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OTR Businesses Board Up As A Means Of Protection, And For Some, Solidarity

Tana Weingartner
A customer exits City Gear, which sustained damage during weekend protests but is open for business.

Some Over-the-Rhine businesses are open and others remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic and protests over the police killing of George Floyd continue.

Plywood covers missing front windows at City Gear on Race Street, but Store Manager Lamar Mills says damage from the protests wasn't too bad and they're in the process of getting the glass replaced. He's optimistic about the weekend.

"I feel like it's going to be alright," he says. "I feel like the damage is done, it's over with, so it's kind of died down."

Mills says customers were quick to return when the store reopened after the pandemic closure.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Kismet employees add messages supporting the protests to plywood boards protecting store windows.

Plywood covers many storefronts. Some are boarded over because they sustained damage during the protests, other as a preventive measure should violence or looting break out.

A lot of the wooden coverings are painted with messages supporting the protestors. Even stores that aren't boarded up tend to have some kind of message of support. Some say they're closed out of solidarity, others announce in big letters that they are "Black Owned" to dissuade those who might be looking to do harm.

There's lots of colorful artwork too. At Kismet Thursday afternoon, owner Victor Williams gave his plywood a fresh coat of paint and employees added a Black Power fist and the word's "No Justice, No Peace."

"We're putting up messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to show them that we support them and we stand behind them and we also want to work for change," Williams says.

He says the store didn't have any damage and while he has insurance, it likely doesn't cover civil unrest. He's had to furlough employees during the pandemic but was able to move some business online. Still, revenues are taking a hit.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Storefronts throughout Over-the-Rhine.

The Little Mahatma jewelry store a few doors down is boarded up. Co-owner Dan Schwandner hopes to reopen Friday. He says the pandemic really hurt sales and while he supports the right to protest, he's hoping any violence or damaging is over.

Further up the block, Tammie Scott and Joey Cromwell stand outside another boarded up storefront.

"We didn't have any damage but we boarded up to support the neighbors and spread a positive message to the community," Scott says.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Tammie Scott and Joey Cromwell are opening Nostalgia Wine and Jazz Lounge on Vine Street.

They're two of the owners of Nostalgia Wine and Jazz Lounge, set to open in July. Inside, a beautiful tapestry wallpaper dominates one wall. Images of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday will go up soon along with wine lockers behind the bar. Scott was inspired by stories her grandmother told her about the Cotton Club in Cincinnati's West End.

"That place in particular was the only integrated night club in Cincinnati at its time. They would go hear live music... it was one of the only places in the city where you could catch live music at that time."

Nostalgia will have wine on tap, an outdoor patio and an indoor stage for live jazz music, spoken word and maybe some "fun karaoke," Cromwell adds with a grin.

Outside Nostalgia, Ernest Foster and Miss Black are taking a walk around their neighborhood. It's a beautiful, quiet day, she says with a wide smile.

"Thank God it is!" she adds. The protests happening outside her home, she says, made her nervous. "It was all upsetting, I'm up in age and... I appreciated it, I know what they were doing... but the rest of the looting and all of that, I don't think that's right."

Foster is reminded of previous events. "It's another return from Avondale in the late '60s and then again in Cincinnati in 2001... It's just, I don't know. Instead of people being leaders, they want to follow. Quit following and be a leader," he says of those who chose to cause damage or loot instead of simply protesting.

Both think some of those causing damage were from out of town and some were local.