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Over-the-Rhine : Development News

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Night market to provide late night NOMs

Over the Rhine is about to get some new late night food options, in the form of a night market, Night Owl Market (NOM), set up in the parking lot at the corner of Central Parkway and Main Street.
 
Nadia Laabs and Sally Yoon, two Procter & Gamble employees, turned their late-night frustration into a new business opportunity. When they were out late one night and could find nowhere to eat, they saw a hunger to fill a gaping hole in the downtown food market. So, they decided to try to fill it themselves. 
 
The two first looked at the alley on Walnut Street adjacent to Nicholson's Pub, but the space was being used for the construction of the new 21c Museum Hotel. So they finally settled on the OTR location. 
 
"At first, Sally suggested parking lots, and I hadn't really thought about it," Laabs says. "But they turned out to be the best option because they are private property, and there are a lot less regulations and permits." 
 
After securing the parking lot for Final Friday in July, Yoon and Laabs began talking to organizers of events like the City Flea, Second Sundays on Main and the Asian Food Fest to get an idea of how to plan for the NOM. Next, they sent out surveys to test interest in the idea. After good feedback and requests for specific types of food, Laabs and Yoon began contacting vendors. 
 
NOM is currently ranked in the top 10 for the Cincinnati Innovates contest based on public voting. If they win, Yoon and Laabs would use the money for NOM start-up costs. 
 
NOM will be open from 10 pm - 3 am and feature up to 11 vendors, including food trucks and booths from local restaurants, complete with tables and chairs, live music and even security. 
 
"If it's successful, we'd like to do it every weekend," Laabs says. "We definitely think there is a need and interest."
 
NOM is tentatively planned for every Final Friday from July until November, based on vendor interest and overall business. Check the website for the latest news.
 
 

Rise of the cool kids in Cincinnati

Nathan Hurst founded Cincinnati Fashion Week in 2010, and as it rolls into its third year, more and more people are getting involved. 
 
One Cincinnati resident, who has worked with Fashion Week before, pitched an idea to Hurst about highlighting the young, adventurous and energetic street fashion scene growing in Cincinnati. That person, who wants to keep his name a secret for now, is creating a team to help him develop the event, "Rise of the Cool Kids."
 
"I don't want people to associate a person with this, but rather a movement or a kind of person," says the Cincinnatus Kidd, a moniker that has been created to promote the event. 
 
Street fashion at the event shows that all fashion doesn't have to be expensive and unattainable; it should be more of a personal expression.
 
"When people use the word fashion, they use it in reference to the highest forms of fashion, but fashion is an everyday thing," Kidd says. "There is a pretty good understanding now that art used to be a painting in a frame, but now it can be anything, including street art. I don't think that same idea has come across to fashion."
 
The event will be held Oct. 6, tentatively on the roof of a parking garage, and will highlight local boutiques in a runway fashion show. The parking garage will be transformed into a streetscape, complete with street signs, scale models of OTR buildings and even shoes hanging over wires highlighting some of the brands being showcased.

There will be local DJs, hip-hop artists, visual artists, dancers and skateboarders on site. Rise of the Cool Kids will also team with Original Thought Required, Corporate and Flow, all local clothing shops, to create preview events at each store. 
 
"Street fashion is getting noticed more around here, and it's time to recognize it," Kidd says. "This has been a very mall-driven city, but now people are expressing themselves differently."
 
By Evan Wallis
 

ThisIsOTR Instagrams Over-the-Rhine

"What's it really like?" That single question sparked a new photo-streaming website, ThisisOtr.com. 
 
The site automatically aggregates photos from Instagram if they are tagged with the hashtag #ThisIsOtr. The simple website was brought to life by two Urban Sites employees, Mia Carruthers and Michael Chewning. Carruthers, an OTR resident, says she was tired of answering questions from people who hadn't visited the neighborhood recently.
 
