Downtown event honors history of Cincinnati creative community to raise money for ailing friend

CINCINNATI -- The marketing and advertising businesses in Greater Cincinnati make up a competitive community known for producing cutting-edge content to help sell products to millions of people across the globe.

However, when word spread that one of their own, Mike Amann, was stricken with Stage 4 neuroendocrine  cancer, it took very little convincing for the members of that unique fraternity to work together to create an event to benefit him and his young family.

The aptly named "Miketoberfest " was put together by more than a dozen local businesses to support two of Amann's favorite things -- his family and the rich history of creativity in the Queen City and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The ticketed event was held Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the loading docks of the former Shillito's department store at 110 Shillito Place. The site is now home to loft apartments and Landor Associates, the employer of Amann's wife, Lesley.

WATCH in the media player above: Video from the 1970s of the Shillito department store.

"Miketoberfest is a way for the creative community, all agencies to come together for Mike and Lesley, who we all love and respect so much," said Valerie Aurilio, Landor's executive creative director.

While organizers wanted to make sure people didn't lose sight of the intentions behind the event, they tried to ensure its tone reflected the personalities of the people it was held for.

"We want it to be serious, but we also want to make sure it's very fun, very design oriented and very much like Mike and Lesley," Aurilio said before the event. "Mike is such a talented designer and artist, it just makes sense."

DJs and bands such as Ohio Knife and Halvsies performed during the evening-long event, which also featured a pop-up shop that sold locally-crafted merchandise and local food trucks. Area businesses such as 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, Babylon the Salon, Jerzees, Kaze OTR and Molly Malones - Covington also participated by donating prizes that were given away in a raffle.

Event organizers say the $15 admission price offered an "opportunity for the creative community to have a good time in celebration and support of the Amanns." All the proceeds raised will go directly to the family, which includes the couple's infant son, Kaizer.

Many of the same people behind Friday's event helped host a similar benefit Sept. 19 at Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. The "Posters & Prayers " fundraiser sold "mystery tubes" filled with donated poster prints from big-name artists from across the country. The owners of the bar also gave a portion of all food and drink sales to the family to help them offset their growing medical expenses.

The success of Posters and Prayers and other such charitable events was part of the inspiration behind Miketoberfest, Aurilio said.

“We tried to jump off all the momentum for Posters and Prayers and some of those other events, which were just so successful," she said. "We knew making it fun and creative was the perfect way to get people to come out to show support for the Amann family. But we knew, just knowing Mike and Lesley, that a lot of people would show up no matter what event we put on."

Part of the reason the creative community is so connected to the Amann family has to do with the fact Mike is one of them. The 33-year-old is a graphic designer and co-owner of BLDG , a Covington-based "creative refuge that fosters the inspirational, the visionary and the uncommon."

Ten years ago Amann bought the building at 30 West Pike Street and has worked tirelessly to transform its dusty walls into an international Mecca for art and design. The Ludlow resident said via his website that he has combined his eye for design and passion for art to create a business that values a "truly authentic approach to the creative industry."

His creative and professional vigor has led him to collaborate on projects with some of the biggest names in contemporary art and helped him land work on design campaigns for major corporations. But what Amann and his cohorts at BLDG say they're most proud of is accomplishing a way for "copious creatives (to) challenge the norm, stand on the ceiling, change what’s possible."

Amann's authenticity, passion and love of life are what pushed his friends, colleagues and competitors to do whatever they could to "change what's possible" for him and his family as they face a life-changing diagnosis.

In an effort to show their support for Mike, Lesley and their family, the people at Landor have dedicated their personal time and resources over the past few weeks to finding ways to raise money for them. One thing they've done is put together a behind-the-scenes tour of a part of the Landor building that once housed Cincinnati's first department store (1832)


"Shillito's Abandoned" was a guided walking tour through and beneath the historic department store, a glamorous icon of Cincinnati's past. For $10, participants received a complementary splash of liquid courage and a 20-minute trek through local history during the Miketoberfest event.

“This is just such a unique, interesting building. We want to bring back some nods to what this place used to be and what used to happen here," said Scott Dannenfelser, the creative director of Landor's environments group.

Cincinnati’s Shillito’s was one of the largest and grandest department stores in the United States when it moved into its landmark home at the corner of Race and Seventh streets in 1878. Designed by James McLaughlin, the fashionable new store had five elevators and set the gold standard by which other retail spaces in the region were judged. After being purchased by Lazarus, the store closed its doors to shoppers in 1997.

Nearly 140 years after it opened, the cavernous 840,000-square-foot 19th-century building was opened for an evening of spooky lost-in-time tours.

"It's not a haunted house or anything and we want people to get a sense of the building's history, but we also want to do it in a way that emphasizes that this place was ‘abandoned' for many years," Dannenfelser said prior to the event. "We want people on the tour to get the sense that people just sort of walked away and it has remained largely untouched for years.”

"I guess it is kind of spooky, too," he added, following it with an understated laugh.

Tour-goers took an eerily familiar walk through Shillito’s showrooms that are still littered with merchandise, meandered through the maze of what was once Santaland, and ended in the underbelly of the building where some may have found a lingering scent of the store's cafeteria.

"It was the store," said Malena Stansell, a former Shillito's employee who reminisced after the tour about the glory days of the downtown retail industry. "It was fun coming downtown. It was fun working here and walking to the Square and shopping at the store. It was just an experience you don't get at the malls."

Tours were scheduled every 10 minutes from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. but you had to register for a specific time beforehand. You were advised to show up at least 15 minutes before you're scheduled to depart due in part to the popularity of the event.

As early as Thursday, several of the tour times had already sold out. Part of that success can be attributed to the efforts of Landor's creative geniuses, who've been hard at work promoting the event with their typical outlandish window displays.

"It all started with the windows," Dannenfelser said. "We really like to leverage our windows. It's something we’ve been doing off and on for the past couple years and it's always a hit."

Weathered mannequins donning fur coats, oversized hats, floor-length dresses and the look of a bygone era are featured in this multi-window display, along with other once-fashionable relics like a typewriter and antiquated furniture pieces.

"When designing a display we try to come up with a relevant, compelling story that play off some work we’re doing, the season or something we’re inspired by or want to inspire people with," Dannenfelser said.

In this case the inspiration wasn't too difficult to find.


You can view a photo gallery of the tour at the following link:

Remember to tweet photos from the event using the hashtags: #miketoberfest and #shillitosabandoned

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