Female-owned businesses revitalize the East Walnut Hills shopping district.
Something interesting is happening in East Walnut Hills. And it’s not just that this once-rundown neighborhood — often forgotten when discussing ‘hood “hipness” in favor of communities such as OTR, Hyde Park or Northside — is experiencing its own urban revival. It’s that the growing business district of Woodburn Avenue is almost entirely powered by women.
Women have been ruling the East Walnut Hills business scene for years with their salons, art galleries, boutiques, fitness studios and more. And since last fall alone, at least five new female-owned Woodburn storefronts have opened, with more in the offing.
“I believe in energies,” says Annie Bolling, who opened the PAC Gallery on Woodburn in 2009 and yoga/Pilates studio, Clear, next door in 2011. “When I would drive down Woodburn, I felt like this place was on the verge. The potential was there. I could see the storefronts filled and people walking up and down the street.”
Officially incorporated in 1866, East Walnut Hills became a destination neighborhood post-Civil War for wealthy urbanites who had easier uptown access thanks to newly built streetcar lines. However, as with many urban neighborhoods in the late 20th century, decay and crime slowly crept in as the suburbs boomed and longtime small businesses closed up shop. These days, however, a combination of factors — including the recession — has inspired creative, entrepreneurial Cincinnati women to step up to the plate and make this charming, historic neighborhood their own.
For example, Bolling opened PAC to address her desire to bring contemporary art to the Cincy masses; Clear followed as an extension of her side job doing private fitness training. Catherine Meguire wanted to feel more connected to her half-French side while living stateside, so in 2011 she opened Le Bon Vivant, a local source for all things French. An opportunity created by the closing of MoCa cafe opened the door for Sandy Vierling to debut Cafe DeSales in early 2012. High online sales traffic from Cincinnati to North Carolina clothing boutique Oomph inspired Arien Agurs to launch a second location here. And finding a modern space that could combine the practicality of a salon with the aesthetics of a creative space attracted Parlour owner Jessie Hoffman to her Woodburn storefront.
East Walnut Hills’ mix of affordable rentals and stately old homes appeals to a diverse group of residents, from young singles and couples to seniors and everyone in between. As the younger generation continues to buck old trends — staying in the city instead of fleeing to the ‘burbs, and holding off on new home and car purchases — creating and maintaining opportunities for neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills to thrive becomes even more vital.
“I’m a city mouse,” Meguire says. “I love the idea of seeing these marvelous old neighborhoods being brought back to life.”
That life is most evident once every six weeks when Woodburn lights up on a Friday evening for the Walk on Woodburn. Organized and promoted by Manifest Gallery and Shawna Guip of Hi-Bred vintage, the walk combines art, food and shopping for a more laid-back alternative to downtown’s Final Friday scene.
“The collaborative mentality is in right now, and it has proven to be successful,” Bolling says. “We are including our community, not excluding them. There’s stuff for everybody here — high end and low end.”
Women own almost one third of U.S. small businesses, and most of those have 10 or fewer employees, according to research by American Express OPEN. With such a high concentration of these small businesses on Woodburn — and with many offering similar products, such as clothing, salon services or art -— you’d think things could get catty quickly. But the women of Woodburn easily defy that tired stereotype; rather than competing, the businesses complement each other, making the street a true shopping destination.
“I think women are survivors, and that sort of attitude lends well to starting your own business,” Bolling says. “We all understand that united we stand, divided we fall. When you put your sweat equity into it, there’s no room to butt heads. What’s good for one store is good for all the stores.”
“Women have courage,” Meguire adds. “We do what we feel we need to do.”
Women-owned Businesses in East Walnut Hills
Cafe DeSales 2835 Woodburn Ave.
Clear 2542 Woodburn Ave.
Hi-Bred 2548 Woodburn Ave.
Le Bon Vivant2801 Woodburn Ave.
One More Stitch1609 Madison Road
Oomph Boutique 2803 Woodburn Ave.
PAC Gallery2540 Woodburn Ave.
Palette Studios 2501 Woodburn Ave.
Parlour2600 Woodburn Ave.
Salon DeSales 2839 Woodburn Ave.
Sole Atelier 2544Woodburn Ave.
StrebelArt2723 Woodburn Ave.
Photos by Jesse Fox