"I wanted a way to show people that don't live here and maybe don't know what is going on in OTR right now what this place really is," Carruthers says. "You can say it to anyone, but until they see it from people who enjoy OTR, they're not going to get it."
 
With that in mind, the two asked a friend if making the website was possible. Soon after, it was up and running. After posting the website on their Facebook pages, it quickly gained traction on social media. After launching last week, the website already has dozens of photos of the buildings, people and art in Over-the-Rhine. 
 
Urban Sites manages properties for more than 500 residents and will be opening up 23 new apartments on Walnut Street in the coming months. Chewning says they also thought of making the website as a way to give all of Urban Sites' residents a way to connect. With it already in the public domain, though, it can connect the entire community.
 
"We've seen pictures from a lot of people we didn't even know lived in OTR," Carruthers says. "Now I want to meet them all. I think it will be a great way for people to network, and it really showed us that there are people who feel the same way we do about OTR and want others to see that, too."
 
 
 
 

New loan funding helps property owners increase energy efficiency

A $3 million boost from a national foundation may soon help make local church pews and nonprofit offices a lot more comfortable, and a lot more energy-efficient.

It's an innovative new approach to making energy-efficient upgrades profitable for both loan recipients and lenders that local leaders hope illustrate that the market for conservation-minded upgrades is both robust and profitable. The effort is a partnership between three nonprofits: Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, the Cincinnati Development Fund, and the Calvert Foundation, which typically invests in real-estate secured loans and has never before invested in Cincinnati.

The new initiative, called the Better Buildings Performance Loan Fund, leverages federal and foundation money to offer loans at competitive interest rates; the loans must support building investments that increase energy efficiency, says Al Gaspari, GCEA finance director.

While GCEA's focus to date has been on helping homeowners with energy-efficient upgrades, this new initiative expands its role in the region.

"We're initially targeting nonprofit organizations and multi-family dwellings," Gaspari says. Churches, arts organizations and schools rank high on the list of prospective loan applicants. He offers a practical example of how the program can work: An inner-city church with a 60-year-old furnace could apply for a loan, invest in a new energy-efficient furnace and save 20 percent on energy costs. In addition to the monetary savings, the new system could make existing spaces accessible year-round--even during hot summer and cold winter months--thus allowing for expanded programs and services.

"From our perspective, our grant is not dollar-in, dollar-out," Gaspari says. "The goal of our grant is to get people involved and lower their initial risks."

For lenders flirting with the idea of investing in energy-efficiency, the new fund provides a potential sustainable model. "Our overall goal is to show that there is a market for these loans and show that they do perform," Gaspari says.

While the new fund is not yet up and running, he says the GCEA expects to underwrite loans, which will be offered through the Cincinnati Development Fund, before the end of 2012.

As part of the fund, the GCEA will track the energy savings that improvements allow. For investors at the Calvert Foundation, the forward-focused program offers a chance to invest in a program that ultimately conserves energy, reduces pollutants and saves money.

Gaspari and his colleagues see this win-win-win approach as an opportunity to show financiers the wide-ranging benefits of planet-friendly investments.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter

Keystone Community Garden supplies food kitchens

Every Earth Day for the past fives years, Neyer Properties has held events or educational seminars to promote sustainable lifestyles, but last year company employees decided they needed to give back to the community. So, they built the one-acre Keystone Community Garden outside their office in Evanston. 
 
According to Neyer Properties, a development company that builds or redevelops only LEED-certified projects, community involvement is a big part of sustainability. That's why they used the land they had available as the garden site and recruited company volunteers to maintain it. The garden now supplies OTR and Walnut Hills Kitchens and Pantry with produce. 
 
While many food pantries and soup kitchens are forced to shut down in the summer months because of lack of air conditioning, the OTR kitchen has been serving meals through the heat since 1976. Now serving more than 4,000 meals per week, the OTR kitchen gets a much needed produce delivery of peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and squash after 50 volunteers to tend the garden through the summer. 
 
