Thursday, April 12, 2001

Image worries downtown merchants

They're eager for an all-clear

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Business owners throughout downtown and Over-the-Rhine on Wednesday weren't too worried about immediate losses caused by closing the night before. What really concerned them was the possible impact of lasting images of rioters on future business, especially potential customers from the suburbs.

        “We've worked so hard and were so close to having everyone convinced that downtown was a safe, fun place to be after hours,” said Michael E. Comisar, managing partner of downtown restaurant mainstays Maisonette and La Normandie. “Now, that's all gone to hell, and I don't know how long it will take to get it back.”

        Many businesses and restaurants stayed closed or restricted their hours Wednesday near where the disturbances began in Over-the-Rhine, citing continuing tensions.

        Mr. Comisar's restaurants were open Wednesday, but hurting. On a normal midweek night, Mr. Comisar says he can expect reservations for 60 to 80 people at La Normandie on Sixth Street.

        But there were no reservations at all for Wednesday night, while other customers called to see if it was safe for lunch at the Maisonette.

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        The normally thriving Main Street entertainment district in Over-the-Rhine was shut down Tuesday night, and some businesses were cautious about reopening Wednesday.

        “We stayed open for lunch, but I couldn't expect my staff to put themselves into a bad situation through the night,” said David Miller, co-owner of Kaldi's Coffeehouse and Bookstore at 1204 Main St., which normally stays open well past midnight.

        “But in the long run, it would be a shame if this incident skews the perception that this area is so much safer than it used to be.”

        Downtown Cincinnati Inc. president Rick Greiwe said he tried contacting city and police officials to lobby them to say that downtown was safe as soon as possible.

        “They are so quick to issue a warning not to come downtown, but the media and police never come back and say that the coast is clear and that downtown is open for business,” said Mr. Greiwe, whose organization is a nonprofit advocacy group for downtown businesses.

        Jeff Ruby, who owns Jeff Ruby's steakhouse at Seventh and Walnut streets, said he agreed with the initial warnings and closures Tuesday night, and doesn't want police to say it's safe if it's not.

        Mr. Ruby said he originally decided to close but changed his mind and stayed open Tuesday night. “I just hope that no one will have to risk their lives for a steak.”

        Even if such a clearance comes, many business owners say it will take awhile for people to feel safe coming back downtown.

        “Perception is the reality when it comes to something like this,” said John Gaines, general manager of Redfish restaurant at 700 Race St., who closed earlier than usual Tuesday but was open Wednesday night.


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NAACP's Mfume, city leaders meet today
Citizens terrorized by violence
Some business owners, residents felt targeted
Luken offers support to damaged areas
Ministers rally, then walk the streets
Panel's view: What should the city do next?
PULFER: Refusing to give up on the city
Residents try to comprehend destruction
Violence a sign of unsolved problems
Arrests mostly of young males
Bengal Basnight wants to help stop violence
Reds urge end to violence
Parker: Problems have better solutions
- Image worries downtown merchants
School activities address unrest