Small Businesses Have Been Biting the Dust Early in 2014

Small Business ClosuresA staggering number of small businesses in Greater Cincinnati have resolved to shut their doors at the start of 2014. Already more than a dozen establishments have been effected since late last year in a downturn that has not been as drastic since 2008.

Cord Camera was the first to announce it would close. Once prosperous with over 30 stores in Ohio and Indiana, its remaining eight retailers struggled to meet expectations during the holiday shopping season. Chief Financial Officer, John Crotty, said the company’s demise was due to the increasing popularity of digital photography with smartphones and less demand for printing pictures.

The next was the shocking departure of It’s Just Crepes, with a vague note on their website that read “Thanks for a great five years!” The eatery had expanded to three locations, two downtown and another in Crescent Springs, and appeared to be constantly bustling during lunchtime. Both of the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down without notice, and the owners have not been able to be reached for comment.

Decorative retailer, Joseph Williams Home, began sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter, discounting items up to 60% off through the end of December. Owner Fred Arrowood explained that his five year lease was ending for his space at the corner of Thirteenth and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Upon renegotiating, he was unable to come to an agreement for another five-year lease with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), who wanted to increase rent despite the store’s marginal sales.

“3CDC has become focused on restaurants and bars rather than retail and meeting the needs of residents,” said Arrowood. In an interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Anastatia Mileham, Vice President of Communications for 3CDC, attributed the increase in rent to high demand for prime real estate in Over-the-Rhine, like Arrowood’s corner store location.

Further complicating the matter locally was a combination of aging owners and slow sales, such as was the case with Chez Nora in Covington. Just shy of its 20th Anniversary, the three-floor restaurant and jazz bar never recovered from the economic decline and lost too many customers to competition across the river.

“We got culinarily passed by,” said owner Jimmy Gillece of the new eateries that developed as part of The Banks and revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.

Down the street, Behle Street Café succumbed to a similar fate. After 19 years in operation, the loss of two major companies in Covington and new competition at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, prompted owner Shawn Thomas to close the restaurant. “We just couldn’t keep up. Although great for Cincinnati, it’s not so good for Covington,” he stated in a release.

The litany of other lost businesses continues to grow, including: Enzo’s (Over-the-Rhine), Bayou Fish House (Newport), Spare Time Grill (Alexandria), Take The Cake (Northside), Fabulous Finds For Less (Bellevue), Mayberry (Over-the-Rhine), Smartfish Studio (Over-the-Rhine), and Past & Presents (Bellevue).

Not all the news is grim, however, as many of these locations have either already been filled by another local business, or will be soon.

Five years is traditionally the make or break point for small businesses – businesses that exist to generate a customer. It will be increasingly important going forward that entrepreneurs are creating shops that meet the demand of a community and allow for the businesses to be sustainable.

But as businesses continue to reach the end of their tenure and evaluate progress, consumers should brace themselves for the trend of closings to continue.

Next up on the chopping block will be vintage clothing shop Atomic Number Ten, which closes its doors on Saturday, January 18. Located at Thirteenth and Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, owner Katie Garber simply stated that it was time to move on to bigger and better things. “We really hope you can make it in to say goodbye,” Garber wrote to her customers in a blog post. “It’s been a great ride!”

  • Eric Douglas

    Sidebar also closed in 2013. MJB Consulting did a study on Covington a year ago to find what they could to do in order to compete with retail at The Banks and the consultant basically said nothing on the retail end, but to focus on being an urban residential neighborhood and offer some ground floor flex space.

    The Banks steering cmt/JR Anderson/3CDC retail programming for The Bank$ and OTR GQ is a joke. If you live there, where do you go for gas, cigarettes, newspaper/magazines, toilet paper, or other occasional daily needs? You either hope a downtown CVS stays open past 6, drive to Covington for gas without the bullet proof glass, or Newport to shop. It’s not a sustainable model and does not serve their residents.

