CINCINNATI — The new flowers sprouting along Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine are much more than a sign of spring this year.
They are also a sign of hope here in this Cincinnati neighborhood as the city begins to let itself dream about life post COVID-19.
It's been one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and life as we knew it came screeching to a halt.
Life hit this vibrant urban street hard, and soon after saw days of street protests. It left behind shuttered businesses, customers gone, and an uncertain future.
Boutique refuses to move away
Last spring, we met Tessa Clark, a local fashion designer and marketing manager of the Idlewild Woman boutique on Vine Street.
Her windows were boarded up after protests in the neighborhood, and she told us, "We pushed the product that is near the front of the store to the back of the store for now."
Despite all the setbacks and concerns that suburban shoppers might never return, she was able to stay open.
Some others -- like nearby Elm and Iron -- weren't as lucky.
One year later, the boards now gone, Idlewild Woman's windows are flooded with sunshine.
And business is picking up.
"We feel hopeful for the future and pretty good about things," Clark said.
Signs of shutdown still remain
One year later, after Governor Mike DeWine's order closed all but essential businesses, you can see the damage the pandemic has wreaked in OTR.
Once popular shops like Elm and Iron and restaurants like A Tavola have closed their Vine Street locations. (A Tavola has another location in Madeira.)
The ones who have been able to stick it out said they have now seen signs of a recovery.
Eugene Smith is catering manager at Venice on Vine, a nonprofit pizzeria that helps struggling OTR residents get back on their feet.
"It's not how it used to be," Smith said. "I can say that much."
He said Venice has been struggling -- with its pizza business down 75 percent since before the pandemic. But Smith is also positive about this spring and summer.
"We are open and we need to have your business," he said.
Vine Street starting to come back to life
He says one change to the neighborhood may make a big difference: The City of Cincinnati is making street dining, or "streeteries," permanent.
Last year's ugly barricades around outdoor tables are being replaced with planters, railings and teak sidewalks.
Some Vine Street businesses -- like Jean Robert's table -- are gone for good. Others, like Mercer restaurant on Vine, are closed but hope to reopen, according to their website.
Tessa Clark said she sees the community coming back sooner than many people expected.
"I'm excited to see OTR really pick back up this summer and fall," she said.
The bright spring outfits she has for sale, like the new flowers outside Venice on Vine, provide renewed hope for OTR, one year after this neighborhood's decade-long comeback almost ended.
Small business owners hope that as Cincinnatians get their vaccine and start venturing out again, they remember all the places that make their city so great, and come back to experience it again.
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