“We rarely receive fresh produce to prepare for our meals or to distribute to our guests in their groceries,” says Patricia Wakim, executive director of the OTR and Walnut Hills Kitchens and Pantry. “We are absolutely thrilled to be the recipient of the produce from the Keystone Community Garden again this year.”
 
This is the second year that the OTR and Walnut Hills kitchen will receive the produce from Keystone Community Garden. Volunteers log more than 50,000 volunteer hours each year in the effort that is almost entirely sustained through private monetary donations and donations from local grocery stores and restaurants. 
 
"It's just the right thing to do," says Karman Stahl, director of asset management for Neyer Properties. "Doing something for those that have less is just something that is necessary to our company."
 
By Evan Wallis

Reser Bicycle pedals across the river

As Bike Month concludes, Reser Bicycle expands its bicycle knowledge and advocacy into the heart of Over the Rhine. Opening in the first week of June, the second Reser location will be at 1419 Vine St. 
 
Reser has been located on Monmouth Street in Newport since owner Jason Reser opened up shop in 2000. Reser has always focused on advocating for a more bike-friendly city; he serves on the board of Queen City Bike. After partnering with new co-owner Bryan Horton, the pair decided an expansion was necessary, and OTR was the prime spot. 
 
"We have a lot of customers from the downtown area, so it seemed like the best place to expand," Horton says. "The support from the neighborhood has been incredible. We had a booth at the OTR 5k Summer Celebration and got a lot of positive feedback. We're excited to open up."
 
The 1,000-square-foot OTR store won't be a simple extension of the Newport location. It will have a heavier focus on commuter and used bikes for the urban environment of OTR. About a quarter of the space will be dedicated to selling used bikes, which will vary from road to mountain to commuter bikes based on availability. The shop will also house a large selection of Public Brand bicycles, a simple, everyday bicycle. There will also be cross-merchandising so customers know what sort of products the Newport Reser has available. 
 
"We want to give people the kind of bikes they want to ride around the city," Horton says. 
 
Beyond bringing bicycles, Horton also hopes the bicycle shop will add to the sense of community on Vine Street. 
 
"Not only will it help more people get encouraged to get on their bicycle," Horton says, "I think it sends a positive message that businesses besides restaurants are going to invest in the city. We even have plans down the road to continue to grow." 
 
By Evan Wallis

Brandery renovates to welcome, support startups

Managing Editor’s Note:

If you’ve noticed dust settling around The Brandery building in Over the Rhine, that’s because new General Manager Mike Bott is overseeing a massive remodeling project. The building's first-floor space is being renovated for a new class of startups (applications being accepted now) while graduates Choremonster, Road Trippers and Venue Agent will maintain workspaces on the third floor.

Soapbox Media, also a web-focused startup, can be found in the space as well.

In addition to dedicated space at The Brandery on Vine Street, we will also maintain office space in Northside as part of a collaborative office suite we will share with startup local nonprofits.

While the Brandery caters to and nurtures high-tech startups, the collaborative space in Northside serves as a new home for disparate, community-focused nonprofits.

In Northside, at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock, the space currently occupied by Shop Therapy will soon serve as the home for The Urban Legend Institute, the retail store element of the literacy and creative-writing focused nonprofit WordPlay. With creative and marketing support from Possible Worldwide, WordPlay plans to offer preview tours by July.

The second floor of the building houses the offices of the educational nonprofit as well as two other nonprofits: parProjects, which is focused on building a community arts center and providing arts programming in Northside, and 350.org, the local arm of the national environmental nonprofit. (Full disclosure: Soapbox's managing editor sits on the Board of the nonprofit WordPlay.)

One thing that has not changed is the best way to reach Soapbox with your story ideas, questions and comments. Connect with us via email. But if you want to send us a letter, old-school postal-style, you can find us:

Soapbox Media via The Brandery
1411 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Soapbox Media via WordPlay
4041 Hamilton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45223


Downtown bicycle club explores Cincinnati

As they prepared for Bike Month, Casey Coston, an OTR resident and avid bike rider, paired up with Mike Uhlenhake, to plan a group ride in the urban basin of Cincinnati. 