    • They seem to be content on creating an “entertainment district” at The Banks. I do think that is short-sighted since they have built hundreds of residences and have plans for a thousand or so more. I can’t believe there isn’t a coffee shop there yet or a convenience store.

    • People who live downtown do the same thing the people in the burbs do for gas, cigarettes, newspaper/magazines, toilet paper, or other occasional daily needs. We get in a car and drive to a grocery.
      The banks is aimed at tourists and visitors as far as I’m concerned, not much there for a local.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Doesn’t “Fountain News” carry all the things you describe and they are open late?

      I swear by them when I’m getting ready to head back to Chicago on the megabus and need to grab a snack to munch on. I wouldn’t call them a grocery by any means but they are a really nice convience store that’s actually open anytime.

    • Yes they do, and so does Walgreens. But since I’m at Kroger getting cereal and lunch meat why not buy all those things there cheaper?

    • Neil Clingerman

      Can’t disagree with you regarding the importance of an urban grocery for helping the growth of Cincy’s downtown/OTR.

    • Matt Jacob

      Otr kroger and Findley Market closing early makes me drive up the hill to Clifton kroger. Anyone else shop at night?

    • Eric Douglas

      Try the Economy Meat Market in Covington across from LaRosa’s if you don’t want to venture too far for a Kroger.

    • charles ross

      Boy, this should be an opportunity for Covington to get a small grocery going near the Roebling. Mainstrasse restaurants might have lost out to all the new hotspots, but there’s a big need for a decent grocery you could walk across the bridge or ride one of those little buses to. Booze and Cigs they got covered areddy.

      But if you get in a car, the NewPort Pavillion generica zone is super quick from the Banks and most places near downtown.

    • Eric Douglas

      Economy Meat Market has fresher and cheaper vegetables and meat than any Kroger I’ve been to and it’s two blocks from Roebling Pt. You pay more for other things like toiletries but I think it’s one of those hidden places not enough people know about if you’re willing to break up your grocery trips.

    • charles ross

      are they open late?

    • charles ross

      Economy Meat Market: Are they open late?

      Also, consider Walnut Hills Kroger up Gilbert. Much less hectic than Corryville, and McMillan has been cleaned up majorly in the last year.

    • Jenny Kessler

      OTR Kroger closes at 9pm during the week.

    • Eric Douglas

      And that’s too bad because it reduces the reasons to live downtown compared to the suburbs or the stronger neighborhood business districts. There are other buying trips between the once a week or two grocery store trip- church, library, dentist, fast food, prescriptions, etc. Mostly things you can also do downtown just not as easily.

    • Who decides where to live based on where they’re going to buy groceries? Its funny how its always the people looking for reasons not to live downtown who bring up groceries.

    • Eric Douglas

      Dude, I listed 7 other uses.

      Only making a housing product-to-product comparison when buying puts urban areas at a disadvantage if you’re doing all of your shopping in the suburban mode.

    • matimal

      The Walgreens and CVS at 6th and Race are open late into the evening.

  • Matt Jacob

    I think the problem is overstated. There are still many new businesses opening that I’d venture outnumber the closings. This is just the natural life cycle of retail. Newer concepts arise; the cheap rent you got for being the first tenant in the GQ gets adjusted to the new market rent; owners get tired of what they’ve been doing and close even if marginally successful. Overall retail in the Cincinnati is coming back, not slipping backwards.

    • Eric Douglas

      I’m not surprised Atomic Number 10 closed just based on foot traffic in the area.

    • Matt Jacob

      My understanding is that they do fine there, just their 5 year lease was up and the owners used it as an opportunity to stop and do something else rather than get tied down again. Don’t know much beyond that, but they get traffic during Final Fridays and Second Sundays like many of the art galleries and clothing shops along Main. Most of them turnover fairly frequently but I think the summertime traffic is there for those with good products. I’ve noticed some similar indy clothing shops opening on Main south of Central Parkway recently. (Proof of more openings than closings). These should get more constant traffic once the streetcar moves people past consistently year round too and therefore last longer if they have good products.

