Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Suburbs not obligated to city

        Eugene Spiegel is sitting on the floor of his emporium, applying glue to a bicycle tire. It's dark inside, the sunlight blocked by plywood covering his windows.

        I miss looking through the glass to see what was on Eugene's sales agenda. Because you never knew. Reliable Jewelry and Loan, est. 1908, is a pawnshop. On one visit, a pair of snow skis was propped next to a Macintosh Plus computer, which was next to a tangle of bicycle frames.

        The plywood, he says, is a preventive measure, installed after rioters made their way down Vine Street to his place at the corner of Court Street. “My window was cracked,” he says, “but the only thing they took was $2,000 a week in business."

        The only thing.

        Cheerful, irrepressible, Eugene is determined to lure his customers back. Service, unusual merchandise, rock-bottom prices. Getting the word out. He plans to be irresistible. This might work.

Failing the customer

        Middle-class flight to the suburbs did not happen because everybody wanted a longer commute or a chance to pay closing costs on a different house. The city failed them. It was not their civic duty to send their children to schools they do not trust or make do with housing that did not suit their needs.

        The customers took their business elsewhere.

        Since the last census, Cincinnati lost 9.1 percent of its population, including black and white citizens. And if the city wants them back, either as visitors or full-time residents, we're going to have to work at it. It is not the civic duty of suburban residents to come back downtown and troll for a parking space in order to go to a Lazarus store no better than the one they drove past.

A running start

        A reader demanded to know if I was going to make schools who moved their proms from Music Hall in the wake of rioting downtown “justify” their decision. He was disgusted to learn that I think schools ought to be allowed to have their proms anywhere they choose and that parents have a right to be ultra-cautious where their children are concerned.

        Suburbanites are not obliged to bring their children — or their money — to the city. It's up to the city to provide something they can't get anywhere else. Cincinnati has a running start. Mason is a wonderful place, but it has no symphony or ballet or art museum.

        Blue Ash is beautifully run and has a friendly and accommodating attitude toward business. And plenty of parking. But Blue Ash doesn't have a Firstar Center for Elton John and Billy Joel.

        There's no Fairfield Zoo.

        A campaign is in the works to buff up Cincinnati's tarnished image. “We don't have any fancy slogan, yet,” Downtown Cincinnati Inc.'s Rick Greiwe said. “Hopefully we will come up with a campaign that is sensitive and inclusive.”

        That ought to do the trick. “C'mon, kids. Let's head to the city for a sensitive and inclusive day.”

        Although it's a wonderful opportunity to spend a lot of money — one of our specialties — this city does not need a new slogan. We need to sell our customers on our unique attractions and make it convenient and safe to sample them. If people from the suburbs come back to the city, it will be because we have made ourselves irresistible.

        A slogan is just a promise. Our customers will be watching to see if the city can really deliver.
        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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