Thursday, January 9, 2003

Ailing downtown

Should we just pull the plug?


Closson's is leaving town. And no matter how brave we are prepared to be, this is not good news. Except for Closson's, of course, which may find more customers for its $15,000 tables and $2,000 decorative giraffes where it is going. Northeast probably. Oakley or Hyde Park. Maybe a Rookwood location in Norwood.

But not on Fourth Street in downtown Cincinnati, which has been home to the store since 1866.

"This retailing problem," Mayor Charlie Luken said, "it's an epidemic."

Fair enough. But downtown has been sick for quite a while.

Panhandlers Inc.

I walked down Fourth Street during visiting hours, which have been considerably abbreviated over the past few years. A panhandler asked for my spare change and shrugged cheerfully when I gave him my best smile instead.

Panhandlers, by the way, are a symptom, not a disease. Plus our public officials keep lumping them together with criminals. Which they also are not. Somebody who threatens you for money is a robber. Somebody with a fabrication about his car breaking down is a bunco artist. The rest are simply panhandlers - beggars who are sometimes unsavory but reliably harmless.

One threw up on my shoes when I was in another city, and I was disgusted. But not to death. Excuse me. I digress.

Fourth Street. I was walking down Fourth Street. If I have an emergency need for overpriced coffee, this is the place to be. There are also many opportunities for bread. Who is eating all this bread? Downtown workers? Aren't they afraid they will not fit into their Casual Friday khakis?

Where drop-dead dresses and suits with hand-sewn buttonholes formerly were sold, the Gap now offers striped sweaters. McAlpin's windows offer only promises from Madison Marquette: "creating special places."

Someday. Maybe.

That's the bad news. But La Tea Room is selling la soup and la salad to downtown workers, who also can get a very nice gyro at Jordan Valley and a superior meatloaf at Silverglade.

Contemporary Galleries has five floors of sleek furniture that would be just about right for some of the new loft apartments. Rick and Denise Mayer and Debbie Kurak say they intend to "hang in there." They'd even welcome competition, maybe a Crate & Barrel.

The Gerwe family continues to draw customers from the 'burbs and exurbs with their distinctive brass and fireplace accoutrements at Bromwell Co. Dino's is back on the Skywalk. The pinpoint cotton shirts and beautifully tailored Brooks Brothers suits have merely moved to Vine Street, snuggled up next to Tiffany's.

A consultant is drafting a plan, said to include projects that combine apartments, offices, shops and restaurants. "It may be our last and best hope," former mayor Arn Bortz said.

Hope. I like the sound of that. Perhaps we can dare to believe that with a transfusion and some expert treatment the patient might make a full recovery. There's circulation in the extremities.

And, most important, the heart still beats.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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