Permanent Pop Up

Over-the-Rhine’s Simple Space is a short-term haven for long-term ideas

Mar 4, 2015 at 12:12 am
click to enlarge Heather and Levi Bethune’s Simple Space can host rotating tenants for a single day or up to six weeks
Heather and Levi Bethune’s Simple Space can host rotating tenants for a single day or up to six weeks


hat does Over-the-Rhine mean to you? Is it a stoplight point on your way to work, just a weekend dining destination, or is it a place you can call home? How could the neighborhood’s movement from the old to the new OTR be personified? Meet Levi Bethune, co-owner of Simple Space, a dedicated pop-up shop described as an affordable venue with minimal risk in an awesome neighborhood.

“My favorite way to explain Simple Space is as an empty box,” Bethune says. “To someone with a limited imagination, an empty box is nothing but an empty box, so they need to be told what it could be. But, to the imaginative, an empty box has amazing potential. The creative mind no longer sees it simply for what it is, but what it can be.”

While he’s describing the possibility of Simple Space, he could just as easily be describing the new OTR.

Simple Space is a 600-square-foot retail area designed to accommodate rotating tenants. One week it could be a muffin shop, the next night a concert venue. Establishing itself between Vine and Walnut streets on 13th, it can be found right next door to Tucker’s Restaurant.

Offering very short-term leases to the public, Simple Space aims to provide financially feasible exposure for anybody who might benefit. Cincinnati’s reputation as a breeding ground for start-up businesses has helped the Queen City garner deserved attention from denizens of the greater entrepreneurial world. What Simple Space is doing for Cincinnati’s start-up community is providing a simplified, less risky retail space for burgeoning businesses to test the water, host events, offer limited deals — the possibilities are broad.

“The idea for Simple Space originated when I was living in a big four-bedroom, full-basement house with my wife and kids,” Bethune says. “I thought it would be great to have a big enough house to host all kinds of great events, classes, meetings, music and art shows, and even shops. But our neighborhood wasn’t really conducive to the kind of foot-traffic that was needed for an idea like that to be successful. Quiet suburban streets don’t breed any kind of excitement for the arts.”

Bethune, his wife Heather (Simple Space’s co-owner), and their three kids moved to Cincinnati from Northern Virginia in 2012. They’re now raising four children in a single bedroom apartment above Simple Space.

“As we searched for a building in Over-the-Rhine, I was secretly hoping for a commercial storefront but not holding my breath, given our budget,” Bethune says. “Purchasing headaches aside, we found this building at 16 E. 13th St. and saw the potential it could hold for our family. And the empty retail space sparked a new evolution of my idea.”

He sees the close proximity in which his family lives as a good thing; they’re getting to know each other quite well.

“There is friction, sure, but there is also this great opportunity to know these people really, really well,” he says. “And, that’s the point of being a family.”

Simple Space’s renters will have 24-hour access to the retail space during their lease, which can be as short as one day or as long as six weeks at this point in the planning. Bethune has already had interested businesses solicit him for permanent tenantship, but that’s not why he wanted to purchase the location.

Bethune describes himself as a “proximity fan” — someone who bounces off others’ ideas, often with more energy and enthusiasm than the originator, which makes the rotating cavalcade of entrepreneurs and artists a perfect fit.

“This habit would regularly exasperate my wife because I was always wanting to invest time or money into things, and then move on to the next thing,” Bethune says. “I wanted to have a platform to help people do their thing — whatever that thing might be — and then kick them out and move on to the next thing. Simple Space is all about short-term and small-batch, so it makes for a perfect itch scratcher.”

Simple Space raised $10,283 using IndieGoGo, 86 percent of its projected goal of $12,000. The money raised has been put toward renovations. Registration to rent the space is now open to the public.

When looking at the potential outcome of Simple Space, Bethune is determined to see this venture through for at least a year. He works full-time as director of brand communication at Epipheo, a video studio that makes short explanatory videos for start-ups and Fortune 100 companies alike. This adaptability and open mindedness is prevalent in Simple Space’s business model, which seeks to cater to anyone’s needs, no matter how small.

“The entire building is designed to be an extension of our family mission to love this city however we can,” Bethune says. “Maybe it sounds kind of cheesy, but I don’t care. I love Cincinnati, and I’m not content just surviving in the city or letting myself become apathetic about where I’m living.”

Starting March 28, Simple Space will host a weeklong celebration of vintage motorcycles called Vintage Moto Flea. Attendees can buy, sell or trade motorcycle gear and shop the offerings of eight vintage motorcycle sellers, on top of enjoying motorcycle movies and a cookout. Admission is free.

“This space is really precious to our family, and we’re planning on making sure that something is happening in there as much as possible,” Bethune says. “When there isn’t a pop-up or even tenant in there, you’ll probably see our family hanging out with our LEGO collection or a movie night. We’re going to see what life is like when your living room is street-level with a 6-by-6 glass window.” ©