After gauging interest via Facebook and holding one planning meeting at Neon's, the Urban Basin Bicycle Club was formed and launched their first ride from Fountain Square April 17. The ride was planned on Tuesday to not interfere with the Thursday evening Slow and Steady Ride, which starts at Hoffner Park in Northside. The UBBC's main goal was to give downtown residents a group ride with a more accessible starting point. 

The first ride brought more than 20 riders sporting bikes from 1960's Schwinn cruisers to road bikes to mountain bikes. They rode along the river, through Sawyer Point and ended with post-ride libations at The Lackman on Vine Street. Since the first ride, two more rides have happened with the most recent leading more than 30 riders, of all skill and experience levels, on a tour past some of Cincinnati's historic breweries. The second ride crossed the Roebling Suspension Bridge and went through Covington and Newport before making the trek back to OTR and ending at Neon's, but not before stopping for a beer on the patio of Party Source. The upcoming ride on May 15 will take riders past all of the Art Deco landmarks in the urban basin, including Union Terminal and the main post office and as always, will end with a post-ride meet up at a local business. 

"We'll be meeting up at a different local business after each ride," says Coston, a Soapbox columnist. "We want to spread our business around and support as many as we can." 

Members of the UBBC will be led on a themed ride each week as a way to explore the downtown area. All riders are welcome and the group makes a conscious effort to keep all riders in one group. Monthly Saturday destinations rides are being discussed, including a potential early afternoon to Terry's Turf Club for lunch and back. Whatever the ride, riders can expect a leisurely, friendly exploration of Cincinnati.

By Evan Wallis (Follow him on Twitter)

Owners of Neons and Japp's open bourbon bar in Covington

Ninety five percent of all bourbons are made in Kentucky, so opening a bar that has an extensive collection Kentucky's famous spirit makes perfect sense, especially for a team that runs two successful bars.
 
The same team that runs Japp’s and Neons, John Back and Jeff Brandt, teamed with Molly Wellman again and opened Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar on Saturday May 5. Located in the 600 block of Mainstrasse in Covington, OKBB has a heavy focus on American bourbon. OKBB is keeping Wellman busy  while she curates between 50 and 70 types of whiskey. After the bar is up and running for a few months, Wellman hopes to build the list to 150 different bourbons and whiskeys. To compliment the many American bourbons and whiskeys, OKBB will also feature Irish and Canadian whiskeys, along with a small selection of cask-conditioned ales.

“Bourbon has such a amazing history,” Wellman says. “It takes a long time to make and it should be enjoyed. (OKBB) is a place for sitting down and understanding and enjoying this perfect drink.”

During the soft-opening and 'Friends and Family' event, representatives from both Makers Mark and Jim Beam distilleries were present. On Saturday, Yvette Simpson, Cincinnati City Council Member was present, along with members of Covinton's City Council. 

"It was great to see support from both Cincinnati and Covington," Back says.
 
Brandt has owned the building for a while and always intended on opening a bar, but he, Back and Wellman wanted to open Japp’s first and really develop a concept before expanding to Covington.

"We really want to cross-promote and bring people from both sides of the river to the other," Back says. "The Covington neighborhood has been very supportive and talked us up."
 
OKBB's 800-square-foot space has an intimate 30-40 person capacity and bartenders that know the story and process of each label they serve. The interior, which reflects the rustic beauty of the bourbon trail, was designed by Back, who is also an architect. Described as a “polished bluegrass” feel, OKBB will highlight the agrarian beauty of bourbon country in a modern way.
 
OKBB is the trio’s first foray outside of OTR but they are working to ensure a cohesive feel between bars by using staff from their two current bars and want to make OKBB a destination bar for both bourbon connoisseurs and novices. OKBB will host bourbon tastings and meet-and-greets with distillers in an effort to immerse patrons of OKBB in a bourbon-centric experience.
 
