Friday, March 21, 2008

Selling Out: Kevin W. Johnson

The Emporium: A Historic Landmark?

      Portsmouth businessman Kevin Johnson is playing an important role in helping the city’s corrupt politicians recycle the Marting Scam, which has morphed into the “City Center Scam.” The City Center Scam is a scheme to turn the 124-year-old decrepit Marting building into a home for city offices, with mom and pop kiosks on the ground floor to sell notions and newspapers. You can bet on the featured newspaper being the Portsmouth Daily Times, which fires reporters who even accidentally happen to report news embarrassing to the over-privileged who run the city. But why did Richard’s News close shop if there’s money in selling newspapers and magazines in downtown Portsmouth?

      The citizens of Portsmouth rejected the Marting Scam by more than 2 to 1 in a referendum in May 2006, but the crooks are back again in 2008, recycling what they failed to sell the first time, repackaging it as the City Center, with Kevin W. Johnson up to his neck in the lies and “petitions” being circulated to fool the public into thinking that the old, unoccupied, leaking Marting building, with its ugly phony-brick 1950's façade, is the key to the revival of downtown Portsmouth. After my legal challenge to First Ward councilman Tim Loper resulted in his removal from office, Johnson harbored political ambitions of being appointed to replace him. But the city chose Mike Mearan over Johnson, perhaps with the philosophy of “better the devil you know.” Now Johnson, as a member of the City Building Committee, has shown he is a team player who follows the rules by which the crooked game is played.
Nefarious Building Committee, with Johnson in center

The Emporium

      Kevin W. Johnson, or Kevin Warren as he is listed on the Scioto County Auditor’s website, is the co-owner of the Emporium antique shop, at 607 Chillicothe St. His partner is Paul  E. Johnson, whose last name he has apparently taken. The irony is that Kevin W. Johnson, or Kevin Warren, this crusader for the revival of downtown Portsmouth, is reportedly trying to sell the Emporium. He’s going to sell out, after about five years in business, if he can find a buyer as foolish as himself and his partner to sell to. He’s going to sell out and move out, although a case could be made that he had already sold out when he became a member of the nefarious City Building Committee, chaired by Mike Mearan. His sellout may in the end help him unload the Emporium.

      What a poster boy Johnson is for downtown renewal! What in the world were he and his partner thinking when they opened another antique shop in Portsmouth? The Emporium is all the evidence you need that downtown Portsmouth died forty years ago but nobody buried the corpse, of which the Marting building is the stinking head. The people in our down-at-the-heels-crime-ridden-community needed another antique shop like they needed another dozen prostitutes on John St., or more doped-up drug dealers on Waller St., or like they needed another chop shop/oxycontin dealership like West End Auto. Who among us needs a Marting Shoe Polisher can, a life-sized cut-out of Marilyn Monroe having her skirt blown up over a subway grate; or a copy of a 33 1/3 Velvet Underground vinyl record (shown left); or a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock? Yes, a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock! Doesn’t Kevin W. Johnson realize that the local rednecks don’t even know, according to Clayton Johnson, how to set an alarm clock? Would potential customers who don’t know how to set an alarm clock pay $125 for an antique cuckoo clock? Antique cuckoo clocks? How about antique VCRs, the kind that used to drive everybody but children nuts fifteen or twenty years ago when they tried to program them. We really need to get some of those VCRs in the hands of senior citizens to bring back the good old days. Maybe Hill View could bus seniors down to the Emporium to shop for antique VCRs, the way they may be bussed down to the Hotel/Convention Center if gambling ever comes to Portsmouth.

      All those little downtown stores that useful businesses had long ago moved out of were like empty shells for hermit-crab antique dealers to move in and out of every six months. The Emporium had moved into the empty building that had previously been occupied by Stapleton Office Supplies, which had held on as long as it could before heading for greener pastures, heading for anywhere, that is, other than downtown Portsmouth, just as Sears Roebuck had previously moved out of that same building. Ah, where are the Sears Roebucks and Montgomery Wards of yesteryear? Why did Kevin W. Johnson think there would be any more customers for antiques than there had been for office supplies, or for pet grooming, or for Speedo bathing suits, or quilts, to name some of the businesses that have come and gone in the last twenty years on Chillicothe Street? Portsmouth was already the antique/junk shop capital of south-central Ohio before the pair of Johnsons arrived. Having another antique shop was like bringing coke to New Boston or Oxycontin to Portsmouth. We’ve already got enough of that stuff.

