Downtown Cincinnati has lost many of the elements that once made it unique: the grand movie theaters; five and dime stores such as Newberry's, with the best caramel popcorn in the city.
917 Race St. was once the address of a store unlike any other: Trivet Antiques. From the outside, it might be perceived as a warehouse for "junk." But once inside, you knew the platform shoes on the counter and the fringed suede jackets hanging on the racks had a history behind them.
In 2000, Joe McAtee had to say goodbye to the store after many years (see Antiques Never Die, issue of Oct. 5-11, 2000). But now Trivet has reopened in Norwood. There's still work to be done, but the charm and hospitality of its owner and his niece are the same as at the old location.
Trivet, named for an instrument to hold hot plates, had a loyal following over the course of its 55 years downtown.
"Kids from UC wanted to make a chain around the store so we could stay," says Cathy Siuda, McAtee's niece. "People need this type of store.
This stuff isn't made anymore."
How to describe the inventory?
"We have everything from everywhere," McAtee says.
McAtee's partner, Walter Johnson, died in 1999. After his death, McAtee and Siuda fought to keep Trivet and its contents. The legal battle was grueling for McAtee. But Siuda wouldn't let him quit.
"I told him, 'This is BS! You are not walking away,' " she says.
From its opening in 1945, Trivet welcomed some of entertainment's elite, including Bette Davis.
"She was charming — not bitchy like she was on screen," McAtee says. "We had all the stars. To us, they were just people."
Customers included Elvis Presley, Rosemary Clooney and Lenny Kravitz.
"(Kravitz) was the only person I saw Walter walk up and say something to," McAtee says. "He was shy around the celebrities."
One illustrious — and insistent — visitor came after hours, according to McAtee.
"Walter and I one night were doing the books," he says. "The shop was closed but someone kept knocking on the door. Walter yelled out that we were closed. But the person kept on knocking, so I went to the door. I saw a woman with an old dress on, wearing a bandana. I told her we were closed. The woman said 'Honey, I'm Pearl Bailey! I'm not goin' rob ya.' "
During the store's two-year hiatus, McAtee searched for a location suitable for Trivet.
"Downtown was too expensive, and I got tired of looking at the same scenery," he says. "It was hard finding a space I could use. I didn't want a tall building. I left the top floor of the Race location full of things. Enough was enough."
Norwood is now the home of this Mecca of '60s and '70s wear, trinkets, ornaments, pictures and just about anything that anybody could want.
"There's no walking traffic like we had on Race Street" McAtee says. "We'll see how it works. You take your chances. More work needs to be done. Whatever time I have left, I will improve it."
Trivet is still awaiting permanent residency in Norwood.
"I need a john and a wheelchair ramp," McAtee says.
With such a storied history, how did Trivet get away? McAtee blames the city.
"We paid taxes in Cincinnati for over 50 years, and when we needed help, they didn't even show their face," he says.
The city of Covington made an offer to lure the store across the river.
"Covington offered us $20,000 to move over there," McAtee says. "They referred to us as an institution. Their city council was wonderful. They told me they would love to have us."
Siuda, who will run the store when McAtee is gone, says she'll keep it much the way it always was.
"I would like to do more consignments, but I will keep the nostalgia," she says.
The nostalgia is not a function of the merchandise alone; customers contribute to the environment.
"Some people come just to talk to us," McAtee says. "They sit, have coffee and shoot the breeze. I love having conversations with people. Some people are nice, and some are naturally boring." ©