28 November 2010


I was saddened to learn that Rohs Hardware store will close at the end of the year. I do not think this was inevitable, and however unlikely, I would even hope that maybe someone could try to reopen it. I don't know the details, but the building is being sold to 3CDC or one of their development parnters.

The owner, Al Rohs was one of the first people I met when I came to this neighborhood. He is steeped in knowledge about hardware and repairs of all kinds. He is one of those people you see all the time, but don't really know him on a personal level. Through the years I learned a little about him, such as that he sings in a choir and I've met some people in his family, but mostly we know him as a good proprietor of a neccessary store and place that everyone must visit from time to time.

He has worked at the store for 62 years. Let that sink in for a minute. He has worked in this store for over six decades! His father owned and operated the store before him, and they worked together when Al was young. And did anyone ever say thank you? Did the community ever acknowledge him the same way they do new businesses?

My memories of Al, and the store are of him and two clerks (David and Darrel especially): Six days a week, from 7:30 to 6pm, they would be constantly moving around cutting keys, cutting glass, mixing paint, selling fishing lures, selling fishing licenses, advising which method shold be used to unclog a sink or how to repair an old gas stove, recommending pesticides, selling rock salt, selling snow shovels, selling tons of box fans and window air conditioners in the summer and space heaters in the winter. They would sell the portable gas space heaters that are no longer used and the hard to find parts to service them. They would sell heat tape to keep pipes from freezing. They would re-glaze an old wooden sash. They would cut black iron pipe to length and thread the end. They sold propane tanks for soldering, they sold light bulbs, dish soap, bed bug powder, deadbolts, 2by4s, sand mix, different sizes of ropes and chains cut to length, tile grout, pocket knives, electrical outlets and switches, copper fittings, radiator repair kits, engine oil, every grit of sandpaper, steel wool, tire repair kits, granny carts, extension ladders, step ladders, drop cloths, furnace filters, pvc fittings, faucets, drains, drain cleaner, snakes, paint brushes, rollers, power tools, garbage cans, work gloves, dust masks, goggles, padlocks, eyes and hooks, toilets, rubber washers, toilet repair kits, toilet seats, pipe cutters, bolt cutters, box knifes, WD-40, 3 in 1 oil, graphite, address numbers, crowbars, wrenches, hoses, light fixtures, and every kind of screw, nut or nail imaginable.

And all this he did, for 62 years, in a space about the size of some people's living rooms. He did it when Vine Street was known as a place to get a cheap drink. He did it when Vine Street had muggings and drive-by shootings. He did it through the riots. He did it through all that, but cannot do it with all the new development around him. Business has been slow at Rohs during recent years. The neighborhood has been changing. Two-way Vine hurt him a bit. His delivery trucks couldn't double park and he lost a parking space. Then there was all this construction around him, and the contractors working now aren't buying just two screws at a time, or one gallon of paint at a time. The contractors rarely if ever bought from him. Some people believe that the new developers wanted to drive him out. I don't believe that, but there is no question that they could have done much more to help his business. And as the buildings get finished so that they are like new, there is less repair work needed on them. There are also less people, less renters, less slumlords. Certainly less people who need bolt locks, screen repairs and roach powder.

I don't know if Al would ever read this, but I would like to thank Al for his hard work and his helpfulness to me and to our neighbors all these years. He is a good man and I hope he has a well-deserved rest. It will be sad to be in this neighborhood without our most everyday, most dependable neighbor.


prolix21 said...

this is really sad to hear. this news came up at our HOA meeting the other day. i've only been there a few times since we moved in, but it's been extremely handy to have a hardware store in OTR. i much prefer the small stores vs the huge big box home improvement places. i previously lived in clifton and when the ace hardware opened there everyone was thrilled - i wonder if a store like that (a bit bigger, wider selection of things) would do better down here.

can't help but wonder we are doing wrong if with all this new development and growth in OTR, a family hardware store can't survive.

