Why we love him: He’s a gentle, progressive, urban activist and an early pioneer of the new OTR
Park + Vine, Over-the-Rhine’s green general store, closed last month just shy of 10 years of service. Owner and founder Dan Korman’s store became a model for small retail shops in OTR. He built a brand that was known for offering ecologically friendly foods, personal care items, clothing and housewares. He and his team — he calls them his crew and eschews the title of boss — often shared their deep knowledge of low-impact, healthy living with the public over a cup of fair-trade coffee at the store’s vegan lunch counter. And when you spoke with Korman, you walked away from the conversation feeling a little smarter, and a little more optimistic.
Shortly after Park + Vine’s 2007 opening, it emerged as a hub for Cincinnatians who cared about Earth-friendly lifestyles. And that transcendent aspect to the shop is what made it so special and why, years from now, regulars will reminisce with friends about how there was this awesome little place on Main Street where you could get stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. And the guy who ran it was really trying to do the right thing for the city.
Korman biked to work from his East Walnut Hills home; he doesn’t own a car. He’s a vegan and healthy-lifestyle enthusiast who organized and led regular hikes with his clients and friends. He gladly shared advice with anyone who came in his door, and his easygoing, plain-talking Midwestern style belies his breadth of wisdom on sustainability and urban living. (If pressed, he’ll wax philosophical on these topics.) That kind of genuineness can be difficult to find. But he’s for real, and when you walked into Park + Vine you knew you were among friends.
CityBeat: What aspects do/did you love about your job?
Dan Korman: The people who I worked with and the people who supported us (at Park + Vine). Especially our last crew, the crew we had in the final stretch. They’re some of my favorite people that I ever worked with at any job at any part of my life. And I’ve been in the workforce for 30 years. This group was very supportive, very loving. When I shared with the group that we were closing — before I went public — I wasn’t exactly sure what the response would be. They were 100-percent supportive. They weren’t thinking about themselves; they were thinking about me. They wanted to see me happy. Every single one of them stuck with me to the end, to the last day. In addition to the crew, our regular customers, the people who kept the store going on a regular basis.
CB: How do you define passion?
DK: Community and people supporting one another. The reason the store lasted as long as it did is because there was a community that rose up around it. It was more than just a place where you could get something to eat or pick up a bar of soap. It was deeper than that.
CB: How is passion different from love?
DK: Passion is an uncontrollable emotion. Love is much more profound and involves complex feelings. It starts with self-love and then radiates to love for others. Love keeps us together against the drudgeries of life.
CB: What do you love about Cincinnati?
DK: I love how easy it is to live here and to meet people. Once I feel like I’ve met everyone I can, I meet another new person. And Cincinnati’s always changing. It’s exciting to be in a city that’s changing so much.
CB: Name someone that inspires you and tell us why.
DK: Danny Klingler, director of OTR A.D.O.P.T. (which connects property developers with historic properties in order to restore them for business and residential use). He’s very committed to historic preservation in Cincinnati in general and Over-the-Rhine specifically. I just have a lot of respect for his commitment to those things.
CB: What’s the best lesson life has taught you about love?
DK: That the best form of love is unconditional. At its base level it comes from inside of you. It’s about how you feel about yourself first, and about the world around you second. (Actor) RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love someone else?” So, it starts with you.
CB: What is a phrase or motto you live your life by?
DK: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” - Jalaluddin Rumi