Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, signs of growth continue within Avondale Town Center on Reading Road, where commercial tenants are moving ahead with opening new businesses.
“We are at a 63 percent occupancy rate for signed leases,“ said Reginald Harris, director of community life for The Community Builders, the developer and property management company overseeing the Avondale Town Center redevelopment.
The largest open space is 15,000 square feet, which will be split between a much-needed grocery store option and the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio's new Center for Social Justice. Now, several prime commercial spaces facing Reading Road are under lease, and a majority of new establishments are owned by African Americans.
“54 percent of businesses that are occupying our space are Black-owned.," Harris said. "We're in negotiations with an additional 22 percent of getting those letters of intent signed and those leases negotiated.”
Signs are already posted announcing several of the businesses that are "coming soon." One is Zola's Bar and Grill on the high-visibility southwest corner of the Avondale Town Center.
“We’re going to have more like Afro-Latino-Caribbean (food)," said Zola Stewart, the restaurant's owner who lives in Avondale. "A mixture of all of that, but mainly the food's going to taste great.”
Zola's Bar and Grill will relocate from its previous location in Greenhills, which was heavily impacted by the pandemic.
“This is going to be a much larger undertaking than Greenhills," she said. "This is brand new space. And, if I had to do it all over, this is how I would do it."
One key difference is her plan to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. She also plans to have regular live entertainment from national and local musicians and comedians.
“I love live music and most of the people that came to the venue, if they didn’t hear about the food, they heard about the music and they loved the food and the environment as well,” she said.
Stewart said the food option will be "quick serve" meals, but not fast food. She said she'll use lots of fresh ingredients.
"My restaurant was always known for our menu items, our fresh menu items,” she added. She expects she will be able to open by the summer of 2021.
Meanwhile, two beauty service businesses will be opening a few doors away from Zola's. Styles of Perfection and Champs Nail Salon are both owned by Nate Tubbs, a Cincinnati native and former heavyweight boxing champion.
“Basically, I’ve been in the beauty salon business for the last 20 years," Tubbs said. "This is maybe my sixth salon and my first nail salon.”
Tubbs said he is also a promoter. He wants his businesses to be inspiring to young people in Avondale who may also be interested in being entrepreneurs. He said there aren't enough role models today.
"I come from an era where we looked up to other role models in sports and whatever else,” Tubbs said.
Having most of the businesses in the Avondale Town Center be Black-owned lives up to a direct request from the community, Harris said.
“To be able to deliver on that and to be able to, at this point, shows our commitment to the community and their request and their desire to imagine and create the neighborhood in the image that they want,” Harris said.
For Stewart, it's the neighborhood she wants, too. She's a Bronx native, but Avondale is her home.
“I want Avondale to have all the same benefits and for people to feel good about living here as they do in all of the other parts of the community,” she said.
Grocery store game changer
The highly anticipated grocery store is seen as a game changer to many Avondale leaders.
“I’m hoping that the store here in Avondale will cater to the people that are here," said Sandra Jones Mitchell, president of the Avondale Community Council. "You’ve got folks here that are struggling with jobs. You’ve got people that are struggling with several folks in the household.”
She said having access to fresh, healthy food and nearby jobs will be helpful. Those are some of the points included in a community benefits agreement with the grocery operators.
“We just wanted to make sure that again it’s a quality service, that some of the folks in Avondale have an opportunity to work there, but also bring that relationship back to the community council so that we can have an update from time to time on some of the things they may be challenged with,” Jones Mitchell said.
Center for Social Justice
The Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio's Center for Social Justice is also expected in a way to help forge the relationship between the grocery store and the Avondale community.
“What a nice marriage of doing two things at once, because we will have traffic in the center that will help to support the grocery store,” said Eddie Koen, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.
“When you think about social justice, it expanded beyond policing. It also includes food justice. It includes income justice,” said Koen. The Urban League's social justice center will be located next to the grocery store.
Koen said the large community center will have space to gather, as well as state-of-the-art technology for virtual meetings. But it will also be a hub for dealing with community needs and issues.
“The Center for Social Justice really is envisioning a region that is free from racial profiling, police bias, excessive use of force and racial disparity in the criminal justice system,” Koen said.
He said the center will also work on community relationships with police departments across the region.
“It’s just good timing to be able to have a space that’s almost three times larger than our community space in our headquarters that will be far more advanced technologically,” Koen said.
Harris said the grocery store is expected to open by either late 2021 or early 2022.