Crews dismantling the brick façade of an old retail building on Race Street uncovered a Victorian-era storefront that hasn’t been seen in 70 years.
The Chong Inc., the quirky retailer located at 616 Race St., Downtown, that sold a hodgepodge of urban clothing, knickknacks and age-old electronics in their original packaging and seemed to always have “store closing” signs outside, actually did close last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.’s OTR Holdings Inc. purchased the building last year as part of redevelopment along Race Street.
As the bricks come down, the original 19-century front peaks out, with empty window wells and decorative designs.
A search of Enquirer archives finds the store has changed hands repeatedly, with the prestigious A.E. Burkhardt & Co. furriers occupying the storefronts starting in 1895. It became Miller’s department store, then J.J. Newberry.
In 1951, the Butler Brothers department store did a major remodel, adding a mid-century modern red-brick front like what had been ushered in with the acclaimed Terrace Plaza Hotel on the next block in 1948.
Butler Brothers “transformed the former variety store building at 616-628 Race St. into a sparkling structure,” The Enquirer reported at the time.
The four-story department store was “a streamlined edition of its former self,” with escalators and air-conditioning.
The department store didn’t last long. The building was transformed into Kroger on Race at Shillito Place in 1960, which was the company’s last grocery store Downtown when it closed in 1969 until the Kroger on the Rhine opened on Court Street in 2019.
Singer sewing machines and Wurlitzer organs had stores in the building, then it became the Chong about 1988.