Choosing Independently

Whether it’s shopping for gifts, updating your wardrobe or choosing a great spot to dine, Cincinnati offers an ever-increasing choice of independent businesses that help citizens reengage with the social fabric of their community.

The American Independent Business Alliance defines an independent business as one that has private, employee or community ownership and is owned by a majority of local residents; full decision-making responsibilities lie in the hands of the owner(s) and the business does not have more than 6 stores in one state. Supporting independent businesses allows community members to feel more like citizens than consumers. It allows the money in your pocket to go directly back into the local economy and strengthens the culture of the respective neighborhood, providing to the richness of the city as a whole. Cincinnati encompasses numerous pockets of independent businesses parlaying the success and opportunity of local shopping. Great areas to seek self-sufficient stores include the Gateway Quarter in Over-the-Rhine, the squares in Hyde Park, Oakley and Mt. Lookout, the O’Bryonville shopping district and Ludlow Avenue in Clifton.

Self-proclaimed Cincinnati foodie and blogger of Wine Me, Dine Me (in Cincinnati), Julie Niesen strives to provide savory views, subjective only to taste, on dining experiences in Cincinnati. She stalwartly recognizes that while some resident consumers prefer one-stop shopping provided by the corporate kings, others relish the experience of enjoying the adventure of individuality. Niesen prefers to dine at independent restaurants over the tried-and-true national chain establishments. “You're helping your neighbors.  You're keeping jobs in the area.  You're eating food whose origins you're aware of and you're adding to the culture and flavor of our city.  You get to know the proprietors, and they get to know you and cater to your tastes when possible,” says Niesen.

Cincinnati even has its own organization that supports local restaurants. Cincinnati Originals is led by President, Annette Pfund-de Cavel, wife of famous French chef de cuisine, Jean Robert de Cavel, with a mission to “celebrate, support and promote locally owned and operated independent restaurants by providing unique dining experiences for its patrons and collaborative services and benefits for it members.” Featuring 35 restaurants on the site, Cincinnati Originals helps to make eating locally deliciously and easily accessible, with links to the restaurants, as well as the opportunity to purchase gift certificates online.

 “America is not Applebee's and Wal-Mart,” remarks Niesen. “It's local entrepreneurs serving the needs of their city. I'm sure that when you think of Cincinnati, you don't think of big box stores- you think of Skyline and Graeter's and your favorite local tailor and your favorite corner bar.”

On a recent Saturday, a movement calling itself Cincinnati Unchained encouraged Cincinnatians to break the chain and shop local in an effort to directly support the economy and community. The weekend-long drive for loving locality was sponsored by, a local website that highlights the best in locally-owned businesses in the Cincinnati area, focusing on shopping, people and flavor.

“Our hope was that the success of Cincinnati Unchained would encourage people to shop locally throughout the year, helping strengthen our economy and local neighborhoods,” says Kurt Myers, Co-Founder and Business Director of Buycincy.

The effort is paying off. Unchained Cincinnati saw phenomenal foot traffic as well as some record days for the approximately 50 businesses that participated.

But it's not all just about driving foot traffic. There are significant economic impact to be had when consumers buy local. According to, every dollar spent at a locally-owned business generates approximately three times more regional economic activity than a dollar spent at the typical "big-box."

Other economic benefits include the creation of higher paying jobs as well as taxes reinvested back into the community. And noting the importance of environmental impact, shopping locally uses less packaging and logistics for shipping with many local shops within walking distance of high density areas.

“Locally-owned businesses are vital to the success of our region. Not only do existing independent businesses help to stimulate our local economy, they serve as community pillars- unique places where a neighborhood’s individuality shines and citizens can experience a sense of place,” says Sean Fisher, Co-Founder and Creative Director of

“Local businesses often form a neighborhood’s sense of community. Northside and College Hill spring from their Hamilton Avenue shopping districts. Mainstrasse brings people from all over the area to experience Covington. Hyde Park Square is the defining point of that neighborhood,” says Fisher. “These local business districts not only are the backbone of our neighborhoods, they form the distinct character of each and every neighborhood.”

Treating your palate while spending your well-earned cash for a great meal is made all the more richer an experience when coupled with a unique experience. Capturing the flavor of a neighborhood is as important to local business owners as is capturing the flavor of their food. Restaurateurs and entrepreneurs alike invest time and energy seeking the freshest and local produce as well as debonair designs from local artists and designers. Shopping local demonstrates support for one of a kind experiences rather than voting with our dollars for mass market merchandise lining countless shelves.

“You feel a great sense of community when shopping at locally-owned businesses. Instead of the cold shopping experience you get when you feel like another part in a consumer assembly line. You get an honest connection with one of your neighbors who is passionate about whatever they are selling. We can keep that neighborhood vibrancy alive, while promoting the American spirit of entrepreneurialism,” says Fisher.

Photography by Scott Beseler

The duck breast entree at Jean Robert's Lavomatic
Julie Niesen on her fire escape in OTR, photo by  Mikki Reynolds-Schaffner
Outside, in the Quarter
Mica 12/v
Lavomatic interior

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