Columbus, Ohio USA
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Bringing It All Into Focus
Daniel Koch: Part of the larger picture
By Karen Edwards
May/June 2015 Issue
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Daniel Koch at home surrounded by his "modest" art collection. Photo by Erica Woodrum
Click: If someone were to take random photos of you throughout your life, what would they look like – a well-rounded collection of you as a person in this time and space, or would they resemble a crazy quilt with plenty of color and pattern but no real order at all? Or would the collection resemble a mosaic, each piece strategically fitted into place until a work of art emerges?
No matter how we choose to go through life, or how we let life choose for us, perhaps, it’s a good idea to step back on occasion so we can see the big picture, to focus our eyes on what has been so we have a better idea of what might lie around the next corner – planned or not.
In many ways, the big picture analogy is the best way to look at Daniel Koch, OD, who will soon celebrate his 15th year as owner of Columbus Eyeworks, 25 W. Hubbard Ave. The big picture is the only one that will do him justice.
Click: It’s 1994 and the Short North Holiday Hop is in full swing. Lighted shops with open doors invite passers-by to come in with their gift lists in hand. There are bands and revelers who have just finished a hearty meal or a bit of yuletide libation. There are decorations and a handful of people dressed like the jolly old elf himself. And there are art galleries with breathtaking works of genius displayed on walls and pedestals, awaiting discovery. This is the world Daniel Koch found himself in, became lost in.
“I’m from Akron originally,” says Koch. OSU may have brought him to Columbus as an optometry student (after deciding against chemical engineering, veterinary medicine and architecture), but the Holiday Hop brought him to the Short North. In 1994, however, he never dreamt the area would have such an impact on his life. The Hop impressed him. He was back the next year. But it wasn’t just the color and lights and seasonal goodwill that had charmed him. It was the Short North itself, with its air of culture and sophistication to be sure, but also its warmth. “Everyone is welcome here,” he says. He had embraced the Short North and felt that embrace returned.
By 1996, Koch was a bona fide resident of the community, having moved into one of the old row houses on Warren. Four years later, he opened Columbus Eyeworks in a vacant space along High Street. He hasn’t looked back since.
Click: As a new business owner, one of the first things Koch did was join the Short North Business Association. To some, it may seem a small gesture. A no-brainer. But there is joining, then there is participating. Koch falls into the latter category.
“I never held an office there, although I was on the board,” he says. Yet there’s no question that Koch’s influence reached into many of the SNBA’s activities.
Remember Via Colori, the Short North interpretation of an Italian street-painting tradition? Via Colori brought artists from around the city to the Short North to make chalk drawings on streets and sidewalks – temporary but glorious pictures that everyone could see and enjoy. Koch dared to dream a little bigger. “Why don’t we have it on I-670?” he asked. The stretch of highway was due to be completed by the festival date, and what better canvas could a group of artists ask for than newly laid tarmac? “Uh, would ODOT let us use it?” was the natural follow-up question.
Koch had no idea, “But I figured we could ask them. The worst they could do was say no,” he says. He turned to the board. “Does anybody know anyone at ODOT?”
Mary MacDonald (then Martineau) raised her hand. A short time later, Koch, MacDonald, and an ODOT official were among a small party that hiked along the stretch of I-670 under consideration for the event.
“There were a couple of issues,” Koch says. The construction company that was working on the project was six weeks ahead. If they finished too early, the highway opening would not be held up just to accommodate a festival. Then, of course, there was the weather. Would it cooperate? The event would be mid-September, but just ask the OSU Buckeyes how cooperative September weather can be.
By the time Koch and MacDonald’s walk along I-670 was completed, though, there was no one who could imagine the initial event taking place anywhere else. Even the ODOT official couldn’t help grinning and admitting it would be a great place for a party.
Contingency plans were made to take the event to Goodale Park should the highway finish early and the weather turn ugly. Then the SNBA and ODOT wrangled the project through a layer of lawyers and the governor’s office. “Taft was in office at the time,” says Koch – and his office gave the I-670-as-venue-location a thumbs up.
John Shannon, Betsy Pandora, and Dan Koch at the April Short North Gala Photo by Gus Brunsman III
“Then we did a rain dance,” says Koch. And the rain came – just long enough to keep the construction company from finishing too early. “It slowed down their progress,” says Koch. The new stretch of I-670 was finally done, just ahead of Via Colori. And, miraculously, on the day of the event, the weather was beautiful. The stretch of highway was colorfully covered by participating artists and a great time was had by all. Via Colori would continue for a few more years but the initial cachet and excitement of drawing on a major stretch of Ohio highway would never be repeated. That it happened at all is due to the work of a great number of people. That I-670 was even a possibility for the first Via Colori event is due to the imagination of Dan Koch, the man who first conceived it.
Click. Koch was still active as an SNBA board member in 2003 when Via Colori was launched. By now, however, the board had appointed him to serve as its representative to the Short North Foundation Board.
So picture it. Here was an optometrist with a busy eye practice leading the charge in the Via Colori venue, making it to SNBA board meetings and somehow finding time to sit in with the board of the Short North Foundation. It wasn’t easy. And to complicate matters further, Koch was elected president of the SNF Board in 2004 – just one year after joining the group as the SNBA rep.
“Something had to give,” says Koch.