“It’s about making a place where people can have an experience they remember,” Wellman says. “Those places work to make the city more exciting.”
 
By Evan Wallis

Community-builder LISC moves to United Way building

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (L ISC) of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati have always had a close relationship. Now, they are neighbors.

LISC, the nonprofit community development group, moved into the United Way building at 2400 Reading Road, in Walnut Hills, in late April after calling the Emery Building, at 100 E. Central Parkway, home for the past five years.  

“We couldn’t really expand and do better neighborhood development work where we were,” says Kathy Schwab, LISC executive director. “This was perfect: It was newly renovated, the expense was really neutral and it was better space for us. Most importantly, it was more accessible for the funding community.’’

LISC is a national nonprofit group that fosters development in city neighborhoods through technical help and financial investments. Last year, they helped prevent local foreclosures, invested in housing for homeless veterans and helped open Gabriel’s Place, among a myriad of other projects to support health and safety, education and youth, economic development, housing development and improving family incomes.

In 2011, the group invested $2.7 million locally and leveraged $39.5 million. Since 2000, the nonprofit has invested $51.9 million and has leveraged $286.1 million. The staff works with local community development groups including the Cincinnati Development Fund and NeighborWorks.

Schwab and three other staff members packed themselves up and moved themselves into the building with the help of a local moving company. A new employee started last week in the new second-floor office. The full-time staff will be joined this summer by two interns and a VISTA AmeriCorps member to work with the group’s Financial Opportunity Centers and also with LISC’s AmeriCorps program.

Schwab said the move means she will be closer to other community development organizations in the city. She is also excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the United Way’s grant writer to win federal grants tied to community development.

“Greater Cincinnati has a great community development infrastructure,’’ Schwab says. “We already do collaborative projects … It will be so nice to be housed with the United Way . . .where we can share space and be supportive of others.”

By Chris Graves
Chris Graves is the assistant vice president of social and digital media at The Powers Agency, a public relations and advertising agency.

SpringBoard grad sells handy bagged lunches

While walking around Findlay Market on a busy weekend, Jamie Williams couldn't find a place to sit down and eat. This led her to think about eating "walking tacos" at fairs and other events. She then wondered, "Why not make food that is easier to eat while walking around?"
 
Now, after graduating from the most recent SpringBoard class, a business development program sponsored by ArtWorks, Williams and her new food-service venture, Cincy Bag Ladies, is selling lunchtime favorites like chicken salad and seafood salad, at Fountain Square's Tuesday market. 
 
"It gives people an easier way to eat while on the go," Williams says. "It will be perfect for places like Fountain Square and Findlay Market."
 
Cincy Bag Ladies debuted on Fountain Square the same day as the graduation ceremony from SpringBoard. Williams says the business acumen she learned in the course was instrumental in her quick launch. 
 
"I had the idea to make Cincy Bag Ladies, but I was really able to nail everything down while in SpringBoard," Williams says. "It made me realize things I never would have thought about, like how beneficial it can be to spend the money on branding from the beginning."
 
Williams, an OTR resident, will be on Fountain Square every Tuesday through May and hopes to move into a spot in Findlay Market in June. Williams and her mother prepare all the food in a kitchen in Kentucky, but are looking for a space to rent closer to where they will be serving. All of the meats, veggies, fruits and spices are sourced from Findlay Market. She's gotten a lot of advice from market business owners. 
 
"I've talked to people from Daisy Mae's and Eli's BBQ about when they both got started and  asked if they had any advice," says Williams. "Everyone has been so willing to help; it's been a great experience." 
 
Williams' goal is to eventually move into an OTR storefront and expand on the Cincy Bag Ladies name to sell purses and totes as well as the bagged lunches. 

Have a business idea you'd like help with? Registration is now open for the June SpringBoard sessions.
 