      I was in Stapleton’s the week before it closed, and talked to employees. It was a sad occasion, but the folks there understood the time had come to get out, something that proponents of reviving downtown refuse to recognize. The Marting Foundation is trying to con everyone into believing downtown can be revived, as it once was, as if dinosaurs can be replicated by DNA, as in Jurassic Park. The dream of recreating the bustling downtown Portsmouth of 60 years ago is a myth that Clayton Johnson and others perpetrate and exploit, just as unscrupulous evangelists exploit the hope of everlasting life. Unfortunately, the only thing that is likely to revive downtown Portsmouth is casino gambling, and that is what Neal Hatcher is banking on, not the return of Sears or Marting’s or even Stapleton’s. No, Hatcher knows better, which is why he’s betting on the Hotel/Convention Center that will replace the Municipal Building.

      That’s probably what Kevin W. Johnson was betting on too when he opened the Emporium. As I reported in an earlier River Vices blog, “Sluts and Slots,” the Portsmouth Daily Times (28 June 2005) ran a front-page story with the headline “Gambling Draws Local Support.” What did this local support consist of? Two people, the pair of Johnsons. The PDT reported Kevin W. Johnson was in favor of legalized land-based gambling in Portsmouth. Johnson pointed to unspecified cities in Colorado and South Dakota as places where legalized gambling has been a good thing, and what’s good for cities in Colorado and South Dakota, he implied, will be good for Portsmouth. Kevin W., the PDT reported, “said casinos could mean turning around the local economy.” Maybe gambling would eventually turn around the local economy, with serious moral and social consequences, but not soon enough, as it turned out, to turn the Emporium into marketable real estate.

      Will someone buy the Emporium or will it remain on the market for a long time? If the City Center becomes a reality, maybe Kevin W. can attract buyers for the Emporium by claiming, falsely I believe, that things are looking up downtown. As somebody with a lot of white elephants on his hands, he has a vested interest in the proposed City Center, which may explain why he has ended up being a strong proponent of the city investing millions of dollars in the Marting building, though many citizens are adamantly opposed to it. Kevin W.'s  hopes for gambling in Portsmouth did not bail him out, but maybe the City Center will. Beware of businessmen in Portsmouth who have property they want to unload. If they can’t unload it on some private party, then the public better beware because the city or county might come to the rescue with tax dollars. Remember Clayton Johnson and the Marting building? Remember George Clayton and Kendrick’s retail store? Kevin W. is trying to make the case  that the building the Emporium is located in has architectural and historical importance. In other words, a similar case is being made for the Emporium building that has been made for the Marting building. “In recognition of our [restoration] efforts,” the pair of Johnsons tell us on their Emporium website, “the City of Portsmouth designated our building as a historic site in late 2002, and plans are to restore the exterior of the building in the near future.”

Caveat Emptor

     The city has done everything to physically and verbally tear down the Municipal Building, which has historic value, which is 50 years younger than the Marting building, and which has housed the city government for 75 years. By contrast, the city has declared the Emporium building a “historic site.” What malarkey! There is nothing historic or artistically significant about the Marting and Emporium buildings. Perhaps we should be thankful that the pair of Johnsons have not restored the exterior of the building, as they planned to do, because that might have consisted of nothing more than a façade to cover up its undistinguished exterior, a la the Marting building.

      So Kevin W. is part of the crew of underhanded types, in and out of government, who are trying to stir up the populace as they did back in 1980, when three City Councilmen were accused of sabotaging a new mall, a mall that has gone down in Portsmouth mythology as the city’s last lost great opportunity. That mall was a scam and so is the City Center. Fortunately, we have one of those councilmen from 1980, Harald Daub, with us still, and he along with thousands of other Portsmouth residents are still opposing scams like the City Center. There’s one thing you can say for Harold Daub. Unlike Kevin W.  he never sold out.