Brews News

A Pace Ahead of Race

The Findlay Market, Cincinnati

Chad W. Lutz
On any given day, the Natti can get nasty. Without warning, you could be enjoying a puff on the porch or a beer with the buds and suddenly find yourself running for cover when an anonymous pistol lets fly a few rounds from a curious clip. People travel in groups and, if you do find yourself alone, keys can become your only line of defense from getting mugged at gunpoint. Only 9 years removed from a violent race riot sparked by the killing of a fleeing, unarmed suspect by a police officer of another race, Over The Rhine has become one of America’s most notorious cesspools of crime (cue Exogenesis).

What you might not know is that Over the Rhine is one of the oldest and largest historic districts in the country. Once a budding urban development home to nearly 45,000 people (1900), the place that some dub, “The Nightmare on Vine Street,” has been a hotbed of racial and political tension for the better part of the last three decades. Built by German immigrants in the mid 1800’s, Over-The-Rhine (which, of course, in German means a, “whale’s vagina.”) sports architecture characteristic of the time period, with narrow city streets below large, redbrick buildings seemingly built on top of one another. Today, less than one-fifth of the 1900 population still inhabit the 943 buildings now found crumbling within its limits. With the state of decay that has set in, many have left the Rhine to rot and have written it off as another urban wasteland in need of bulldozing. But tucked away between aging brick apartment buildings with shattered mug shots and cracked peeling skin is something that’s been one of Cincinnati’s most recognizable and celebrated treasures.

Findlay Market, erected in 1852, has been a staple landmark of the Queen City and stands as the oldest surviving municipal market house in Ohio. Made possible by a generous posthumous donation of land from the estate of James Findlay, one time general of the Ohio Militia and former mayor of Cincinnati (1805-1806, 1810-1811), and his wife Jane Irwin (Findlay), the market looked like a vegetable circus when I arrived. No-make-up clowns in plain grey t-shirts honking at passer byer’s while people of every background and ethnicity pick through an organic kaleidoscope of fresh fruits and veggies. Booths and venders to your left, deli’s and family-owned butcher’s to the right. Everywhere there is motion and people are bustling.

Host to 31 different stores selling everything from organic black bean burgers made from scratch to sizzling Belgium waffles hot off the griddle, Findlay Market reminded me a lot of Cleveland’s West Side Market, and really is set up in similar fashion. As you make your way towards the entrance you’re greeted with a long row of venders selling produce to poultry that opens up into the Market House, the main enclosed area of the complex. Along the way you pass the Eckerlin Meats Co., a local butcher that’s been open since the market first broke ground in 1852. You could smell the Genoa and Dutch loaf mixing with the mouthwatering aroma of freshly shredded roast beef as soon as you stepped through their doors (that know just how to set the mood labeled, “No Handguns,” in big bold letters). Across from it, through a small valley of benches and tables busting with people posting up to enjoy a few of the culinary treats they just purchased is the Silverglades deli/general store that has been a part of the market since 1922.

But it’s not just food that has this market teaming. Alive and thriving outside the indoor market is a heaping helping of local arts and crafts venders. I ran into one woman, the owner and operator of a certain Nefertari’s Gems, situated hodge-podgingly next to a disinterested looking Dianetics counselor.

“I gotta live up to the princess by havin’ beautiful gems to sell,” she said with a gap-toothed smile, referring to the Egyptian Princess whom her operation is named after. She, along with just about every other vender that I talked to, were all very friendly and jovially jived right along. You almost forgot that you were in the middle of one of the worst parts of any city in any part of the United States. Tie-dyes and Timberland’s alike walked and talked in harmony. Maybe it was the constant smell of food distracting us from each other, or the fact that it created a single commonality that everyone seemed to get excited about. But nowhere to be found was the sense that you were in danger; a stark contrast from the feeling you got tooling down Vine St. on your way to the corner of Elm and Elder.

It was a cultural concoction, and adding to the chaotic array of different food places were the Amish, the Taste of Belgium waffle stand, and the Dojo Gelato, where I watched one of their employees make good to a customer of another race that almost walked away without their change; different races walking the world at different paces and still receiving the same amount of respect. I even had the chance to talk to the Cincinnati Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, who was gracious enough to give me the run down of one of their upcoming events.

“Basically what’s taking place is the Habitat For Humanity “Raise the Roof” 5K run/walk, whichever you prefer, that will benefit the foundation. It’s taking place on Saturday, September 18th with the race starting at 10am. There’ll even be a little after party to follow, too,” said the spokesperson, Jamie.

I raised my right hand in the air and hooted, “party!” Her hard, silent, confused stare and blank expression clued me in that it was not that kind of party.

But there it was, a charity, right smack dab in the middle of the area has ranked the worst neighborhood in the country (from Central Pkwy/ Liberty St.). There were kids carrying balloons, babies in strollers, families out for a beautiful afternoon together, the birds chirping and the sun a-shining. Only after indulging on a massive, handmade black bean burger with freshly grilled peppers and onions on a homemade corn meal bun with a smear of organic stone-ground Dijon did I finally feel ready to go. But on our way out I saw something I don’t think I’ll soon forget.

An image; almost heavenly, of a little suburban girl straying from her mother with a balloon in her hand approaching an elderly, but sprightly jovial old man playing a guitar under an umbrella, caught my eye. She was maybe eight years old; he was about 65, maybe even seventy. The years looked worn into his face, and the age yet to be shown on the little girls, was evaporated for a moment in time. She reached out, and with the balloon still nestled in her tiny little palm, extended the bright red balloon to the aging stranger with the guitar. They smiled at each other for a moment before the mother caught up and apologized to the old man, who instantly waved the apology off as unnecessary saying, “oh, that’s alright,” and began strumming away to find the next tune with a smile a mile wide on his face. And as we made our way through the parking lot, out into the decaying ruins of a once vibrant and bustling immigrant metropolis, the sound of, “All You Need Is Love,” swept across the air; this one for the little white girl unafraid to approach an elderly black man, in a place, where it seems, Love might be needed most.

*Findlay Market is located on the corner of Elm St. and West Elder St. in downtown Cincinnati. Hours of operation are Tuesday – Friday: 9am. – 6pm., Saturday: 8am. – 6pm., and Sunday: 10am. – 4pm.