CINCINNATI - When you pull up to the new Jungle Jim's store in Eastgate, you realize this place is enormous and exactly what you would expect from "Jungle" Jim Bonaminio. He's the man who built what is a carnival-style atmosphere in Fairfield, the first, and currently only operating Jungle Jim Market.
The exterior has a huge train trestle with a former tram from Kings Island Amusement Park seemingly breaking out of the building. The razzle dazzle is clearly spreading east.
At the Fairfield location there are animatronic bears singing. You know you are in the honey section of the store when you see the giant honey bee. The beer and wine market is enormous and so is the international section.
Bonaminio says it was dreading going shopping with his wife that influenced the style that now permeates his stores. "So the woman goes shopping. Now all of a sudden I have some stuff for her husband there. So now he wants to go. He gets cigars, beer, wine, whatever. Now how about I put something in it for the kids. Before you know it, you have the family coming, it's something you have to do anyway, and it's a family event."
This is exactly what Bonaminio plans for his second location in Eastgate. He's taking spare airplane parts and building a 50-foot wide plane, wings and all, for the hot wings section of the store. He recently bought an old fire truck that will hold all the hot sauce. In all, Bonaminio thinks there will be something in the neighborhood of 25 different departments in the new location.
The space is certainly large enough to handle so many departments. Approximately 228,000 square feet of shopping floor space. That's significantly larger than his original store, which totals 187,000 square feet. The new store will have 2,143 parking spaces and 75 registers. The whole things sits on 43 acres and is expected to employ 350 to 400 people when it opens sometime in June.
Bonaminio is purposely cagey about such facts as to when the store will officially open. He says he doesn't have a clue as to the date, but that when it opens, the place will still be under construction. "We'll be working here. They will see forklifts, carpenters walking around because there's no way I'm gonna be done."
Which is partially what attracts people to his store. The location in Fairfield always seems to be a work in progress. Whether it's a fake petting zoo added to the exterior or a banquet facility built on site. That's because Bonaminio says he always needs a challenge. "It's the only reason I'm doing this thing. Because I'm bored."
In fact, Bonaminio has a team of people who follow through on all of his ideas. His first love is "picking" or buying old things no one is using any longer. He then turns the things into something useful for his store. The wood inside what will be the wine room at the new location was taken from an old submarine. The arch that welcomes people into the section is left over from the Winterfest celebrations at Kings Island.
"We build everything," said Bonaminio. "Out of our own little shop. Everything comes out of the shop and it's all made of leftovers from someplace else." That's the way Bonaminio prefers it. He says it's "green", but when he first started with little money, it was called "survival."
Take, for example, the bridge he bought at auction that welcomes people to the new store. It was an old B & O railroad bridge. The decorative stone at the bottom of the bridge is cobblestone he purchased when it was pulled out of the Cincinnati riverfront to make way for The Banks development.
"I like building stuff," he said. "I like creating things."
He showed us florescent light fixtures near where the registers will be in the new store. He doesn't like the way they look. "They're ugly," he said. So, he bought scrap decking material and had boxes built around the lights. He says he likes them better now.
Ideas are always churning in Bonaminio's mind. What section will do well in his new store. How he can display items attractively and inexpensively. The ideas are percolating in his brain right now? "Pet bakery. Isn't that cool?" he asked. Asked if he will add a pet bakery to the new store, he playfully smiles and said, "I'm thinking about it."