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

Communities in Transition: Northside

“The Only Thing Constant is Change”

Story by Madison Galster/NMB

From railroad stop to lumberyard to vacant lot, the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Road is proof that the only thing constant in Northside, Ohio, is change. The corner, which has been all three of those during its existence, is a reflection of this self-sustaining community at the northwestern edge of Cincinnati.

“We have developed a unique business district and that is the core strength of our community,” said Bruce Demske, 18-year Northside resident and president of the Northside Business Association (NBA). “If you look at the businesses within Northside that have really struck a chord with people, they are operated by people who live in Northside or nearby and they’ve been able to open their business because of the support within the community. We don’t have a Starbucks or a Family Dollar or turned-up generic businesses, and we want to keep it that way.”

Keeping Northside’s main business area, along Hamilton Avenue, free from corporate intrusion hasn’t always been easy. Though the concrete corner of Hamilton and Blue Rock isn’t much of a view for Bob Sala as he peers from his architectural design office’s window above Slim’s Restaurant at 4046 Hamilton Avenue, he sees the vacancy as a Northside survival story. As a result of an improper zoning label, Walgreens could have legally developed the spot into one of its corporate-standard storefronts. News of the impending construction brought Sala, then the newly appointed NBA director, and his colleagues to City Hall to discuss Northside’s historic district’s building limitations.

Slideshow by Kevin Doyle/NMB

“If [Walgreens] had said, ‘we’re going to build to the street with historically sensitive materials,’ we wouldn’t have really had any recourse,” said Demske. While Northside wanted Walgreens to conform to the layout of the pedestrian-friendly business district, Walgreens wasn’t willing to budge on their building blueprints.

“A lot of people were upset with the fact that [Walgreens] builds these places and sometimes leaves them to sit there, or the kind of business it was didn’t fit in with the small business mentality. Of course, those kinds of things, we didn’t have legal grounds to protest them, but that was the sentiment around the issue,” said Sala. “We really are a walking neighborhood, and if Walgreens would have vibed with that, they could have gone ahead. I’m glad they didn’t. We already have a pharmacy.”

Schaeper’s Pharmacy, located at 4187 Hamilton Ave., sits in an area along Hamilton Avenue where some of the oldest Northside businesses can be found. And those businesses are often as unique as their proprietors.

Since purchasing the storefront at 4171 Hamilton Ave. in 1955, Bill Dickhaus has acquired a reputation. First, there isn’t a trinket a customer can’t find at Bill’s Ace Hardware and Electric Company. Second, it was a rare occasion not to see the lights flicker on the store’s second floor as Bill tinkered away at broken appliances into the early hours of the morning. Though all-nighters are less frequent, those second floor lights can still be seen from time to time. “Two chairs, a blanket, a pillow and I got a heater. That’s all you need. And a jacket,” said Dickhaus. “Only problem is the next day you’re stiff and can’t roll over, and I don’t have lay out lawn chairs in stock right now.”

Whether Dickhaus is wearing the same slacks and collared cotton shirt as the day before or if he’s made the commute from his home in Groesbeck, Ohio, he always makes time for his morning ritual. The 85-year-old slowly hobbles across Hamilton Avenue to Phil Bazoff’s Park Chili Parlor, 4160 Hamilton Ave. Every work day, Dickhaus has soup before opening the shop at noon.

Conversation runs rampant through Park Chili’s small, fluorescent-lit dining room. On any given morning, the four booths, six bar stools and two extra tables of the 70-year-old establishment are full of patrons both young and old, veterans and newcomers. In Bazoff’s opinion, Northside is back in an upswing, much like it was in the 1950s and 60s when it was the second most shopped neighborhood in Cincinnati, falling slightly behind downtown. While he is glad to see Northside flourishing once again, he’s less enthusiastic about Northside’s increasing number of trendy storefronts.

“It’s like the guy across the street, he put in a little coffee shop with his daughters and said ‘I’m not trying to take any of your customers’ but if you take one customer then you’re taking a customer,” he said. “That’s cutting into a person’s action.”

Sala said he believes that business in general is driven by the demographics in its surroundings. “Northside has been my home now for 20 years and I think it’s a wonderful community,” he said. “I think the business district should reflect somehow the community that’s here and its diversity.”

The very diversity that Northsiders love could be what has kept outsiders at bay for so long. After James Heller-Jackson’s partner, Doug Faulkner, gained business success as a co-owner of Take the Cake, a Northside bakery and café located at 4035 Hamilton Ave., they started looking for homes in the area. The two men said they couldn’t help but feel that they had finally found a neighborhood that felt like home after five years of living in the Clifton Heights neighborhood.

“Northside has had a reputation of being a really cool community, but it also has had some very rough times,” said Heller-Jackson. “Even since we’ve been here we’ve seen a difference in our block. I’m on the north-end of Williamson Place and the 25 to 30 houses at the end of my block are mostly renovated already, whereas the lower end still has some renovations to do. But it’s happening.”

The City of Cincinnati wanted to help change Northside’s rough and tumble image when it approached Steve Bloomfield and his development partner, Ken Schon, four years ago to discuss renovation of the old American Can Company, which sits adjacent to the lot at the Hamilton Ave./Blue Rock Road intersection. The factory, which was the nation’s largest can manufacturing company in the 1920s, closed in the 1950s. The city sees the site as a potential residential-commercial development featuring 100 lofts and retail space, but without financing to pursue the $19 million project, construction has yet to start.

“There will be opportunity for stores to come in when the can company gets redeveloped. Looking at the layout, it has room for several stores on the perimeter,” said Heller-Jackson. “People [of Northside] are all pioneers who want to live in an urban area. We can get to a post office or a drug store or a UDF, out to get food or go to a bar, there’s so much to do here. It would really benefit having the can company as a redevelopment. That whole corner there at Hamilton and Blue Rock would just burst.”

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