Jim Uber said...

I agree with much of what has been said here. I do, however, think this is just what happens when a person has worked in the same store for 60 years - he wants to take a break. He has adapted so many times, he is tired of it. It's not that he couldn't have adapted to this new environment - I suspect he could have done well - he chose not too.

The last two times I went there, you couldn't walk in. The door was locked and you had to knock and wait for Al or someone else to unlock it for you. It gave you a creepy feeling of being intensely watched for every move you made, in addition to being obviously unfriendly to customers. I think he was unwilling to adapt again to managing crime in a different environment, and had sort of packed it in by that point.

VisuaLingual said...

I hope I'm wrong about this, and I'm certainly not trying to start a rumor, but I went to Suder's [the art supply store] yesterday, and they seemed to be out of certain basic things. I mentioned it and got a shrug in response. It made me wonder if that store is on its way out as well. [On the other hand, they are apparently now working to fix or replace their old, amazing sign, so maybe that means they're not going anywhere.]

prolix21 said...

I certainly hope Suders is sticking around - I'd think they would be doing pretty well with the Art Academy so close. That old sign is awesome, would love to see it restored

VisuaLingual said...

I was told that it may well be beyond restoration, but that the current old-looking new sign is only temporary.

Quimbob said...

Too bad Rohs couldn't hang in a bit longer. As the area gets more population, business would surely improve.

Anonymous said...

People dont fix things themselves anymore. Or are scared to try.

Or are renters and cant so much as sneeze in their apt!

John Schneider said...

I hate to see Rohs go too, having shopped there for years.

But at least there's another downtown hardware store, a new one, that means we won't have to go to Home Depot for everything.

It's Acme Hardware -- in the 900 block of Main, just south of Court Street. It opened last year, and they literally have everything although not in great quantities. I've never not found what I needed there.

They're not open on weekends though.

VisuaLingual said...

Acme's not new. It was open when we moved here four years ago and needed a duplicate set of keys. They moved down the street in the mean time. Not being open on weekends is killer, though.

Sandra said...

It sounds like Al's contributed to the kind of great neighborhood spirit we all need - and encourages us to be great neighbors and citizens too!

Bob said...


Thanks for more great writing. To serve the community for over six decades is an achievement worthy of celebration. Once our sadness is temporarily put aside, a party should be thrown for Rohs Hardware!

I can only imagine the stories that Mr. Rohs has to tell; think about the changes he's seen at local, regional, and national levels; someone should ask him to sit down and spend some time recording an oral history.

It would be ideal if a new generation could come in and continue operating the store; new owner would be smart if they kept Al around for consultation work -- you know he must know these buildings and their sometimes quirky nature better than anyone in a big-box store.

I urge anyone who is in the area to stop in and give a quick "thank you" to Mr. Rohs for his many years of service to OTR and the City of Cincinnati.

patty williams said...

Opportunity Alert!! Someone get busy and open a new hardware store in OTR. We can't be a proper neighborhood without one.

Paul Wilham said...

Cincinnati is one of the few "big cities" that still has small hardware stores. You simply do not find them in most cities anymore.

OTR seems intent on building lots of "cookie cutter HGTV lofts" rather than restorations. If OTR is like Indy in a few years people will grow tired of that look and start wanting to put "history' back into their living spaces even consolidating those small lofts into larger family friendly spaces.

Rents or building prices will likely be so high by then, few would take the risk to open a hardware store. Much like the corner grocery, another thing that made cities special likely gone forever.

Anonymous said...

Hello CityKin,

My name is Dave Rohs, I am Al Rohs's son. I want to say thanks for the recognition and appreciation you have shown my Dad work.

My father cared deeply for the people and the neighborhood he worked in. It is certainly with mixed emotions that he decided to close the store that his parents started. It is heartening to hear some voices that appreciated his work.

Thank you for the kind article!

McEwan said...

They made my first copy of my first key in my first OTR apartment.