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New ownership brings Casablanca Vintage back to life

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The faded teal walls of Casablanca Vintage in Northside are covered in a fresh coat of white paint. Vintage clothes that had been stacked in boxes up to the ceiling are now hanging neatly on racks along the walls.

The store's new owners, Manny Hernandez, Teddy Aitkens and Sky White, have picked up the piles of clothes that clogged the aisles, removed damaged items and given the world-class collection of vintage clothes a new life.

Their future plans include a stage for concerts and fashion shows, and a face-lift for the storefront. Pieces from the rental collection upstairs - including designer dresses, jackets and tuxedos spanning several decades - will be brought to a rental rack on the showroom floor, Hernandez said.

Casablanca will eventually carry clothing lines from local fashion designers and maintain a wall of merchandise from local bands, the owners said, but for now they want to focus on cleaning up the interior, organizing the collection and maintaining steady hours of operation.

The men have other plans, too. They recently bought an old church in the West End which they will convert into a restaurant and music venue. The project will likely take two to three years, but with the help of White's connections in the music industry they say they are already building a buzz with venue owners and booking agents around the country. White is the keyboardist in the Cincinnati band Foxy Shazam, which is signed to the Warner Brothers record label.

Hernandez, 25, and Aitkens, 26, began rehabbing buildings while they were roommates at the University of Pittsburgh several years ago. A few months before graduation, Aitkens had a fateful encounter in a truck stop off the New Jersey Turnpike that brought the men to Cincinnati.

Aitkens, a drummer, was on his way to try out with a band in New Jersey. A heavy snowstorm made the roads impassable so he pulled over to wait the storm out. While looking for a snack in the aisles of a truck stop, a member of Foxy Shazam spotted a drum key on Aitken's hip. They struck up a conversation and, a few weeks later, he had joined the band.

Hernandez and Aitkens moved to Cincinnati, and continued rehabbing properties even after Aitkens parted ways with Foxy Shazam. They currently own nine rental properties in Northside, Walnut Hills and Newport. They like it here, they said, because of the tight-knight communities.

"We're from the DC area, and everyone there is busy, busy, busy, and has no time to say 'hi' to their neighbor," Hernandez said. "But over here it seems like everyone is willing to help each other out."

Writer: Henry Sweets
Photography by Scott Beseler.
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