BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
So, Carol, what do you think? Will a TJ Maxx restore downtown Cincinnati to its former glory? Will it breathe some life into Fourth Street? We are sitting at a tiny table in the back of the new Atlanta Bread Co. I'm a little disoriented, but I think we are right where the pinpoint cotton shirts used to be at the old Brooks Brothers store. We're a little to the left of the place where I accidentally bought a $78 tie a few years ago just because I sensed that the clerk didn't think I could afford it.
The pinpoint cotton shirts and silk ties and beautifully tailored Brooks Brothers suits have moved to Vine Street, snuggled up next to Tiffany's and the new Lazarus. Burkhardt's soon will be a Perkins Restaurant, including a bakery.
More bread. Who is eating all this bread? Aren't they afraid they won't fit into their Casual Friday khakis?
On Fourth Street, where drop-dead dresses and suits with hand-sewn buttonholes formerly were sold, The Gap offers carpenter jeans. CVS has a display of natural fiber laxative in the window.
A bunch of little kids from a day-care center walk along the street holding on to a rope. Their mothers are at work.
Times have changed.
Downtown officials have announced that TJ Maxx is going to lease the Gidding-Jenny space on Fourth Street, taking up residence in the hallowed establishment where ladies shopped, where money was no object, where time was no object.
A generation of women remember with fondness the beautiful purple Gidding's boxes, the expensive perfume spritzed in the revolving door and clerks who scurried about to do their bidding. Myself, I remember walking into the store when I first got to town in the early 1970s. The women who worked there always made me feel as though my clothes weren't good enough to be in the store with their clothes.
I browsed there occasionally, if I felt flush or just to prove I was secure enough to ignore a snub. But I took most of my business to Shillito's and Pogue's and McAlpin's and later to, well, TJ Maxx. When Gidding-Jenny tanked in August of 1995, it did not leave a hole in my life or my wardrobe. I have no feelings of reverence for this particular store, except for the downtown prosperity it represented. Across from me, sipping designer coffee, Carol Trotta answers my original question. "Yes, TJ Maxx will be good for downtown. And for Fourth Street. But we need more."
Once a buyer for Gidding-Jenny and later for Pogue's, she and her brother now run the clothing store opened 50 years ago by their father. What began as Mike Trotta's apparel for gentlemen now is Mike and Carol Trotta's.
Many of the ladies who shopped at Gidding's and Henry Harris now do business at this store on Walnut, just off Fourth Street. As do their executive daughters. The Trottas have changed with the times, but they could use some help.
Trotta's and places like Bromwell's, a Fourth Street brass and housewares specialty store, are part of what makes a shopping district distinctive. But they need some big guns, some drawing power.
"Anything that increases traffic is a plus for us," says Bromwell's co-owner Gary Gerwe. He says his business has "never been the same" since they closed L.S. Ayres -- the final incarnation of Pogue's. Later, after Carol Trotta and I finished our stroll down retail memory lane, I drove over to Rookwood Pavilion in Norwood. Business was brisk at Banash's Fabrics, at Pier 'n Port Travel, at Starbucks, at Smith & Hawken. And especially at TJ Maxx.
Shoppers. Lots of them. Spending money. And they didn't seem to mind that there was no perfume in the doorways and no snooty clerks in the dressing rooms.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org