Sunday, August 11, 2002

Pleasant Ridge market brings community together

        Applause for Pleasant Ridge, please. The little east-side Cincinnati neighborhood may have figured out how food can be the glue that helps hold the community together.

        Although it hasn't settled on an exact date, Improve Pleasant Ridge, a business development group, plans to open its Ridge Market this weekon Montgomery Road. The group describes it as a “Findlay Market-style grocery,” including more than a dozen independent vendors, housed in a former IGA store.

        The idea for the market came in September when Improve members heard the IGA, which had been serving the community for 60 years, was closing. They were worried the building would remain vacant or attract an undesirable business.

        Pleasant Ridge needed another grocery, but the residents didn't want to recruit a large chain. Mallory and Michael Madison, sons of Findlay Market merchant Bryan Madison, live in Pleasant Ridge. The Madisons helped persuade the civic group to try a neighborhood market.

        “Pleasant Ridge has a walking community,” says Bryan Madison, who owns Madison's at Findlay Market. “It's diverse and has a very strong church component. When you put all those pieces together, that's why we thought it would work.”

        Improve Pleasant Ridge conducted surveys that showed residents wanted a business that offered “one-stop” shopping and personal service.

        “We also have many residents who depend on public transportation or cabs to travel,” says Improve president Doug Newberry. “They can't afford to pay fare to go to the grocery.”

        After deciding to try the neighborhood market concept, Improve bought the vacant store in February with low-interest loans from individuals and churches in the community. Then they started renovating and recruiting merchants. The Madisons were among the first to sign on to sell their organic fruit and vegetables, along with Sharon Butler, co-owner of the Bonbonerie in O'Bryonville and a Pleasant Ridge resident.

        “I think it's a really good concept and a good opportunity for us,” says Ms. Butler, who will offer her line of scones and pastries at Ridge Market. “But for me, it's also a personal thing about trying to make the neighborhood better.”

        Other market vendors will sell bread, seafood and wines. Patti Piatt, owner of the Herbalist, will specialize in fresh and dried herbs and edible flowers.

        “It's a great business opportunity,” says Ms. Piatt, who sold her homegrown offerings at Findlay Market for three years. “I'm going to be right next to the Bonbonerie, and I did that deliberately. Their market is my market.”

        No one thinks Ridge Market will put giant supermarkets out of business. But market manager Mike Kull thinks the venture will succeed because the market offers something different: Old-fashioned customer service.

        “Our vendors will take care of customers,” says Mr. Kull, who owns the Dubliner across Montgomery Road from Ridge Market. “They are there based on the premise that high-quality customer service is how people want to shop.”

        He also thinks Ridge Market will survive because Pleasant Ridge residents support their community and its businesses. The market will provide an opportunity for neighbors to meet and talk, while sampling and buying food. And if the market survives, the community will thrive.

        Some wonder, though, if Ridge Market will steal business from Findlay Market. The old Over-the-Rhine market has already lost at least one vendor — Ms. Piatt — to the new market. Still a loyal Findlay supporter, Ms. Piatt says she left because she can't sell enough herbs at the historic market on Saturday, its busiest day. She'll open six days a week at Ridge Market.

        Bryan Madison and others think Ridge Market will help — not hurt — Findlay. People who shop Ridge Market during the week will begin patronizing Findlay Market on Saturdays. The markets will promote each other, he says. And the more neighborhood markets that open, the better for everyone.

        Mr. Kull says another Cincinnati community has already expressed interest in opening a neighborhood market like Ridge.

        If that happens — wonderful. We'll probably never completely give up the convenience of supermarket shopping, but we should also discover the joys of buying food from small merchants, farmers and food producers.

        And we should all put our hands together to congratulate Pleasant Ridge on its food venture.


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