By Evan Wallis

Ensemble Theatre rebrands, rebuilds

Ensemble Theatre opened its doors in 1986 as a place to give professional artists a place to work without having to travel to Hollywood or Broadway. The theater has since become a landmark in Over-the-Rhine. Now, for the first time, Ensemble has unveiled new branding, a new website, and a refreshed exterior.
 
With attendance at an all-time high and after being awarded a $1.2 million grant from the state of Ohio, ETC is in the midst of a long-overdue makeover. 
 
"We've been in the neighborhood for 26 years, I think it's time to celebrate," says D. Lynn Meyers, artistic director. "The tenacity of us staying here through times that weren't as good as they are now is something special." 
 
With a new user-friendly website designed by LPK and a facade that is currently being painted, the goal of the rebranding and renovations is to raise visibility and mirror ETC's ambitious schedule in both building and branding. The branding has four main colors -- blue, red, green and purple. All represent the four "E's" ETC strives toward: Excite, Enliven, Enrich and Entertain.
 
"What we do on stage has a very eclectic feel," Meyers says. "Our branding was very typical. We wanted something more exciting and colorful, like what you see on stage." 
 
Visibility was also a concern for ETC. Meyers says patrons have sometimes walked by the entrance. New banners outside of the entrance should alleviate confusion. 
 
"I think a lot of people walk by and wonder what we are," Meyers says. "We want people to know we are here and want people to come in and check us out."
 
The grant ETC received won't be awarded until the group raises $1.2 million in matching funds. So, ETC is in the midst of kicking off its "Next Stage Capital Campaign," a $6.5 million renovation plan. Renovations will include a larger lobby, increased accessibility, a new HVAC system and building connections between the main theater building and other buildings ETC owns on the block.

Capital funds must come from contributions, since ticket sales support 10 full-time employees and more than 180 professional set builders, actors and other artists throughout the year. One the state grant is matched, ETC can begin renovations.
 
"We have a lot of fun neighbors now, and that means more people walking around," Meyers says. "People are walking in and buying tickets. That never used to happen, so we want to continue to make sure people feel welcome and know what we're about."
 
By Evan Wallis
 

Architecture 359 connects with community

After breaking away from BHDP Architecture, Architecture 359 has descended from "The Cloud" and settled on Twelfth and Jackson Streets for its first office space. 
 
While working remotely since April 2009 from Mariemont, Westwood, Wyoming, Madrid, Spain and Raleigh, North Carolina, the A359 team decided it was time for an office. After looking around the city and not finding a space that felt right, they drove through OTR and saw a hand-written 'For Rent' sign in the old 4 U Urban Fashion Boutique. They had a lease in their hands by the end of the day. 
 
"It all came back to wanting to be in this area," says Robert Rich. "Finding a storefront office was important to us. We want to have have an urban presence and become part of a community." 
 
A359 acquired the office last November and has since cleaned out and renovated the space. Currently, the firm, which consists of Robert Rich, Cori Cassidy, Gregory Kissel, Brian Coffman and Brian Bailey, is working on national projects but hopes to start working with local businesses soon. 
 
"Our specialty isn't so much a product-type," Rich says. "We thought we could provide a better product by creating better relationships with our clients. There were impediments to creating those relationships when we were all part of a bigger firm."
 
While Bailey and Coffman work out of Raleigh and Madrid, respectively, the other three are deeply involved in Cincinnati. Kissel, who has a background in preservation, has been working to save the Gamble house in his Westwood neighborhood. Cassidy worked as a project designer for Washington Park. In fact, some of the first OTR Flags that will soon hang in the park now hang in the windows of A359's office. 
 
"We have a fantasy to see more and more storefronts like ours become part of these great communities around Cincinnati," Rich says. "It's just a great way to be connected."
 
By Evan Wallis

OTR Kickball back for season three

This summer, the third season of the OTR kickball league will return to Cutter Field, this time, with a little more organization.
 
