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A "Dry" Olde Towne East Improves Quality Of Life, Residents Say

The latest installment in the Columbus Neighborhoods series is a profile of the section known as Olde Towne East. Once the “silk stockingâ€? of the city, sections of Olde Town East around Main Street began to decline. Two years ago local residents stepped in and voted the area “dry.â€? The beauty and elegance of Olde Towne East is clearly evident among the homes along East Broad Street. But travel south a few blocks to East Main Street and that elegance is gone. Residents say the deterioration of that part of Olde Towne East was fueled in part by the presence of small convenience stores. “We had a proliferation of what we would call corner carryouts,â€? says Kathy Webb, captain of the local block watch. “Their primary business was to sell to the lowest economically disadvantaged. We just had way too many carryouts and just far too much availability of alcohol.â€? Resident Mike Moore called carryout owners irresponsible. They would do anything, he says, to make a fast buck. Their clientele continually disrupted life in Olde Towne East. “There was a lot of loitering; a lot of drinking on the sidewalk;, the litter was atrocious, people would just throw the cans or the glasses down,â€? Moore says. “What I’ve seen, there was selling to minors, public urination, drug dealing, just all of those undesirable things that you don’t want in a neighborhood.â€? So community leaders tried to negotiate with the carryouts. They asked owners to stop selling alcoholic products. Jonathan Beard, head of the Columbus Compact Corporation asked for a prohibition... “…to limit the types of beer and wine products. And so to avoid the cheap fortified wines; you know the large, high potency beers and malt liquors – 40 ounces – that are really designed to be drunk in a single setting and to get people drunk,â€? Beard says. But Block Watch captain Kathy Webb says the owners were uncooperative. “The carryouts demonstrated that they were not willing to work with us. They felt that alcohol and cigars and cigarettes and drug paraphernalia … those were their profit makers and they were not willing to change,â€? Webb says. Mike Moore, who at the time was president of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association, said residents had had enough. He worked to get a ban on alcohol sales on the 2010 ballot. Voters in Olde Towne East responded by approving the measure. Since then, Moore says, there’s been a significant drop in undesirable activity. “I’m not saying that everything is perfect but we’ve come a very long way in two years to what used to be there to what is there now. Even the police notice a huge difference,â€? Moore says. And so do others in the neighborhood; people like Vida Williams who’s shopping at a local clothing store. “Yes, it has made a difference,â€? Williams says. “Some of the people that have owned businesses don’t have to worry about any robberies or anything like that because of it being dry…it’s made a big difference being a dry area, yes.â€? Eugena Dade has owned and operated her restaurant Smothered Gravy on East Main for three years so she’s seen the transition. Dade says the neighborhood has changed a lot. “We had a lot of alcohol dependent people as well as drugs and homeless,â€? Dade says. “And they were just going to the stores and buying alcohol. But since the stores have been closed about 70 percent of those dependent on alcohol or drugs, they’re gone; they’re gone from this neighborhood. And so it has done a tremendously good job.â€? Community activists say that their section of Olde Towne East is on the mend. Kathy Webb says residents are able to stroll through the neighborhood again. Gone are most of the corner carryouts. They closed down when business declined. Community leaders say that only one carryout survived.