When Vinni Brown decided to come back to Cincinnati after living in San Diego for 11 years — and Westport, Conn., Paris, France, and Dallas, Texas before that — she likened it to taking a leap off of a mountain.
“It was the scariest decision to actually pack up my car and watch it going to Cincinnati,” she says. “I just trusted that the signs were there. The signs were saying ‘Go home. Go home. Go home. It’s going to be the best thing for you.’”
She went to the airport with five suitcases, landed in Ohio and moved in with her mother in Hyde Park. She still had a condo in San Diego and an office for her real estate and interior design business. Eventually, she moved to 580 Walnut Street. But after several more months and a few commutes back and forth, she decided to make the stay permanent.
“I went to my California office and told another agent I wanted to make the move to Cincinnati permanent. After many eye rolls and ‘I can’t believe it’ looks, he had an all-cash offer to me that night for my condo,” she says. “I cleaned out my office, turned in my key, and booked the moving van. It was that quick.”
And she hasn’t looked back since. Now a realtor and interior designer with Coldwell Banker, Vinni almost gushes when she talks about how happy she is to be in Cincinnati.
“The young hip vibe of the city … it’s infectious,” she says. “For somebody like me, in my 50s, I see all these young kids and this fun stuff. But it’s not just young kids. My husband and I tonight will go to some great restaurant in OTR and then we’ll go listen to a jazz band. There’s always something to do.”
As Cincinnatians know, downtown wasn’t always such a happening scene. Vinni, who went to Glen Este High School, got her first downtown apartment at Fourth and Plum streets in the early 1990s.
“I loved downtown,” she says. “I loved the vibe of the city and the people who lived in that building.”
She worked for Channel 9 as a promotions producer and taught a step aerobics class at the YMCA. To get there, she rollerbladed.
“We didn’t have Uber and stuff. I didn’t even own a car back then,” she says.
And her favorite hangout was a place called Neons, which Vinni describes as “the coolest bar in OTR back in the day.”
She got married and moved to Hyde Park, where she renovated her first house. Her husband’s job with L’Oréal took them to Dallas for three years, Paris for three years, and Westport, Conn. for one year. Then they took a leap of faith with a startup and moved to San Diego, where they lived for 11 years.
Even during all the relocations, Vinni would bring her three sons back to Cincinnati for a two-week visit every year. To this day, even though they left the city when they were very young, they call Cincinnati “home.” Her son Hunter graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has been back in Cincinnati for about 18 months.
“Despite everyone’s inability to understand leaving California, I have a fondness for excitement and change, and this city gave me an opportunity for both,” Hunter wrote in an email. “I could discover new places, nice restaurants, homey bars, and good-natured people with solid intentions. The skyline doesn’t hurt either.”
He added that the city changes as fast as the weather. “One week there’s a new bar, the next a new club, all followed by a new art gallery opening across the street from a small wine and cheese distributor building their client base!”
During their time in San Diego, Vinni went back to school at 44 and earned a degree at the Design Institute and took an interest in the real estate business.
She kept calling her mother — who also works in real estate — to ask for advice about remodeling homes and how much to invest until her mother finally told her to get a real estate license. She made one house she was working on a model home, added interior design to her business, and started a successful “concierge” model. She has since transferred that model to her office in Cincinnati.
After she and her husband divorced and her sons went off to college, Vinni moved into a condo but eventually got tired of living in San Diego.
“I always felt like a fish out of water there,” she says. So she came back, moved in with her mother, who eventually left for Florida for the winter. Then came a fortuitous meeting at a bistro in Mariemont, where she met her current husband Mark Witte, followed by a growing desire to move back permanently.
Vinni and Mark — who is the executive director of the TriHealth Cancer Institute — now live in Mt. Adams. He’s originally a westsider and they still go to Price Hill Chili once a week.
Since she’s been back, Vinni says she’s noticed the big changes downtown but also praised the city for its arts community and its philanthropic nature.
“Look at the theater. We’re one of the only cities that has every single art and sport and none of them are in the red,” she says. “And everybody’s philanthropic, that’s the other thing. I’m going to the Heart Ball tomorrow, last weekend we were at another fundraiser, a Good Sam fundraiser the weekend before.”
And forget about that stodgy, boring Midwest reputation that the city may have had once.
“I find it to be an artsy interesting town with lots of layers,” Vinnie says. “Every weekend we look off our balcony and there’s some run going on downtown. Or there’s always something on Fountain Square. I’ve never been to a city where that happens.”