A Good Neighbor - Guest

Kaldi's Coffehouse and Bookstore has sold its liquor license, and even the bums are feeling the pinch. Last week, when the lights started going out by 7 p.m., guys like Ricardo, our friendly StreetV

Kaldi's Coffehouse and Bookstore has sold its liquor license, and even the bums are feeling the pinch. Last week, when the lights started going out by 7 p.m., guys like Ricardo, our friendly StreetVibes vendor, got left in the dark.

The perky little stained-glass coffee cups still dance on the transom above the door on the bar side, but lattes have replaced martinis for the time being. Kaldi's is on the wagon.

At first, an existential gloom pervaded this block of Main Street after dark. If Kaldi's started closing early, what's next?

Of course, you can still get your morning coffee, and you can get it starting at 7:30. People still come in for lunch, and the youngsters who come by in the afternoons after school continue to toss their coats and book bags in a communal pile by the piano.

The guys who hang out in front of Jordan's Market are complaining. "It's hard to make any money when ain't nobody on the street," somebody said.

"We've got to get people back down here some way."

I laughed, thinking I could be at a city council meeting if I closed my eyes, but it isn't funny. It's always the poor who are the hardest hit.

To them, fewer drinkers translates to fewer merry-makers to toss a $5 bill into an outstretched hand. I remembered a favorite StreetVibes venor, Grady, I think, who would look remorseful and say, "I ain't makin' my jack."

James, another man you'll see on the loose down here a lot, has scuffled but always works. When I first moved down here in the late 1990s, he used to load and unload for a man who operated a storage center next to the Circle A grocery on the corner of 13th and Main. Then he worked for a while at the Cuban restaurant until the first time they closed. One night I was short with him after a bad, bad day, and he said, "Don't go being so snippy with me, Miss Lady. I'm a good neighbor."

To my eternal humiliation, a few nights later, I had to ask him to help me break into my own apartment. I'd come home from my shift at WNKU-FM without my keys. Normally I could cut through Kaldi's into the hallway of my apartment and be home. But Kaldi's was closed.

The next time I saw him I gave him some money for his help.

"Don't be offerin' me money for doin' what any good neighbor would do," he said, as he snatched the cash. You have to be realistic down here.

Our neighbors to the north have flourished. Lofts and galleries light up 13th Street and are crowded with art buyers on Final Fridays. Thin, slinky young women in bias-cut dresses and high, high heels congregate here for art openings.

Even the Peasley Center looks a little more upscale with its herb garden, spiked lavender plants and outside mural garden. It blends comfortably with the nearby design shops and rehabbed warehouses.

Our end of Main Street, the "entertainment district," isn't doing as well. Davis Furniture, a little south of 12th Street, has closed, as well as Jump Café and the upscale art gallery next door. Last fall we lost Diva's, too, our edgy, punky hair-styling salon. And now BarrelHouse down on 12th Street has closed up.

These days the high school students who don't go to Kaldi's sit in ragged rows behind where Diva's used to be and talk in the fervent way of teenagers before they head home for supper, band practice and all that jazz. The mean concrete streets and sidewalks are dingy and littered. Neon's, whose previous owners kept it so immaculately tended and manicured, is looking seedier, although it's still in business.

Jordan's Market, next door to Kaldi's, doesn't even pretend to sell groceries anymore — just lottery tickets, beer, wine, cigarettes and candy and snacks for the kids who go there after school. MD20/20 and Wild Irish Rose promise relief from the cares of existence, and people on the corner clamor for change from the well-heeled patrons parking Beamers and Humvees in poor neighborhoods.

Over-the-Rhine serves many populations, and Kaldi's plays a large part in weaving together the threads of those occupations, furnishing a yeasty atmosphere for the artists, architects, builders, lawyers, educators and social workers who come here. Kaldi's continues to be full in the daytime hours with business meetings, hurried lunches for suited customers carrying laptops and reading newspapers, couples or friends meeting for an early dinner on their way home.

Nights, however, are another matter. It's always been difficult to get crowds downtown on a weeknight, even at Arnold's, where I used to play before I came to live above Kaldi's, and in the bleak midwinter nighttime bar-hopping is minimal. Getting up at 6:30 or 7 a.m. looks so much worse when it's still dark. Busy lives stretch scarce resources, and a bottle of white wine and a Jazz trio is sometimes more than the budget allows.

One group who meets regularly at Kaldi's on Wednesday night is a gaggle of congregants from the Hyde Park United Methodist Church. They seek a vision or a way to serve this neighborhood. They've felt their way along, learning more about us as we do about them. I like them because they don't necessarily have an agenda and still they come every week and remind us to be good neighbors.

Different representatives from Impact Over the Rhine show up on these Wednesday evenings. We come together to fit the pieces, to polish the edges. We're determined to be real. It helps if the left hand knows what the right is doing.

I feel as long as the Methodists are with us when they can be we'll be alright. Kaldi's is at least selling coffee and black bean chili. After Bockfest a couple weekends ago, the place was full again, just like it used to be, except that people were nicer and listened to the music.

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