to vegetarians), this news affects anyone who cares about the vitality and diversity of downtown Cincinnati.

With downtown residential growth just beginning to take off, the closing of yet another neighborhood business perpetuates a vicious circle. To attract potential residents, downtown needs diverse retail -- and retail will produce like fruit flies when there are enough residents to support it.

"My heart is down here. I don't want to see it die," says Cobb. "I didn't move (out of post-riot downtown) when I had the opportunity. I believed I could hold on until the dust cleared." Instead, Cobb started to make plans in 2003 to expand the small restaurant's physical space and business to include catering and a full bar.

"I saw the potential to do a better business," she adds. But investors declined. "They did not think it was wise to invest in downtown at this time," she says, "and not having enough of my own money to do what I needed to do, coupled with the steadily declining downtown patronage had a very negative impact."

With few exceptions -- Jean-Robert at Pigall's and Carol's on Main, for example -- many dinner-focused dining establishments in downtown Cincinnati have struggled since the riotous spring of 2001 and the subsequent boycott. A partial list includes: The Diner, a popular restaurant on Sycamore and one of the first casualties in 2002; Aralia, which moved its Sri Lankan cuisine to Loveland; Nick and Tony's Chop House, which closed a couple of weeks ago; and Julie Francis, chef/owner of the delicious Aioli, who is expected to leave downtown within the year for a more "neighborhood-centered" space. These closings are often last resort after creative effort to find alternatives.

An attempt to bring awareness and traffic to downtown restaurants is the DOWNTOWN DINE AROUND on Oct. 15, organized by The Academy of Medicine Alliance. It's envisioned as a progressive dinner with cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and an art exhibition at Saks, followed by dinner at selected restaurants. The event concludes with coffee and entertainment at The Banker's Club.

Another effort has been the Over-the-Rhine Foundation's recently launched MARKETS ON MAIN, a weekend 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. community endeavor to attract attention to a neighborhood that desperately needs and deserves support from its urban and suburban brethren.

While residents, business owners, civic engagement groups, the faith community, developers and politicians work to resolve a downtown still under siege, it's simply not enough. Responsibility lies with citizens. It's not city council's problem alone. It's not the fault or burden of any one faction.

A shift in consciousness from "them" to "us" is needed to change the community conversation. It is our problem to resolve. Urbanists and suburbanists alike have a stake in the connection to and restoration of a spirited city center. Without a vibrant, beating heart, the limbs eventually atrophy. And without great places to eat, we'll starve.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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