To mark National Economic Development Week, the City of Covington this week gave out the first-annual, first-ever “Authenti-CITY Awards” to acknowledge five places, events, people, organizations etc. that make The Cov the most authentically cool city in the Tri-State.

There are no rules (or criteria, really), and no formal ceremony: Just City staff stopping by with balloons, a trophy, a certificate, and goat-shaped cookies. (But hey, how charming is that?!?)



KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV (day 1): Gutierrez Deli at 1131 Lee St.

First open in 2012, Gutierrez is a small, family-owned Hispanic store featuring a wide selection of products from Central America and Mexico while also selling tacos, burritos, and quesadillas on a carry-out basis.

The judges’ comments:

“Any place that has a rocking horse, fresh papaya, quesadillas, and tallboys always has my vote.”

“It’s a good melting pot of people who line up in the aisles to get their awesome grub.”

“The Gutierrez family was an early investor in the revitalization of this Westside area of Covington, and between that and their new spin-off restaurant down the street, OLLA Taqueria, they are setting the multi-cultural tone for The Cov at one of our big gateway entrances!”

(Btw, OLLA Taqueria – operated by Sergio Gutierrez – plans a grand opening on June 1. It sits one block east on ML King Jr. Boulevard at its intersection with Holman Street.)

CAPTION: From left, Ross Patten, owner Claudio Gutierrez with Gabriela, Courtney, Benito, Sergio Gutierrez, Gabriel, Tom West, and Ken Smith. Patten is Assistant Economic Development Director at the City, West is Economic Development Director, and Smith is Neighborhood Services Director.



KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV (day 2): Hail Records & Oddities 720 Main St.

Why there?

(Seriously? Have you been in the shop?)

The tone is set with the sign in the window fronting the sidewalk: “The best place to get your freeze dried ducklings on your wedding day.”
Then, inside, there’s a full-blown skeleton of a lion in a glass case. A “Cyclops” whitetail deer mount. Cave nectar bat skulls. A raccoon hand floating in liquid. A stuffed coyote. And shadow boxes with mounted pink toe tarantulas and black scorpions.

But it’s not all animals.

You need a selenite wand? A vial of sloe berries? Incense and soaps? The latest edition of “High Magick?” A Jane Austen action figure? A very practical aromatherapy guide? A button featuring the face of Pennywise the clown’s brother?

It’s basically a museum of the macabre where (nearly) everything is for sale, owner Neil Higginbotham explained.

“We try to have something for everybody – although we ARE a very stylized and curated collection,” he said.

But – and here’s the interesting dichotomy – the shop is also a destination for very serious collectors of VHS and vinyl, where you can get anything from a Sid Vicious bootleg to Porter Wagenor’s “Satisfied Mind” (and practically everything in-between).

During the worst throes of COVID-19, curbside pickup and online business boomed, Higginbotham said.

You might know the shop by its former Hail Dark Aesthetics name and the Friday night “arts and crafts” get-togethers where couples and friends came together to learn the techniques of preserving and mounting black scorpions, butterflies, 5-horned rhinoceros beetles, and large velvety red flower beetles, (the latter billed as a Valentine’s Day “Date Night").

Co-owner Tracy Blankemeyer, who oversaw the “classes,” said the shop hoped to organize similar events again once the pandemic allows it.

So, if you haven’t already come to this conclusion yourself: To fully appreciate the shop, you have to see it in person. If you have time, we advise asking for the how, why, and where each interesting piece was acquired. Each one does have a story, and Higginbotham and Blankemeyer are happy to tell it.



KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV (day 3): “Badminton Brawl,” by Hub+Weber Architects, PLC

Today’s winner? An event we bet no other city around here can boast.

The Hub+Weber “Badminton Brawl” is an annual tournament first held in 2016 that – as we hear the rumor – might return this summer after its pandemic year off.

How big is the event? Sixty (60!) people competed in 2019.

Where? (Let’s set the stage … er, court):

Hub+Weber’s offices are in the fabulously rehabbed space of the old train depot at Pike and Russell streets. On the Russell Street side is a brick courtyard (The Cov’s version of Boston Garden’s iconic old parquet floor).

One day a year, three badminton nets are set up on the brick as spectators come from blocks and blocks around to eat, drink, and watch the racket-wielding athletes, who signed up via Eventbrite.

It’s a one-loss-and-you-sit format (“unless you cry really hard, and then we might let you play another match,” said office manager Jen Barnett).

The winner’s name is added to a poured concrete trophy topped with a floating bronze “birdie” (technical name “shuttlecock”), which the winner gets to keep for a year before passing on to their successor, a la NHL’s Stanley Cup.

