Sunday, June 11, 2000

Northside becoming center of gay life

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's last gay pride parade was held downtown in 1995 and drew about 300 people. So when plans for today's parade were hatched a year ago, one of the first ideas to increase attendance and reduce conflict was to “have it in our neighborhood,” says Chris Good, who led the parade organizing committee.

        “Our neighborhood,” for gay Cincinnati, is Northside.

        Gay pride day events begin with a rally at 11 a.m. at Burnet Woods in Clifton. The parade starts there at noon and follows a 1.8-mile route into Northside. A festival and stage show will follow at Hoffner Park, Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Road, in Northside.

        Hundreds of gays and lesbians own houses or rent apartments in Northside. And two decades after Crazy Ladies, a bookstore that caters to lesbians, opened on Hamilton Avenue, several other gay-oriented or gay-friendly businesses now line Northside's main street. Rainbow-striped gay pride flags hang from several buildings along the strip.

  • What: Cincinnati Gay Pride Parade and Rally.
  • When: 11 a.m. today. Parade begins at noon.
  • Where: Rally at the Burnet Woods gazebo, Clifton. Parade will follow 1.8-mile route from Burnet Woods on Ludlow Avenue, across Ludlow Viaduct and onto Hamilton Avenue in Northside, ending at Hoffner Park.
  • Miscellaneous: A festival and stage show will be held from 1-5 p.m. today at Hoffer Park, Blue Rock Road and Hamilton Avenue, Northside.
  • Information: 389-9182.
        One of the newer businesses is Jacobs' on the Avenue, a dance club for gays and non-gays that opened in February 1999. It's owned by Don Padgett, an openly gay 40-year-old who also owns a house in Northside and has a definite vision for the community.

        “Short North in Columbus,” he says. It's known as the gay neighborhood near the Ohio State University campus.

        “It has a much more "liberal' business district than anything in Cincinnati, and I think we can do that here,” says Mr. Padgett, who moved to Northside because many of his gay friends did and liked the neighborhood.

        Besides Jacobs', some of Hamilton Avenue's other gay-oriented businesses are Bullfishes and the Serpent bars and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Greater Cincinnati. Among the businesses that have loyal gay and lesbian customers is the Boca restaurant.

        Northside has a population of 10,500 and is between Spring Grove Cemetery and Mount Airy Forest, just north of the intersection of interstates 74 and 75. Business owners, who complain that “nobody knows where Northside is,” refer to it as “North Clifton.”

        About 20 percent of Northside residents are African-Americans, and it has long been one of Cincinnati's most diverse communities. Early in the 20th century, factory owners, managers and workers all found homes there. Those workers were African-Americans and people of German and Irish descent. Appalachians moving to the city for work also moved in and added to the neighborhood's diversity.

        It was that diversity and openness to diversity that led Carolyn Dellenbach in 1979 to establish Crazy Ladies bookstore, named for a story she had heard about a woman who followed her own path and was called a “crazy lady.”

        Three years later, she sold the store to a collective, which eventually evolved into a businesslike board of directors that formed a nonprofit, established a center and bought a building.

        Jan Smith, 62, a retired elementary-school teacher from Mount Airy, works part time at Crazy Ladies.

        “I came here when I wasn't out yet,” she says. “It is a place of community and is very important for women. It is the center of gay/lesbian life in Cincinnati, especially lesbian life.”

        All quality businesses are welcome in Northside, says Jim Swafford, president of the Northside Business Association and owner of United Reliance, a property-management company on Hamilton Avenue.

        “The last two or three years have been better than the previous 10,” says Mr. Swafford, who has worked in the neighborhood since 1983. “We have a very diverse group of businesses and unique stuff in this community that you can't find anywhere else in town.”

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