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Northsiders Weigh Pros And Cons Of Changes

Bill Rinehart
People in Northside are watching to see what business will fill the ground floor of the newly opened Gantry.

Northside is one of Cincinnati's unique neighborhoods, and Northsiders like it like that. But new people are moving in and outside businesses are looking at opportunities in the neighborhood.

So, can Northside grow and change and still keep its eccentric identity?Northside just got its first brand new big development in 60 years. The Gantry is a mixed use building with apartments and commercial space in the neighborhood's business district along Hamilton Ave. Before community representatives cut the ribbon for Gantry earlier this month, developer Greg Martin joked about what might go into the ground floor.

"Contrary to popular internet rumors, there are no plans for an Applebee's or any other national chain."

There were chuckles at the mere suggestion of a chain restaurant. That's because Northside is home to a lot of small, locally-owned businesses. Community Council President Ollie Kroner says a lot of people want it to stay that way.

"People celebrate (our) unique identity. Our Fourth of July parade is about expression of unique character. You know, from a policy perspective, we do our best to maintain 'mom and pop' businesses as opposed to formula businesses," he says.

Not everyone is opposed to nationally owned businesses in Northside.

Susan Deister lives behind Gantry, and while she doesn't like the building, she says she'd like to see something like a Panera open up inside. Deister says Northside can have 'mom and-pops' and chains and still keep its identity.

"Northside isn't really providing every resident everything that they need. And I've heard this all too often that a lot of these restaurants aren't open on Sundays."

Deister says Gantry looks like other buildings across the country so the neighborhood shouldn't object to a few businesses that can be found anywhere.

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
White Castle, Taco Bell and KFC all, as Ollie Kroner puts it, "slipped in" to Northside. Some residents are fighting to keep other chains out.

It's not as if there aren't chains in Northside. There's a White Castle, and Taco Bell and KFC share a building along Hamilton Ave. But still, to appease people, Gantry's developer promised it would not entertain offers from chains.

Angie Asselin has lived in Northside for about 12 years. Over an iced tea at the family-owned Blue Jay Cafe, she says Gantry can bring more people in, people who will be new customers for all the locally owned businesses. But, she's still a little worried about the new retail space.

"There's open spaces already available that if people wanted to make the jump into being an entrepreneur in the neighborhood, they could. But now we have these new spaces that are going to be quite a bit more to rent for businesses," she says.

Community Council President Ollie Kroner says that shouldn't matter. Northside may be different but economic rules still apply. Having more retail space should drive prices down, not up.

He says he knows Northsiders are anxious about the future, and he says there's a balance between preserving and growing. Kroner says one has to change to stay alive.

"Times are changing, you know? When suburbs were in vogue, Northside was not thriving. And now we see a swing in the opposite direction and suddenly we have a neighborhood model that people find attractive."

Kroner says an announcement coming soon about a tenant for the ground floor of Gantry should put to rest a lot of the concerns Northsiders have.