26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Stories, No Comments.

Communities in Transition: Bridgetown

Bowling, Barbers and Business

By Madison Galster/NMB

You can hear a pin drop. In fact, the fall of 6,800 pins generates a racket that carries into the brisk winter air outside of Western Bowl at 6383 Glenway Avenue in Bridgetown, Ohio. On a Saturday morning in January, patrons swarm in record numbers to the 53-year-old bowling alley. Sixty-eight greased hardwood lanes host a crowded field of 89 men’s and women’s collegiate bowling teams for the 10th annual Hoinke Bearcat Classic.

Based on the Classic’s turnout it’s hard to imagine that, almost a year ago to the day, word of Western Bowl’s demise started to become public. Local suspicions held that Western Bowl would become a thing of the past, a soon-to-be commercial space in Cincinnati’s west side shopping Mecca of Glenway Avenue.

“Bridgetown is a redevelopment area for [Green] Township, a kind of gateway community,” said Adam Goetzman, Director of Planning and Development for the township. On Bridgetown Road, independent healthcare providers sit adjacent to family-owned restaurants and storefronts that wear their owner’s or Bridgetown’s name. At the same time, Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A, recent additions on Glenway Avenue, are already lost in a sea of fast-food chains, department stores and corporate offices on that street. Where Bridgetown Road and Glenway Avenue intersect is the heart of the Bridgetown community; a place where locals stand at the crossroads between tradition and renovation.

Western Bowl escaped demolition. Larry Schmittou, owner of Tennessee-based Strike and Spare Family Entertainment LLC, bought the building and the land it sits on. Schmittou’s goal was to save both a classic bowling industry event and a Midwestern bowling landmark.

The subject of demolished – and near-demolished – landmarks is a frequent topic at Wernke’s Barbershop, a Bridgetown business since 1964. Patrons waiting for the lone barber chair to clear flip through three-inch-thick, three-ring binders labeled by town names. Books and pamphlets rest nearby on empty beer casks. Rusted steel township emblems hang in front of a store-width mirror. Framed and faded Hudepohl and Burger Brewery posters hang on the walls.

Slideshow by Kevin Doyle/NMB

A binder labeled “Bridgetown – 1” depicts a time when there wasn’t much more to the settlement than dirt roads and horse-drawn wagons. The corner of Bridgetown Road (which was then considered a pike) and Race Road was once home to the Wagon Wheel Inn and Saloon, a place where travelers would stop to rest and re-shoe their horses before setting off for the Kentucky side of the Ohio River via the Anderson Ferry. Since their development in the late 1890s, pictures of the Wagon Wheel have been yellowed with age. Today, there’s nothing to shoot for a comparison shot; a vacant lot sits where the business once stood.

Expanding retail development on Glenway Avenue increased traffic through Bridgetown immensely, causing frustrating congestion for shoppers and a safety hazard in the eyes of Green Township and the Ohio Department of Transportation. For the township, the best option was to put in a turn lane from Bridgetown Road to Race Road – right through the Wagon Wheel’s footprint.

“The Wagon Wheel was pretty damn close to the existing pavement out there,” said Goetzman. “Well, if [we] added a lane of traffic and right of way, the curb was going to be on the edge of the building and the right of way would have gone straight through the middle of the bar. You can’t have a situation like that.”

In 2007, the family-owned watering hole that had been passed down for generations was being leased out to new operators. Tired of being landlords, the building owners were ready to make a deal when Green Township approached them with an estimated $400,000 for the property, according to Goetzman. “We purchased, very fairly, in an arm’s length transaction,” said Goetzman. “The guys who were running the show couldn’t afford to buy the building and the business. They could only afford to lease.”

Although the transfer of the Wagon Wheel’s ownership ensued without so much as a flinch, a part of Bridgetown’s history was demolished on Nov. 4, 2008. “It obviously was a longstanding, miserable watering hole. It was also, to some degree, a historic building,” said Goetzman. “However, the history had been covered up by additions to the building so the real character of an early 19th century rural tavern was really lost. I mean, the hog pen was no longer behind the thing, you know?”

“There’s always going to be a little sacrifice in the sake of progress,” said Chris Torbeck, owner of Zip Dip, an ice cream parlor at 4050 Drew Ave. that has been serving the Bridgetown public seasonally since 1950.

After purchasing Zip Dip in 1987, Torbeck bought the lots on each side of his business in order to avoid suffering the Wagon Wheel’s fate. “In the name of progress, if Harrison Avenue is widened, I still have the provisions in which I can relocate,” he said. “I was forward-thinking, much like Green Township, who has done an outstanding job as a balancing act. They’re trying really hard to keep a sense of community and keep areas that are resident-friendly throughout the entire township.”

While family-owned businesses are sparse along Glenway Avenue, there is no mandate stating they can’t be there. According to Goetzman, it’s a matter of market supply and demand, not a modern take-over of a traditional territory. “The requirement we have is to be vigilant and we want to build upon what we have, we don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “We want to foster more attractive redevelopment of that Glenway area. On Bridgetown [Road], we want to foster development that is sympathetic and is responsive to the character and the surrounding fabric of that community while protecting the integrity of the residential neighborhood that surrounds it.”

Awareness of Bridgetown’s demographic – and incorporating that awareness into a business plan – has made Nick and Tom’s Restaurant and Bar at 5774 Bridgetown Rd. a success. Despite the recession and an influx of fast food chains, Tim Lambrinides, general manager and son of owner, Tom, said business increased 35 percent in 2009. Tim claims success is due to the tight-knit, family feel of the community and, in turn, an 85-percent repeat patronage rate. “When something opened, it never hurt us. Well, when Longhorns first went in we saw a decline in business but after a few weeks our numbers came right back up,” said Tim.

On any given night, Nick and Tom’s Restaurant is packed with young and old, with the large majority of patrons being West-siders. “Most people who grow up on the West Side stay on the West Side although you have a few of the adventurous ones who go off to college and never come back,” said Tim, who moved to Florida but came home when he started a family. “Friday or Saturday night I’ll sit up here. All those bar tables will be full of my friends that are married and who have kids. They’ll come up here with their friends and they’re still talking about high school football and shit like that,” said Tim.

Much of the Bridgetown community is longtime West-siders who find the romance of its traditions endearing. But as the area’s commercial popularity grows, so does its proportion of residential realty. Raised in Clifton, Ohio, Goetzman moved to Green Township in 1995 and understands the growing influx of former urbanites. “People want a little bit more elbow room,” he said. “They’re getting out of the city, whether it be for what they see as good school systems, a different taxing structure or to escape the perception that somebody is meddling in your affairs all the time. Are they getting fur salons and Tiffany Jewelry stores? No. They’re getting a good solid bedrock community.”

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