Shopping Downtown

Some folks think that “there is no place to shop downtown.”

I’ll admit that our city does not have the best example of a downtown shopping district–at least not anymore. But at one point, I’ve been told, people flocked to the Central Business District to do their shopping. What happened? (Maybe someone who knows more about the history of downtown could fill me in?)

This is a case of the “chicken or the egg.”
Did the shopping district die because residents stopped coming downtown to shop, or did residents stop coming downtown because the shopping district died? Either way, I believe that a vibrant shopping district is directly related to a thriving residential presence in downtown.

Cincinnati is very decentralized. It may be due to the large hills or due to intentional urban planning but, either way, residency in Cincinnati centers around neighborhoods rather than downtown. But, even in our “best” neighborhoods, there are few truly thriving shopping districts. Most everyone in Cincinnati who needs to buy the basics–underwear, toilet paper, duct tape–must either get on a bus or get in a car to find the nearest place to buy them. And even in areas where stores are nearby, they are not designed for pedestrians; most of America’s new, expensive shopping districts are designed for shoppers traveling by car via the highway, not by foot via the sidewalk.

In the past two years, I’ve re-adjusted my habits of shopping to reflect a pedestrian life. And, contrary to popular belief, it appears that downtown residents have plenty of places to shop.

Just a sampling of the stores (that I frequent) within a 15-minute walk of my home:

TJ Maxx
Findlay Market
Avril & Bleh Market
Park + Vine
Mica 12/V

If I am smart about my shopping, I can go days or weeks without needing to drive to nearby shopping center. Believe me, I love a trip to Target just as much as the next mom and I still stop in at large grocery stores for the occasional hard-to-find item. But, it’s awesome to see my trips out of downtown become less and less frequent.

As far as prices are concerned, the extra money I may spend by purchasing what’s available nearby rather than comparing prices is saving me a ton of gas and car maintenance costs. No more chasing cheap prices around town.

At this point, I honestly can’t understand how some people find car rides, parking spots, and 10,000 sq ft stores to be more practical than a five-minute walk to a smaller store. Sure, I can’t do a month’s worth of grocery shopping at once (that is, until I buy one of those fancy bike trailers I’ve been eying…), but shopping in the neighborhood keeps me on my feet and out where I can meet my neighbors and see all of the exciting things that are happening in our city. I love how this adjustment in my shopping habits has changed my perspective on my neighborhood.

I know that it won’t always be so easy, depending on how many children we end up with. And I know that I won’t be so excited to run errands on foot when there is snow on the ground. But, for now, the pedestrian life is grand. (And I’ll just need to buy a good pair of snow boots.)

As a sidenote:

In my “perfect Cincinnati,” where our center city trumps the suburbs as a shopping destination, the Tower Place Mall (or the new Banks development) would be developed to include a few more large clothing and shoe stores (a la Gap or DSW), Patagonia would open up shop, there would be an Apple store, Joseph Beth would re-locate to the neighborhood, an REI would move into town, and a small-ish grocer like Fresh Market or Trader Joe’s would settle in, too.

Heck, then I’d never have to leave downtown.

What would your “perfect Cincinnati” include?

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