By the way, Hub+Weber’s affinity for badminton isn’t just a one-day thing. It’s not unusual to see a net stretched across the high-ceiling’ed office and employees whacking a birdie back and forth to relieve stress and advance the team-building (which of course is the situation we found when we showed up with the Authenti-CITY swag).

Is it Olympic-level play? (Let’s just say that Chen Long, P.V. Sindhu, and Nozomi Okuhara won’t be knocked from the medal stand anytime soon by anyone from The Cov.)

Nevertheless, we hear there might be some Badminton Brawl news soon, which – if true – would arrive via Instagram @hubweber or Facebook Hub+Weber Architects, PLC



KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV (day 4): Covington Street Hockey [CSHL]

The CSHL started in 2018 with a humble goal: Get together each week to play. But in three short years (including one “stolen” by the pandemic), “it’s turned into something much bigger than any of us thought it ever would,” Executive Director Tim Acri says.

Sure, they play street hockey a couple of times a week (more on that later).

But the CSHL is now a full-fledged organization -- with a capital “O” – that teaches hockey to neighborhood youth and holds toy drives and litter cleanups to better the community. It has officers, a board, a cool website, sponsors, some 120 skaters on six teams, and online merchandise (meaning its logos are slowly becoming a common sight throughout The Cov. In short, the CSHL has rapidly become another thread in Covington’s social fabric.

But why specifically did we give them one of these coveted awards?

One, the CSHL is cool, fun, and quirky, and the action is fast-paced and competitive. Come watch their monthly tournaments, or the pick-up play every Thursday evening and Saturday morning.

The names of the six teams, by the way (Licking River Rats, Devou Devils, Roebling Trolls, MainStrasse Misfits, Shields, Goebel Goats) all pay tribute to elements of Covington.

Two, the organization has become an able and willing partner with the community and the City, time and again.

They play at Barb Cook Park on Ashland Avenue, where Covington Parks & Rec recently did a massive rehab and agreed to let the league build a permanent home using its own funds. (Previously, CSHL played at Kenny Shields Park in MainStrasse Village.) Trivia: the new rink’s “boards” came from Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio, which was damaged by a tornado and then demolished.

The park is across Madison Pike from the Latonia Terrace housing complex, and CSHL holds a Saturday morning youth league that includes neighborhood kids.

And three, CSHL personifies The Cov’s values.

On its website, its founders say their goal was to create an organization where “everyone feels welcome no matter race, color, creed or skill sets.”

The website then elaborates:

  • Mission: Community engagement through the game of hockey and contributing toward the improvement of local public spaces.
  • Vision: Positive community development with an emphasis on inclusivity, symbiotic growth, and fun.
  • Values: Inclusiveness. Community. Participation. Quality. Fun.
Yes, “Authenti-CITY” indeed.



KEEPIN’ IT REAL in THE COV (day 5): Ron Padgett

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in Ron’s case, a single image of the Covington resident adorned in full, elaborate get-up would demand the use of at least TEN thousand words. His costumes (we use more adjectives below) not only break the Internet but deplete the thesaurus.

But let us back up and start from the beginning …

Padgett is a Realtor who is heavily engaged in the region, serving on an array of quasi-governmental boards and task forces and chairing fund-raisers for organizations like the Cincinnati Opera, Baker Hunt Art & Cultural Center, and The Victorian at Riverside (formerly the Covington Ladies Home).

But he also, as he told one magazine writer, strives to live by this philosophy: “Life is hilarious, don’t be afraid to laugh at it.”

Which brings us to this: Ron dresses up. 

He dresses up for Halloween … for galas … for the Kentucky Derby (see Forbes magazine) … for magazine photo shoots … and almost any other occasion. But what got the region’s attention happened during the pandemic – when Ron held backyard and foyer fashion shows that he posted on social media to bring cheer and amusement (and not a small bit of astonishment) to all who followed, day after day.

We say “astonishment” because these aren’t just ANY costumes. Typically these are elaborate, fabulous, detailed, exquisite, and – dare we say – “immaculate” personas that defy description (or at complicate it a bit).

Think Marie Antoinette. Queen Elizabeth I. A Parisian socialite. Marilyn Monroe. Marlene Dietrich. Salvador Dali.

In sum: high-fashion pageantry, haute couture, commedia dell’arte, and Venetian masquerade.

But don’t take our word(s) for it: Explore some of his Instagram posts with the hashtag #literallyhanginginmycloset

“To my fellow nominees,” Padgett said this evening, “I just want to say, ‘Nice try.’ ”