Ned Peppers and other bars were modestly busy, not bustling. People drank and danced and laughed.
But testaments to the tragedy were inescapable. In front of Ned Peppers, flowers lay in a heap beneath a banner proclaiming “Dayton Strong.” Crosses bearing the names of the nine killed were lined up in front of Hole in the Wall. Flowers placed days ago in bullet holes left in buildings started to wilt.
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In addition to these memorials, nearly every business sidewalk sign called for solidarity and strength.
“We don’t heal in isolation, but in community. 8-4-19” read the sign in front of Heart Mercantile.
Down the street, Clash Consignments was nearly sold out of “Gem City” merchandise, all of the proceeds of which will be donated to help shooting victims.
Women were on the sidewalk dispensing free hugs. A church from Columbus drove down with dogs to give people comfort.
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Many people along the street were from out of town. Ty Sullivan drove all the way from Columbus with her three children and niece to pay her respects.
“It’s just been weighing heavy on my mind since it happened,” she said. “I just felt a need to be in this area.”
Many people had personal reasons for being downtown that night.
Jonathan Hall spoke briefly and privately to a portrait of Lois Oglesby hung along with photos in a store window of others slain that night. He recalled Oglesby, his cousin, fondly as a “real mother.”
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Hall predicted he would never again be able to come to the Oregon District to unwind.
“I told myself I would never walk down this street again,” he said. “When you lose somebody in the same place you go for entertainment, that’s hard.”
Funeral services were held Saturday for six of the nine victims killed.
But many in the district Saturday night – especially those working there, many of whom saw the carnage first-hand – said what is needed most is a return to at least a new normal. If people stay away, their livelihoods are at risk after everything else they’ve been through.
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“We just want a return to normalcy,” said Ned Peppers General Manager Austin Smith. “We just want to come back to work.”
This is why Josh Stepp and Nick Guthrie came downtown. They sat Saturday night on the lively patio of Toxic Brew Company.
“Just everything that this city has been through the last few months with the (Ku Klux Klan) rallies, the tornadoes, and obviously what happened last weekend, you know I just think it’s important to be down here and show support,” Stepp said.
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Jamie Rippey, who said she was with friends in the Oregon District a couple hours before the shooting, said: “I came out here this weekend because I was so afraid after this happened.”
“You never expect anything like this to happen in your hometown. To me the Oregon District is the safest place to go,” she said. “When that happened I thought, ‘Oh my God, will I be able to come back down here?’ I just didn’t want to be so afraid of doing something I’ve always done, to just live.”