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A Walk on the Wild Side with Danny Korman

Danny Korman promotes visiting Cincinnati neighborhoods with a new "insider's guide" book




Danny Korman, the owner of Park + Vine on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, is a businessman, so the concept of promotion isn’t foreign.
 
But he seems a bit befuddled when asked about the blog post on the store’s website that lists 17 categories for CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati poll this year in which either he or the shop was nominated.
 
“Someone told me that we were nominated, so I asked if I should say anything about it,” Korman says. “They said sure, although I don’t usually do things like that. But I put it on the blog.”
 
The “best” nods included Gluten-Free Menu, Vegetarian/Vegan Selection and Chef (Caitlin Bertsch) in the Eats section; Boutique (Downtown/OTR), Grocery Store and Place to Shop Green in the Shops + Services section; and Korman himself in the Public Eye section for Do Gooder, Friend to the Environment, Local Activist and Progressive.
 
Korman acknowledged his appreciation on the blog: “We’re thankful to have received Readers’ Pick for Place to Shop Green every year since 2008.”
 
Although Korman is not a horn tooter by nature, he might see a new nomination in 2016: Best Book by a Local Author. Wilderness Press will publish Walking Cincinnati: An Insider’s Guide to 32 Historic Neighborhoods, Stunning Riverfront Quarters and Hidden Treasures in the Queen City by Korman and Katie Meyer in late April.
  
“It’s a guidebook of suggested walking tours, with loads of interesting history and local color thrown in for good fun and adventure,” Korman says. “It's a first-person account, like having a local insider lead you through each neighborhood, pointing out the sites, sharing historical tidbits and recommending the best bars, cafés, restaurants, shops, etc.”
 
Korman has organized group hikes over the years, both through the store and partnering with local organizations, including Imago Earth in Price Hill among others.

“The book is somewhat of a surprise,” he says. “A woman who worked with Richard Hunt at the time sent an email that said they were planning to do a book called Walking Cincinnati as part of a national series.
 
“They approached me and Katie Meyer, who is from Covington and is a friend. At first I was like, ‘I really don’t have time for this.’ But I’m a yes person, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll help start another thing.’ This is my first book, so I’m super excited about it.”
 
Hunt, a partner at Keen Communications that owns Wilderness and Clerisy Press, didn’t worry that Korman wasn’t a “writer.”
 
“I know he doesn’t feel that he’s a writer first and foremost,” Hunt says, “but we felt as long as there is skill attached … together we would be able produce a great book.
 
“Dan — and this speaks volumes for him — realized that for each one of these neighborhoods that he walked through, he would reach out and talk to somebody at the neighborhood council or connected to the architecture and he would go on the hike with them. That so informed the information that he put in the book.”
 
Starting Park + Vine

Korman has been distilling information and applying it to his life for 47 years. He was born in Delhi (“but right on the border of Price Hill, it was one of those streets”). His parents divorced, and he moved around the area until his mother settled in Madeira, where he went to high school.
 
Before landing in the suburbs, however, he learned to love the city.
 
“From a very early age, I was immersed in older neighborhoods,” he says. “My mom grew up in Winton Place; the house is still there, I have very vivid memories of that. That’s where I learned to ride a bike, and to this day I’m still riding a bike.
 
“My mom’s mom would rotate me, my sister and my cousin to walk with her to the grocery store, which is no longer there. She did all of her grocery shopping in a corner store. She didn’t have a car. My grandpa had a car and he drove to work while she did everything on foot.”
 
Korman’s evolution likely has its roots in those days. He is a preservationist, an environmentalist — he doesn’t own a car, walking or riding his bike the four miles from his home in Evanston to the store and everywhere else — a vegan, a community activist and an unrepentant do-gooder.
 
He was an early dweller on Main Street, moving into an apartment the year before he graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning in 1991. In addition to his love for older neighborhoods, it was convenient because he worked there as well.
 
“I was working at the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce at the time with Marge Hammelrath,” Korman says. “She was very involved in a lot of the early efforts to get (it) designated as a local historic district and make people aware of the neighborhood and its assets.
 
“Then I had a part-time gig — this is a time when I had about three jobs, everybody has to have a time like that — at the Cincinnati Preservation Association. They had just finished restoring Memorial Hall. And I had a job with the city of Newport working on restoring Monmouth Street.”
 
Korman, who lived in San Diego for a year after college, left his three-job career for New York City and Chicago, a journey that lasted more than 10 years. When he returned, it was to create the original Park + Vine, which was in the first storefront on Vine Street north of Central Parkway. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati was the block's only long-term resident.
 
When the doors opened on June 1, 2007, Vine was a different street than it is today.
 
“When I was looking at spaces in the neighborhood, that was the one I fell in love with,” he says. “Coming from Chicago, it just had this overall energy and it felt like a good place to be this gateway business.”
 
Park + Vine was a throwback to the days of general stores. It sold groceries, apparel, cleaning and composting supplies, books, housewares and gifts. (The Main Street store also has a vegan lunch counter.) It was unique to the city, maybe a little too unique.
 
Stepfanie Romine was an Enquirer reporter when she did a story on Park + Vine in December 2007.
 
“I was doing a story about ‘green’ giving and how businesses were starting to integrate environmental awareness into the holidays,” says Romine, who now lives near Asheville, N.C. “I interviewed Dan … and we became good friends. It was always fun to hang out at the store.”
 
Korman says the article was a turning point: “The way that she wrote about me and the store and neighborhood in general just brought a whole new wave of people to us. It raised a lot of awareness.”
 
'Emotional attachment'

After three years on Vine Street, Korman’s lease expired and he scouted new locations for his growing business. He looked at some spots on Vine, but nothing fit. There was, however, a storefront on Main Street that was more than the perfect space — Kaldi’s Coffee House & Bookstore, ground zero of the Over-the-Rhine restoration movement that began in the 1990s, had closed the year before.
 
“I had an emotional attachment to that space, as did a lot of other people,” Korman says. “That was definitely part of the attraction. There are still people who come in and say, ‘Wait a minute, is this Kaldi’s?’”
 
Park + Vine moved in October 2010, bringing a welcome energy and commitment to an area that never totally rebounded after the unrest that followed the police shooting of Timothy Thomas in 2001.
 
“The store is a great character on Main Street, and it provides a unique attraction that other streets and neighborhoods in Over-the-Rhine don’t have,” says Dan McCabe, one of the partners who own MOTR Pub and Woodward Theater. “Main Street is more of grassroots effort, a bootstraps kind of environment. (Danny) is a good guy to have in the neighborhood.”
 
Korman deflects the praise of his friends and asks if any number of other folks can be mentioned for their contribution to the city he loves. After all, he says, “I just look at myself as shopkeeper Godsey on The Waltons.”
 
But Korman’s devotion — whether to principles, people, issues, organizations or simply living an honorable life — justifies a bit of horn tooting, even if he won’t do it himself.
 
Romine captures the spirit of her friend perfectly: “He’s out to change the world one encounter at a time.”
 

Read more articles by Bill Thompson.

Bill Thompson is a writer and editor who has more than 30 years of experience with The Cincinnati Enquirer and local magazines. He hosts a weekly radio show on WAIF (88.3 FM), "Blue Snakes and Banjos," and lives in Mt. Adams.
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