Friday, November 28, 1997
'Our store' is the future
of downtown

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Downtown's future starts today. Bright and early.

At 7 a.m. the new Lazarus store at Fountain Place opens for its first day-after-Thanksgiving sale, the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping stampede.

The shop-'til-you-drop season will either make a liar or a prophet out of the advertising wiz who slapped these words on the department store's new shopping bags:

''A place for the future''

Clever slogan. And it's true.

If downtown is to have a future, it is tied to the success of this store. The new Lazarus must attract holiday shoppers to a place they've avoided, downtown Cincinnati.

On Wednesday, the new Lazarus store did its job. Bunches of shoppers - beating today's rush - swarmed through three glistening floors rich in the fresh, exciting scent your nose detects inside a new car. These shoppers gave the new store something the old one lacked, customers.

''I haven't been in one of these stores since it was Shillito's,'' said Greg Cornetet, a computer analyst from Anderson Township. ''They got me in the door with this new store. I'll be back.''

Joe Wiehe - on vacation from his job as Evendale's service director - stood in the women's sportswear department and assumed the husband's pack-mule position: Stand at attention, hold shopping bags, don't peek at the presents.

''I don't shop much,'' he said. ''But my wife does. She's finding everything she needs in one place.''

Just then, his wife called to him, ''Joe, stay where you are. I'll be right back.'' With another shopping bag for him to hold.

Our store

While I joined them in the rush to see how many purchases it would take to make a credit card melt, I was a skeptical shopper. Since I grew up in Cincinnati when downtown stores were as grand - and nearly as ancient - as the Taj Mahal, I like my department stores big, old and crusty. The bigger, the older and the crustier, the better.

But, even I must admit this new one's nice. It's bright and airy. And its gift-wrapping department - which was condemned to the old store's windowless basement - offers a great view of Fountain Square.

But I'm not a disinterested customer. I'm a part-owner of downtown's first new department store in 13 years. And, so are you.

Our taxes bought the land for $32.4 million and will pay its annual real-estate tax of $227,175 for 65 years. When all is said and done, the city's share - thanks to us, again - of the buildings on Fountain Place will be at least $27.8 million. Lazarus' portion is $28 million.

Missing elf

Since the store has had its shake-down cruise after its Nov. 6 grand opening, now's the time to see if we got our money's worth.

After walking all three floors and sticking my nose in every department, I found pleasant clerks and well-stocked shelves. But, I could tell something, or somebody, was missing: Santa Claus.

So, I called the store's administrative offices. The friendly woman who answered the phone told me ''we haven't had Santa for two or three years.''

But that, I protested, was in the old store. This is the new Lazarus.

The woman, still friendly, replied:

''There's no room for him.''

Thomas Turner of Blue Ash can relate to that. He's a husky man. And he was having trouble negotiating the narrow aisles, made even narrower by display tables in their midst.

''It's tight,'' he said as he had a clothes encounter squeezing between two racks of sweaters.

Mike Kazior had no such problems. He's 11. And thin. He found the new store to be ''pretty good.''

His mother, Kathy, ''dragged me here,'' from Montgomery. But he wasn't complaining. The Kazior family was on its annual downtown Christmas shopping trip. And, Mike liked what he saw of the store, especially a display of Looney Tunes watches.

He even promised he'd come back.

Let's hope he does. He's the customer of our future.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.