The kickball league was started two years ago by Jenny Kessler, who, until now, has found sponsors, rounded up teams, organized referees and scheduled the 22 teams who have competed during the first two seasons. At the end of last season, Tom Hodges, an OTR resident and lawyer, asked Kessler if she was going to plan a third season. After a short discussion, Hodges and Kessler, along with Joe Yoo, decided to form Urban Sports Cincinnati (USC), an LLC which will help govern the kickball league, and other downtown games like bocce ball at Neons and ping pong at the Drinkery. 
 
"The idea is to have something in place so once the person who started doesn't want to run it anymore, it still continues," Hodges says. "It's about the neighborhood. We want it to continue to thrive, and small things, like kickball, contribute to why people want to live here."
 
USC will create an infrastructure, complete with a website, to help in the planning of sports in the downtown area. 
 
"When I decide I don't want to run kickball anymore, someone won't have to build it from scratch again," Kessler says. "I can give someone the contacts, the set-up and all the other information they need to keep it going."
 
USC will also help keep the funds in one place. Soapbox contributor Casey Coston started ping pong at the Drinkery last year, but it has since stopped because of a lack of functioning tables. Hodges hopes that with USC, gathering the money needed will be easier, and better than having one person invest in the equipment alone.
 
The third season kicks of in late June and runs through August with a cost of $15 per person. The low cost has always been a goal, and is aimed at making the league more relaxed and all-inclusive, rather than ultra-competitive. It was a goal of Kessler's to bring the community together. Neighborhood children have always been encouraged to join teams when substitutes are needed, and those children have since become welcomed members of some teams.  
 
"I think the organization will give these games legitimacy, so people won't mind paying the $15," Hodges says. "But it's also cheap enough to keep the feeling that this is for fun and to make the community a more vibrant place." 

Sign your team up here.
 
By Evan Wallis
 


VisuaLingual's Seed Bomb biz blooms

Tucked into the third floor of a warehouse on W. 15th Street, right above Harvest Gallery, Maya Drozdz and Michael Stout, the duo that comprises VisuaLingual, have been busy stuffing muslin bags full of Seed Bombs for everything from baptisms to orders for Williams-Sonoma.
 
The Seed Bombs are gumball-sized brown balls made out of a cookie dough-like substance that encases different seeds. The bombs break on impact with the ground and eventually start to grow in almost any environment. Seed Bombs are completely hand-made and the bags are screen-printed by the couple in Over-the-Rhine.
 
One of their recent, larger developments is a contract with Williams-Sonoma. At the beginning of April, Drozdz put together two exclusive products for the new "Agrarian" line of products. The two products are cocktail garnishes that include cinnamon basil, lemon mint and lime basil, and culinary herbs, which include parsley, basil and cilantro. 
 
"It's been in the works for a long time," Drozdz says. "Once our products get featured in one national store, people start to see it and then contact us about getting it in their store." 
 
In the midst of stuffing bags, tying knots and packing up boxes for national retailers like Anthropologie and Williams-Sonoma, Drozdz and her two after-school employees and three part-time helpers work on custom orders for people and businesses around the country. Right now, the team is stuffing 10,000 bags of parsley seed bombs, which is a digestive-aid for dogs, for the all-natural dog food company, The Honest Kitchen. The Seed Bombs will be sent out as gifts to the dog food company's customers. 
 
Seed Bombs were also featured at an Etsy event in New York that showcased one-of-a-kind Etsy products for wedding favors. In the past year, VisuaLingual has experienced much growth, which will allow Drozdz's partner, Stout, to join the team full-time in May. 
 
"We've had to learn a lot of things as we go," Drozdz says. "But I feel like I always have a challenge and am learning and doings things I never thought I would." 
 
Next up, Drozdz is already thinking about the holiday season and making their Blooming Briquettes, a creative stocking-stuffer that looks like a piece of coal but is actually a Seed Bomb
 
By Evan Wallis
 

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