Sunday, April 29, 2001

Crowds begin coming back to the nightlife

By Susan Vela Jennifer Mrozowski and Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Barren sidewalks became lines of 50 people deep as Over-the-Rhine's Main Street gave evidence Friday night of rebounding from recent riots.

        “Is this the line for Have A Nice Day Cafe?” shouted Bob Cornelius, 25, of Lebanon, as he and his friends took their place in a long line outside the bar.

        Mr. Cornelius visited Main Street's entertainment district — a hot spot for Cincinnati's younger, more suburban crowd — for the first time Friday night.

[photo] Police Officer Robert Hess watches the crowds on Main Street Friday. Activity was returning, but it was still short of the usual.
(Mike Simons photo)
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        He knows that violence broke out on the street earlier this month, following the death of an unarmed African-American man by a Cincinnati police officer. But he didn't let that deter him.

        Business owners and those who work at Main Street's bars and restaurants hope there are more like Mr. Cornelius. They are eager to see Main Street crowds return to normal. For now, they remain on edge.

        “I haven't worked in three weeks. (The riots) made business go down,” said Donna Lee Robertson, 58, a waitress at Neon's Cigar Bar and Tavern, located on East 12th Street. She sat at the bar, sipping a vodka drink and lamenting that there weren't enough patrons for her to work.

        She noted that pedestrian traffic is usually so thick that no one can drive through the Main Street area. At 10 p.m., only police officers and bouncers stood outside Neon's door.

        There were other signs that Fridays on Main Street aren't the same. A sole couple danced on the dance floor of Electra and there was plenty of shoulder room at the bars.

        “On a Friday night, this should be packed. You can't breathe in here on a Friday night,” said Scott Mitchell, 36, of Hidden Valley Lake, Ind., as he finished off a vodka on the rocks at Neon's. “People are uncomfortable coming here, and it's a damn shame.”

[photo] At Kaldi's Coffee House and Bookstore, Cybele Moon and Zachary Zises were among the back-to-normal crowds Friday night.
| ZOOM |
        After finishing a game of video golf, Mr. Mitchell left for Covington's MainStrasse Village, also a popular bar district. Three of his buddies, all from Northern Kentucky, left with him.

        But the night was young. By midnight, there was an ever-expanding sea of sparkly halter tops, button-down shirts and tight black pants. Lines meandered from popular bars. Patrons hopped from bar to bar.

        Valet Parking, a Main Street valet service, was parking about 35 cars an hour toward the end of the night. Chris Gerrein, who founded the business two years ago, said the volume was back to normal.

        Main Street shouldn't fear losing its suburban customers because they're more liberal-thinking than most, he said.

        “It's not the conservatives that come down here,” he said.

        Crowds also were back to normal inside Kaldi's Coffee House and Bookstore, said manager Kitty Syphax. About 60 people listened to jazz as the espresso machine hissed in the background.

        “We have a pretty large crowd of regulars,” she said. “And those regulars have friends. ... It can only get better from here with people supporting each other.”

        However, Donique Pugh, 27, said business owners should be nervous. The Fairfield resident is half-African-American and half-Hispanic. Many of her friends are white.

        “They're scared to get even remotely close to the area,” she said while at Kaldi's. “They probably won't come down here for months. I'm not white. I don't feel as threatened.”

    Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen issued a statement Friday afternoon, putting to rest rumors that his office planned to announce action against a Cincinnati police officer who killed an unarmed black man.
    No such announcement would be released, Mr. Allen's office said shortly after noon.
    The grand jury has not begun hearing testimony in any case against Officer Steve Roach. He shot Timothy Thomas, 19, in an alley off Republic Street, April 7.
        There was steady traffic through Main Street galleries, which were open until 10 p.m.

        Lisa Mullins, executive director of Enjoy The Arts, said 300 people passed through her gallery, 1338 Main St., for an exhibit opening.

        “The riots haven't slowed us down at all,” she said. “Our initial resolve to be in this neighborhood was validated after the riots. There are so many wonderful people in this incredibly diverse neighborhood.”

        Business owners are brainstorming on how they can appease lingering fears over the riots. On Friday, they offered a promotional deal. Those who paid $5 received a paper wristband that gave them admittance to almost 10 bars in the Main Street entertainment district.

        Issa Sacko, owner of Sackolah African Arts, said he's not worried about the future of Over-the-Rhine. He knows his neighborhood is full of good people who want to move it in the right direction.

        “The only way I can be in business is if it's safe,” Mr. Sacko said. “There are people getting together right now to talk about it. Sometimes good solutions come out of a bad thing. That's what will happen here.”

        Yet Craig Johnson, owner of the Cock and Bull English Pub in Covington's MainStrasse,was grinning broadly Friday night.

        Northern Kentucky's prime entertainment district has profited from Main Street's misfortunes, he said.

        “The curfew week was phenomenal. It was like a festival,” he said. “But I feel for them. I definitely feel for them. (How quickly they rebound) is definitely out of their control.”

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