  • Creative destruction is destructive. That’s the downside.

    • zschmiez

      but maybe its like hairloss/graying: its gonna happen whether you (generically speaking) like it or not (no graying or bald pun intended).

      Agree though that if you look at the list of expanding businesses it probably outweighs those disappearing. Enzo closed, but in it goes CafeLang Thang who has shown success in other ventures, and is local, and is independent. Same with Holtman’s.

      It is a bit food-and-drink heavy, but people eat 3 times a day. They dont buy pants every day or even every week/month, so the density needed to support those venutres isnt quite there (never mind that not all OTR residents have the same taste as its a mixed bag of neighbors).

      It also goes without saying that running retail and eateries is a tireless business. Burnout is going to happen. May not be the case for those in this story, but not everyone is cut out for it.

      I think if you had to play Sim-City with downtown/OTR, you’d build residental, a grocery, some restaurants and retail and hope everyone is happy. But isnt that just recreating a plastic burb? By letting things happen organically its ultimately stronger in the longrun (i.e. Eli’s bbq in the oddest of locations, yet an hour wait on a nice day).

      Lat random thought: Cincy is certainly not the only city who falls into auto-dependence. Cbus does, Chicago does less, but its still very prevalent, and even as hot as Austin is, traffic is abysmal (although the latter 2 have a better bike infrastructure).

    • Eric Douglas

      The Columbus Short North area is better than any urban shopping/dining stretch I’ve been to in Cincy, and their arena district makes the banks look like a walmart. I think the difference between Cincy and Columbus is that the building process is really short circuited here, rather than good, incremental design that turns out better.

    • zschmiez

      But they lack a grocery store as well in the AD. Yes Eagle is close, but its close to a mile to some of the new developments (unless a new one has gone up). And its still auto-heavy (most of those developments have private garages or lots)

      Cbus also has about a 10 year head-start on Cincy (Cincys own fault).

      I dont necessarily think the SN planned better. I think it just has 5 times the foot traffic, and happens to connect the AD and the University District which are HUGE in entertainment value.

      Its a machine there though. And a lot of luck and town pride (as opposed to neighborhood pride).

    • Eric Douglas

      Isn’t North Market across the street from the AD? I just brought up Short North since you mentioned Columbus and we’re talking about downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. But it’s probably more of a question of how you define a Midtown area versus what’s just a neighborhood.

    • zschmiez

      No I’d put Cbus in this conversation, mainly because if one can get it done in Cbus there isnt a great excuse not to be able to get it done in any other Ohio City.

      I always viewed North Market as more of a novelty than a resource. Sort of like Findlay it probably does 75% of its business during the weekend, and has limited hours on weekdays (9-7 according to website). And I was a fan many years ago. Maybe I’m wrong.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Very good point on pride, its something Cincy could use way more of, being so down on the city doesn’t help improve things at all.

    • matimal

      We clearly look at things through very different lenses.

    • The geography helps with the length and foot traffic of Short North. But yes, Short North has a lot of things OTR/downtown still doesn’t… including a shoppable urban Kroger.

    • I would also say that Short North is far more auto-oriented than any place in Downtown or Over-the-Rhine. The density in Columbus falls off very quickly and is totally void of any building stock like what is found in Cincinnati’s center city. A better comparison for Columbus’ Short North district would be Charlotte’s Fourth Ward or Dilworth neighborhoods.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I remember looking at NYTimes density maps of Columbus between Short North and Old North Columbus, pretty much everything around campus had population densities of ~15,000 per mi sq. That’s comparable to only the NKY river cities and the Gateway part of OTR right now in Cincy. There is no doubt the built enviornment of Cincy is much better, but Columbus does way more with way less – High Street is probably the most urban vibrant corridor in the Midwest outside of Chicago. (yet beyond high street its a pretty awful place as far as urban enviornments go).

      Makes me excited to see what happens when Cincy fully catches up in a few years 😉

    • You have homes with backyards literally one block off of N. High Street in Columbus. Individual yards essentially do not exist in either Downtown or OTR.

