Sunday, August 26, 2001

Festival a sign of OTR recovery

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The streets were blocked off, three stages were set up for bands and the smoke and aroma of grilling pork drifted along 12th Street.

        The music might have been different, but the first Main Street Arts and Music Festival, held throughout the afternoon and into the evening Saturday, was a suggestion of days when streets teemed and Over-the-Rhine was a neighborhood of distinctive character and charm.

        For 15 years Main Street has been on the rebound. But spring was not kind to this neighborhood, beginning with the riots in April and subsequent violence.

        “Over-the-Rhine is a neighborhood for pedestrians,” said Chris Frutkin, president of Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, which organized the festival. “You get the flavor of the neighborhood just by walking in the street like this, walking around, taking in the architecture and just enjoying the atmosphere.”

        The riots hurt business and the cancellation of Jammin' on Main in May was a setback. But business is recovering.

        Mr. Frutkin believes patronage may be back to 90 percent of what it was before the April riots. Mike Cromer, proprietor of Barrel House Brewing Co. on 12th Street, agrees.

        “There was a significant decrease in business,” Mr. Cromer said. “But it's been rebounding. This (festival) gives people a chance to see one unique venue that can't be found elsewhere in the city. They can look around and see it's safe down here. We haven't had any of the problems in the Main Street district. Our district is about music, shops, galleries, the arts. This is a chance to showcase the neighborhood.”

        David and Debbie Locketz live in the city of Wyoming, but they had no qualms about heading down to the festival Saturday.

        Both moved here from Israel just a year ago.

        “So we're sort of used to that kind of situation,” Mr. Locketz said. “I wish we knew what we could've done to help, but we didn't.”

        Annie Brown lives in Fort Thomas, Ky., but works in Over- the-Rhine at an ad agency. She pushed her son, Luke, 15 months old, in a stroller.

        “I think most people want to work together and make this a better place to live,” Ms. Brown said. “For the most part people are nice down here. I hope people come down to this.”

        Dana Getz-Lehrter is from Cincinnati but moved to Colorado two years ago. News of the riots surprised her. Before coming to the festival she asked about safety.

        “Since I hadn't been here in a while I asked,” Ms. Getz-Lehrtersaid. “Everyone assured me it was fine, ... a very safe place.”

        Vanessa Ruff of Walnut Hills hesitated at first, but after a while felt comfortable walking with her two young grandchildren.

        “Everything is peaceful,” she said. “I don't see any wildness down here.”

        Paul Lewis, an aspiring artist who lives in Mount Auburn, was one of 50 arts and food vendors who had set up booths at the festival. An appearence at the festival was less a statement about revitalizing the neighborhood than an opportunity for exposure.

        “But I'm looking to open something up on Main Street in October,” Mr. Lewis said.


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