To the west of Cincinnati in Colerain Township: fast food, a supermarket, and the type of restaurant that seems to always fit into any kind of dying suburban development.
Colerain has just about any restaurant chain you can imagine and odds are you'll find it off of US-27. Every variety of casual cuisine is mixed in among malls, auto dealerships, and retail. The area seems to be in a constant state of development upheaval. Rather than fading away as an older suburb, Colerain Township has maintained its status quo as a hub of activity on the west side. Big box retailers range from the high end Best Buy to the rent-to-own retailers such as Aaron's. When a fast food franchise building becomes dated, it's typically replaced with the latest model. Connecting with three major highways, US 27 is a tour of the area's economic and consumer diversity not just for its current options, but the forgotten ones too.
In yesterday's post regarding an abandoned Steak 'n Shake (and a point that gets brought up often in this photo series), I discussed how tough it can be to repurpose certain suburban structures. A former Pizza Hut will always look like a Pizza Hut no matter what replaces it on the inside. There's one business model though that truly couldn't care less about a building's former branding or use, it'll be accommodated to fit anywhere where the rent is cheap: the Chinese Buffet.
Now, to be fair, I don't know if the Dynasty Buffet was an original tenant to this strip mall or not, yet time and time again while photographing these forgotten suburban locations, I've found several repurposed as ultimately unsuccessful Chinese buffets. I probably wouldn't have even stumbled upon this particular one had it not been for the weathered lettering visible from the nearby Ronald Reagan Highway. While I guess it's technically a "ghost sign," it never made it into the book. Neither did the faded LA Weight Loss sign next to it:
If you search Google for "Dynasty Buffet" you'd find that there still are and have been several more buffets with the same name in the area and around the country. They don't appear to be related or part of a larger chain, but let's be honest, pretty much all Chinese buffets are the same: the kitschy decorations reaffirming what Americans think China looks like, they're always serving Pepsi and never Coke, the dried out Sweet and Sour Chicken that somehow still tastes delicious, the soft serve ice cream machine, etc.
If you think one Chinese buffet is "the best," or a step above the rest, odds are it's not that special and just the one closest to your house or work. Nevertheless, there's a comfort in knowing you'll have roughly the same experience no matter which buffet you stumble into and if Yelp is any indicator, the Dynasty checked off all the buffet boxes. From the sole internet reviewer:
"typical chinese buffet, nothing special.would give 2.5 stars if I could."
Edit: Thanks to an anonymous commenter below: prior to being Dynasty Buffet, this location was an "Old Country Buffet."
Most people local to Cincinnati will remember Bigg's ("true minimum price!). Before Wal-Mart and Target spread like wildfire across the Tri-State, Bigg's had been pioneering the "hypermarket" concept here. The chain launched in 1984 combining groceries with general merchandise. If you needed something, odds are Bigg's had it and for a decent price. Their most famous local store was probably the one that anchored the ill fated Forest Fair/Cincinnati Mills mall. Bigg's had bold ideas, but they just didn't seem to be quick enough in rolling them out. Like Meijer and Wal-Mart, Bigg's massive retail locations held aisle upon aisle of merchandise. As the national chains encroached on Bigg's local turf, the company never made good on its plans to expand its brands. Myself included, many in this area grew up going to Bigg's stores. The one in the mall was always a great adventure as a kid.
In 1994, Bigg's was only boasting seven locations, but still held strong local favor. By 2008, the flagship mall store closed down amid declining sales probably brought on by yet another downturn in the mall's fortunes (for that story, read this). Faced with stiff national competition on the general merchandise front, and existing in the backyard of grocery giant Kroger, the Bigg's company was put up for sale in 2010.
Northern Kentucky's Remke Markets purchased Bigg's and announced which stores it would be closing and which it would be keeping. Initially, this Colerain store was announced as a closure, however some articles hint that it was planned to be converted into the newly branded "Remke Bigg's" brand. The colors of the exterior (and an old Yelp review) would seem to indicate that it saw life as Remke Bigg's for a moment, before closing entirely.
Edit: Thanks to an anonymous commenter below: this Bigg's did get a chance as a Remke before closing for good.
After awhile, Remke dropped the Bigg's branding entirely and exists in this market now solely as "Remke Markets."
The former Bigg's in Colerain sits boarded up, back away from the main road with some anti-Hillary Clinton posters emblazoned on it decrying her as a "Future Despot." Maybe Trump could make Bigg's great again if the company still existed and he could just reach out and grab it?
Earlier in this post I mentioned just how quickly things can turn over along Colerain Ave. While there's plenty of suburban abandonment, the high traffic corridor still offers some prime retail spots. Take this former Pizza Hut for example. An updated model from the traditional "red roof" of the 80's and early 90's (one of those was also abandoned on the west side of Cincy), Pizza Hut's whole business model has changed. Fading fast are the standalone stores with video games, birthday parties, and buffets. Succeeding them are locations built into tiny strip mall sections that cost way less to rent and don't typically offer dine-in service. If you're lucky, you can also find Pizza Hut combined with Taco Bell and served through a drive-through (it's not half bad, honestly).
Lower overhead, same mediocre pizza.
Tan/brown walls and a sunken sun room in the middle of a parking lot had long been the visual hallmark for one of the nation's largest pizza chains. If you wanted to swing by this historic structure and pay your respects though, I'm afraid you're too late. A prime location on Colerain avenue, this pizza corpse wasn't left rotting for long. Its not]w the site of a new Tim Horton's, the Canadian coffee chain's first appearance into the Cincinnati market.
As the Pizza Hut sat closed, awaiting its demolition, its Louisville based Yum! Brands brethren also sat abandoned. There was no denying that red and white trim or the ornate cupola above the entrance, this part of town had just lost a...
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Nothing to worry about though, there's another one just a few miles to the south (and 19,951 more locations throughout the world). Like its corporate brother next door, this beautiful structure didn't sit idle for long. The structure was renovated into a Domino's Pizza in 2016 (special thanks to Barry, the employee who answered the phone and confirmed to me that the Domino's is in fact within the same building that once was a KFC. I had to know for sure.).
Colerain Avenue provides a great tour of shifting suburban demands, tastes, culture, and economics. Unlike most of its neighbors, it's actually a fairly diverse area. It's worth a drive to see how things have developed and been replaced or forgotten as the area has grown. It's suburbia, but not your typical valley of McMansions.
Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here.
Throughout October 10-15, a new entry into Suburbia Lost will be posted each day.