      Furthermore, I would say that there are really only four contiguous blocks on N. High Street that are truly impressive. The rest is made up of pretty low-slung, auto-oriented buildings that are built to the street. There are many surface parking lots along the main drag.

      I suspect the density of the area is boosted by the homes that have been transitioned into overcrowded student housing complexes. It is not all that different from what Calhoun/McMillan have become in Cincinnati’s Clifton Heights neighborhood. I would say that Columbus has better quality design, but that Cincy has greater density and more compactness.

      I agree that Short North is very nice, but it’s just about all Columbus has got on that front, whereas Cincinnati has a dozen or so neighborhood business districts. And while the Short North district may have a nice population density, there is literally no other place in Ohio that is similar to the building stock and urban layout of Over-the-Rhine or portions of the CBD and West End.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I agree with you, though even with the parking lots, the area near campus and North of downtown on High Street still has a lot of pedestrian activity. If Northern OTR/”Bethlehem” were more vibrant, I’d love to see the same sort of “Student Spillover” occur in Cincy. Imagine Vine Street like this and how much cooler it would be given what’s already there got the TLC it deserves.

      Yeah few cities in the whole country can compete with Cincy historic housing stock, though it would be nice if this guy from Columbus would come down and show people how to improve the infill: (the front page has a pic of what’s probably the nicest infill building I’ve seen in Ohio – its faux historic Cincinnati plopped in Columbus).

    • Columbus has a lot of good things going for it. Outside of Short North they also have Italian Village and German Village. I consider German Village to be one of the best maintained urban historic districts in the state. If the neighborhood weren’t severed by the interstate to its north, it would easily be the best neighborhood in Ohio, and one of the best in the Midwest.

    • Neil Clingerman

      German village is great too, shame Columbus’ downtown is kind of a black hole, though a look at Urban Ohio shows they are working on that quite nicely.

    • Short North has a lot of “missing teeth” (mostly parking lots), but that’s not much different than downtown or, to an extent, OTR. (OTR’s building stock is of course a little more dense and more historic than Short North.)

      The auto-oriented nature may have more to do with High being a main thoroughfare. When I was last there, I saw a lot of through traffic on High but very little drive-and-stop. Plenty of pedestrians, though this was a Saturday evening.

    • Short North in Columbus is also arguably one of the only independent neighborhood business districts in Columbus. Yes it’s big, but if all of Cincinnati’s neighborhood business districts were concentrated in two or three locations then those locations would be bigger too.

    • Eric Douglas

      There really isn’t any one business district here though where a local or a tourist can get lost eating and shopping for an entire day like in Short North or Armitage Ave/Southport Chicago. You can do OTR or downtown in 3-4 hours.

    • matimal

      I couldn’t “do” otr /downtown in a week. you see things so simply.

    • Eric Douglas

      I guess I’m just a simpleton with a stalker.

    • matimal

      Don’t flatter yourself. Respond to the substance of what people write and everything will be fine.

    • Short North is not that big. It’s a great district, but I think some people in this comment section are over romanticizing it.

      And I too agree that it would be difficult to experience all of Downtown/OTR in a day, much less a few hours. Typically when I show people around it takes several days to cover just Downtown/OTR.

    • Eric Douglas

      I’m not talking about talking people on a general tour of downtown or OTR, of course you can’t cover that in a day. I’m talking about the industry of tourism.

      Experiment: Drop a tourist at Vine and Central and have them try to spend more than 3 hours eating and, specifically, shopping in OTR.

    • matimal

      Does Columbus have any of these things? OTR and downtown have become one area and are far more dense than the Short North and downtown Columbus.

    • If I were to play SimCity with Downtown/OTR I would build high-rises everywhere just so that I could later destroy them with a asteroid. That’s how real SimCity gamers do it!

  • matimal

    This is the creative destruction of a growing city. Rising rents and competition between neighborhoods are signs of increasing economic activity. It gives more and different people the opportunity to invest their time and money in new economic activity of various kinds in Cincinnati. Market forces are reasserting themselves in places and in ways they have not been present in Cincinnati for decades.

