A few years ago, no one seemed to care that the gas lines were removed from Camp Washington’s strip of Colerain Avenue.
They were torn out when a developer had plans to knock everything — historic homes and family businesses — down and likely build a strip mall or series of big box stores.
But the community came together faster than the city could get their hands on the area.
Still, though revitalization has been slow. The area is zoned as commercial-auto, which is a barrier community members — and the town’s board — are close to hurdling.
“In three to five years, we’re going to look back and laugh,” says Tony Ferrari, co-owner of Mom ‘N ‘Em in Camp Washington, which opened about six months ago and has quickly become a community gathering place.
And while there’s nothing funny about the zoning roadblocks in the community, once this side of Hopple is rezoned as mixed-use — hopefully within the next two to three years — Ferrari thinks development is going to happen quickly. The process is already about three years in the making.
“It’s so difficult, there are so many requirements, all the zoning makes it more expensive to open businesses,” he says. “Wouldn’t you rather have vibrancy, life? [Business owners]” are there and they have money to invest, but the city isn’t making it easy.”
He indicates Bates Avenue by the shop, which, according to him, has totally flipped in the last three months, drawing families, young professionals, and quite a few artists to the neighborhood.
“There’s a huge artist resurrection here and it’s one of those neighborhoods where it’s still affordable to live,” he says.
Ferrari should know. He both lives and works in the community and is invested in its success. But the story he tells is beyond zoning and property values: It’s about neighbors.
What he describes is the ideal community — and the way things used to be.
Like Mertel, the woman who owns the house next to Mom ‘N ‘Em and has been in Camp Washington her entire life. According to Ferrari, she keeps an eye out on the shop, takes out there trash, and keeps up with community news and happenings. And the Ferraris give her coffee grinds for her compost pile. Then there are the kids who stop by after school and help out for a bit in exchange for some snacks.
“That’s what it’s about, what neighborhoods and neighbors should do,” he says. “We should be supporting each other and helping each other out whenever we can.”
He talks fondly of all the craftspeople in the area — like one guy who makes guitars and another who builds furniture — and about how many residents and business owners barter their skills for trade.
“We’re all different,” he says, “and we all have different talents.”
As far as Ferrari is concerned, the more the merrier. He’s just as excited by — and invested in — the success of everyone in the community. He sees a lively downtown business district, the way it was back before cars were everyone’s main form of transportation.
“It’s not all about the vehicle anymore,” he says, which is evidenced by the number of people walking and riding up to grab coffee at Mom ‘N ‘Em, which is full, yet there are hardly any cars out front.
“It’s been amazing, it’s all walks of life, it’s very diverse, and our neighbors are very happy and grateful that there’s finally someplace they can walk to,” he says. “I really love it here. I love the people and the businesses … I really just enjoy walking up and down the streets and talking to people.”
And he envisions this for the rest of the neighborhood as well, new businesses moving into the empty storefronts and revitalizing the street to what it once was while respecting the history of the buildings.
“I would love to see Colerain come back as a business district,” he says. “At one point, the rail car came through Colerain Avenue. And every storefront was a business.”
At the same time, he’s optimistic that it will happen. “I think with the zoning changes coming up, it will be a lot easier for people to open things here,” he says.
Many of the current business owners have been in the neighborhood — or the town — for decades. Hilvers Catering has been around since the 30s and the owner also has a food truck on Colerain with plans to expand, and Osborne Coinages has been in business since 1835 creating custom coins, tokens and more.
“There’s a lot of history here, and we’re trying to preserve that,” he says, adding that everything along the main drag is owner-occupied and everyone is invested in the success of those around them.
He cites Cal and Skip Cullen of Wave Pool as two people working hard develop the community and offer support to those who need it, like through their Welcome Project initiative, which works to “empower marginalized and at risk refugees and immigrants by providing affordable housing, jobs, education and skills training, so that they will one day take these opportunities and turn them into a lasting, better way of life.”
Part of this, explains Ferrari, is beyond job training and skills, but it’s also about connecting people, like through Cincinnati’s Table, where they host meals prepared by immigrants who share their family recipes.
“We’re here to work with the community,” he says. “We’re not here to change it. “Everyone’s on the same boat for the most part, there’s not much negativity or pushback.”
According to Ferrari, there’s a lot more to be said, a lot more to be done, a lot more work to still do. But there’s definitely some momentum.
“None of us have tons of money,” he says. “We’re all just trying to make it work with what we have. We all just have to keep working together to make it happen. It’s a great place to live and the neighbors are amazing. Everyone kind of looks out for each other and helps each other, and that’s not something you see everywhere.”
“We’ve got some fun things in the works, we’re here to help everybody through and give the advice we can,” he continues. “We’ve been through it, we want to help you guys, let’s all work together. Just do it, it will be successful. I know it will.”