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New Entrepreneurs, Attitude Leading Turnaround in Covington

RCN Managing Editor Jerod Theobald talks to four small business owners in Covington.
 
As Cincinnati continues to grab news headlines both locally and nationally, another city sitting just to its south is quietly coming into its own. Overshadowed by the recent 
successes in Newport, Over-the-Rhine, and downtown Cincinnati, the city of Covington is currently riding a small but growing wave of momentum as it approaches its 200th
birthday. 
 
For decades, the city of Covington had been on the decline. Years ago, as its population moved out of the urban core, many of its shops and other small businesses closed their doors. What was once a thriving retail and entertainment destination had become a place whose streets were lined with empty storefronts and deserted at nearly all hours of the day. 
 
Over the past three years, however, something has changed. Many people who live in Covington say the swing in momentum can be traced back to the day local businessman Chuck Scheper stepped in as interim mayor to help save a city on the brink of bankruptcy. If you talk to Scheper privately, however, he’ll tell you there’s more to it than that. 
 
The positive change in Covington is rooted in a change in attitude and a willingness by a growing minority to carry the city on its back until it is strong enough to walk again on its own. There is a belief among business owners, community leaders, residents, city staff, and others with a strong love for Covington that the city is not only on the right course but is on the verge of greatness. A city that for so long has backpedaled has now begun to march forward. 
 
There are many who march on the front line including several young entrepreneurs who likely could have settled in an up-and-coming neighborhood on the north side of the Ohio River but chose to set up shop in Covington. Although a couple have found immediate success in the city, many of the others continue to grind it out, working together to attract not only visitors, but like-minded individuals with aspirations of opening their own small business. 
 
Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with four of those individuals on the front line to discuss their businesses, their thoughts on Covington, and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
 
J. Theobald: Why did you decide to open your business in Covington?
 
Hilary Nauman, co-owner of art gallery Shrewdness of Apes: Covington has that fantastic pioneering energy; it is not bound to an established reputation. We can be 
whatever we want to be and thrive. 
 
Caitie McKinley Mix, co-owner of Greenline Salon: We know great things are happening in Covington and we wanted to be a part of the revitalization. We could have 
opened in a new strip mall or shopping center in Florence, Newport, or Union but that wasn’t our mission. We felt a calling to open in a city that needed something new in an 
existing space.

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Greenline Salon

JT: What has been the biggest surprise since opening your business?
 
Erikka Gray, owner of vintage shop District 78: The biggest surprise is the amount of work and effort it takes to move a re-emerging city forward. Fortunately, there are so many people (in Covington) working to make that growth happen.
 
HN: The biggest surprise has been the amount of other small businesses that have popped up. We have a great new community with a lot of energy and a willingness to collaborate.
 
JT: What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
 
Mike Harwood, owner of Whack Burger: To me, being an entrepreneur means taking a risk to work for yourself.
 
HN: For me, it’s making my own way. I have had great advice and help from other small business owners, but at the end of the day there is no handbook or manual for success. My partner (Michael Boyd) and I are responsible for making things happen. It’s both amazing and excruciating. 
 
EG: Living out my dreams.
 
CM: Being an entrepreneur means taking the risk and assuming all responsibilities. We often equate it to becoming a new parent; putting in hours you didn’t know you could mentally handle, doing the little jobs that no one knows about to keep the business going, and getting excited over every milestone no matter how large or small.

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District 78

JT: Being an entrepreneur can be a grind. What keeps you going each day?
 
MH: Having pride in my product. I also want to be a part of the change in Covington.
 
HN: At the end of the day, we like what we do. For us, it’s making, collecting, and exhibiting art and handmade items. It’s fantastic when someone comes in and really likes 
something you’ve made or something you have chosen to carry in your gallery.
 
EG: I never thought it (becoming an entrepreneur) was possible, period. Now that I have the opportunity to live out my dream, I have to try everything I can to make District 78 successful. I also have great people that help me everyday. Quitting isn’t an option.
 
CM: You have to be passionate about the services you are providing for the guests and passionate about helping your staff grow as outstanding service providers. Also, waking up everyday to go to a job you have built with your own hands is rewarding beyond belief.
 
JT: What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
 
MH: Be prepared. Be very prepared.
 
HN: Just do something, try something. You really have no idea what will work for you until you try and if/when it doesn’t work, try something else. You should also be kind and helpful to others. Make an effort to support your peers.
 
EG: Get to know the industry you’re jumping into, be creative, and get to know your neighbors. Other business owners in Covington have been very supportive of each other. We all want to push the city forward.

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Shrewdness of Apes

CM: The challenge with being an entrepreneur is that there isn’t one piece of advice that works for every person or business. I think you have to seek advice from people you 
admire on a business and personal level and keep the advice you know to be right for you and your business. And hire a fabulous accountant and a great lawyer. They are worth every penny.
 
Jerod Theobald is managing editor at The River City News and owner of flow - a shop for men at 621 Scott Blvd. A version of this article will also appear in the March edition of Cincinnati Profile.