  • Neil Clingerman

    I don’t think Smartfish exactly closed, they rather evolved:

  • Christian Huelsman

    Exactly. The owner, I believe, left town for a year to learn from other shoe makers. Meanwhile, good friends have morphed the space into a amalgam of Smartfish’s offerings and local music and craft wares. Don’t know if Smartfish will take over the space again when she returns. But I’d hardly equate it to a business casuality, just an evolution. Alisha still owns the space.

    • Caitlin Behle

      Alisha hasn’t left town yet and is still an owner of Rock Paper Scissors.

  • I’m confused by a few of the “closed” businesses. As a few have stated, Smartfish didn’t close. Chez Nora is now officially closing, but I believe it’s still for sale and could technically re-open. And my understanding was Joseph Williams is considering re-locating, not officially closing.

    It’s clearer and clearer there needs to be a better, more sustainable mix of stores in OTR/downtown. Higher-revenue bars and restaurants may have an easier time paying the rent, but you don’t create a neighborhood based on that alone.

    • Joseph Williams is considering opening at another location, but as it currently stands, they are closed.

    • Jake Mecklenborg

      OTR’s signage regulations need to go. Without illuminated signs people can’t tell that there are even businesses in many of the storefronts.

    • Matt Jacob

      Lucy Blue had a bunch of trouble getting through the historic regulations that go with putting up a sign in otr apparently. They were forced to make their awning retract amongst other changes in order to get it passed. Seemed a little ridiculous to me since they have no intention to ever retract it but it costs more.

    • Eric Douglas

      Awnings are overrated, anyways. How often is the weather bad enough that they’re needed and they just reduce visibility on the sidewalk. You can’t walk down the north side of Ludlow without hitting your head on an awning or banner.

    • charles ross

      Neon Renaissance, anyone? Bring it on!

    • Eric Douglas

      The coolest signs in OTR are some of the largest- Paint, NY cleaners, ghost signs.

    • This is why we noted that new businesses have either opened or plan to open in some of these spaces soon. Smartfish is a unique example. For the purposes of this story we looked at it as if Smartfish closed and Rock Paper Scissors opened. The story would have been diluted and far too long to go through each specific transaction. The real point is to highlight the recent struggles culminating in the closure of many small, locally owned businesses.

  • Hollyann Howard

    I love Atomic Number Ten. Another place that closed was Oh, Darling Vintage in Newport. They’re just doing online sales now I think. 🙁

  • Jenny Kessler

    We celebrate every time someone puts their life on the line by opening a small businesses. How neat, to have new businesses in the neighborhood! Aren’t they awesome? And then, more often than not, (myself included), we hop in the car or click online to get the better deal or the more ‘convenient’ option.

    It’s harder to support small businesses that one can’t shop at regularly – Joseph Williams stuff was mostly out of my price range, and I can’t go in every week to buy a painting or a new piece of furniture. But Park+Vine has stuff I can buy regularly. I can get prescriptions filled and buy health/beauty supplies at the downtown CVS or Walgreens. I can get over my ‘fear’ of a dingy Kroger which closes at 9pm, btw – and buy a good amount of weekly groceries at the Vine Street location.

    For every “why don’t we have a grocery store downtown”?, we need five more “these are the EXISTING places that I monetarily support”. It’s hard, but not impossible, to get everyday things we need from businesses that are daily relying on us. It’s way past time to put our money where our mouths are, or we will continue to see our neighbors closing their doors.

    • Barb Cooper


    • Brad McLaughlin

      Between the Vine St Kroger, Findlay Market, Avril-Bleh, CVS, Walgreens, heck even the old Cianciolo’s or the now closed Circle A in an pinch…has me 99% covered. Sometimes things are hidden in plain sight. Came time to paint my apt, I was about to hit a Lowe’s…there is a Trust Worthy hardware store on Main. I must have walked by it a million times.