Sunday, August 25, 2002

Jungle Jim needed downtown

        Greetings, my fellow discouraged urban residents, victims of government muggings and publicly elected gasbags. I bring word of that rarest of commodities - an idea. It's not mine. It has, in fact, been floating around barber shops and coffee shops and even the occasional board room. But, as is our recent tradition, it continues to float.

        It's not very complicated. You can sum it up in two words. Jungle Jim's.

        A grocery store for the city. Not just any grocery store, but an adventure. A destination that would draw shoppers from as far as Lexington and as near as Walnut Hills. A business with a track record, one that pulls in 50,000 customers a week.

        All right, it might be a little complicated. And it might cost some money. Still, it's less complicated than Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, otherwise known as Fort Washington Way. And it's bound to be cheaper than the football palace, aka the Bob Bedinghaus Taxatorium and Testosterone Center.

        It might be self-sufficient, an unaccustomed concept in a city that just awarded Saks $6.6 million in public money and committed $12 million to rescue Findlay Market.

        It would be a place that does not have plentiful outlets elsewhere. Not to point the finger at any one establishment (Lazarus) but customers wouldn't be expected to drive right past one in their own neighborhood to get to an inferior one downtown.

        We could put it on the woebegone parking lot that nearly became home to the Reds: Broadway Commons.

        Well, actually, we could ask Jim Bonaminio if he wouldn't put it there. And while we're at it, maybe we could ask him how he turned a fruit stand into a nationally known center for international foods.

        If you walk around the parking lot at Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, you'll see license plates from Indiana and Kentucky. One from Illinois and two from Tennessee last Thursday. “Foodies,” as Mr. Bonaminio likes to call his customers, can find tortilla chips one aisle over from $180 bottles of South African wine. Cheesecake? I counted nine varieties in Cheesecake Corner, which is diagonal to a mechanical bear dressed like Elvis. Thank yew. Thank yew vurry much.

        Chorizo, goat meat, rabbit, duck, mushrooms of every gnarly variety. Asian pears. Salted duck eggs and red mullet and star fruit. Those of us with more pedestrian tastes can find Zesta saltines and Libby's Fruit Cocktail.

        All this food arrives, of course, by truck. Sarah Baumann, spokeswoman for Jungle Jim's, said “we wish we could be even two miles closer to an interstate.” Broadway Commons' 18.2 acres are within shouting distance of I-71 and the I-471 loop. And in the same general urban neck of the woods as Music Hall, the Museum Center, the Aronoff Center, two stadiums, three art museums and a zoo.

        Please, Mr. Bonaminio, consider that this city could give as good as we get. If 50,000 people are willing to travel to your jungle on Route 4 every week just to see you, maybe we could bring you a few who have more than food on their minds.

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