Reluctantly, he left the SNBA Board so he could put more energy and time into his new role as SNF president.
Click. You know how, when Batman receives the Bat signal, he swoops off to save Gotham City from yet another catastrophe? Dan Koch may not be Batman (though he once dressed as an astronaut, complete with spaceship, for a HiBall event), but he has the same knack for saving the Short North from some of its biggest problems.
Take panhandling. Koch was part of the SNBA group that set out to solve the growing number of panhandlers in the area. “We looked around and decided to copy a program that had started in Portland,” says Koch. That program became the “Real Change, Not Spare Change” campaign that urged Short North residents and visitors, through signs and flyers, to contribute their spare change to local agencies serving the indigent instead of handing money to a single individual. “You know when you give your money to an agency that it will be spent on food or other necessity,” says Koch. The program started a conversation and eventually led to further actions regarding the homeless.
Then there was parking – always a huge issue for the Short North in general and for businesses in particular. The lack of parking space can mean shoppers and business clients look elsewhere to have their needs met, rather than submit themselves to the hassle of the Short North’s parking-space-roulette.
Koch, again, was part of a group that set out to solve the problem. How? By counting parking spaces. He and a few other intrepid souls set off one day in 2005, after the DooDah parade, to count all the parking spaces that could be found in the area. They walked from Fifth to Goodale, counting spaces along High Street and from Pearl to Wall alley. “We picked up trash left after the parade at the same time,” Koch recalls. Their efforts proved to be well worth it.
At the time, Short North businessman Sandy Wood was pressing City Council to include money for Short North parking as part of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package. “The Council said it couldn’t approve additional monies without first conducting a parking study,” says Koch. Ta-Da! Batman to the rescue! The parking study was produced, and rushed to Council in time for its final meeting of the year. The money was approved. That the Short North now has a couple of new parking garages is largely due to the effort of Koch and others who worked on the study and its timely delivery to City Council.
Finally, there were those pesky arch lights. The glorious colored lights that blazed brightly over High Street for about a week, then died. The city told the Short North to “Go White” – to make the arches glow with bright white light and forget the kaleidoscope of colors. No way, said the Short North. Once again, Koch, like Batman, was part of a group that looked at the problem and found a way to solve it – by working with a Las Vegas company. Who better to find a solution than the people who live in the neon-bright capital of the world? Today, as you drive down High, the Short North arches are still a Technicolor reality. Thank you, Sharon O’Brien, Mary Jo Hudson, Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessy, John Angelo – and Dan Koch.
Click. If there is one thing Koch himself likes to point to with pride, it’s the 2003-2004 advertising campaign he launched in tandem with Short North businesses and the arts community. “I modeled it after the Absolut Vodka advertisements,” Koch says. The campaign consisted of 25 different images on 38 different buses, and featured a different business or art group in each ad. For example, a pirouetting ballerina could be found on a sign that read “BALLETWORKS,” followed by the Columbus Eyeworks name and logo.
It was simple, clean, eye-catching: Museumworks, Conservatoryworks, ShortNorthworks, Festivalworks, Symphonyworks. “I met with the arts organizations myself,” says Koch. The campaign ran for two years as bus signs. Then it continued as a wallscape and billboard campaign in 2005-2007. This time, catchy phrases were added – like “Jazz Up Your Eyewear,” with a photo of the Jazz Arts Group and the Columbus Eyeworks name, “Orchestrate Your Eyewear” and a picture of the symphony, “Choreograph Your Eyewear” and, once again, a pirouetting ballerina, the Columbus Ballet name and the Columbus Eyeworks logo.
The campaign proved one thing. Koch isn’t just part of an arts community. He’s part of its soul – a force that never lets anyone forget that arts are the vital heart of the Short North community.
Click. The advertising campaign was more than a source of pride for Koch, and a colorful reminder of the arts community he lives in. It was also good for business.
Sherrie Hawk and Daniel Koch at the Short North Alliance’s Winter Business Social held in the new Pizzuti hotel Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph. Photo by Nikole Prete
Columbus Eyeworks was growing rapidly, and by early 2008, Koch was already in talks with Mark Wood about expanding his space.
“He took me to this building that had been a car dealership,” says Koch. “It was 120 square feet by 120 square feet and I knew I didn’t need that much room.” But there was a section, half the size that had been the service garage that might be
perfect. Koch went to take a look.
Wood encouraged him to rent the whole space, and after some thought, Koch decided he would. The plan was to sublet the space he didn’t need to other vendors. “I put together a business proposal that allowed for 10 salon suites, then went to the bank,” he says. Koch received the loan, and Columbus Eyeworks had a new home. But that also meant that Koch was a new business owner. Salons at High and Hubbard needed tenants.
Click. Again, Koch found himself wrestling with plenty of items on his plate. Once again, he needed a break. His term as president of the Short North Foundation was over, so he left the board – and community activities – for a while so he could build his new business.
Columbus Eyeworks as well as the salons have been designed with a green and sustainable focus. Ultra-permeable brick pavers were installed in front of both businesses, for example, and bike racks were added in 2011. But it’s Koch’s eye for art that makes both areas feel like you’ve just wandered into some swank New York art gallery.
“I respect Dan’s eye for art,” says Sherrie Hawk, whose own artistic eye is responsible for the exhibits shown regularly at Sherrie Gallerie. “I like the way he thinks about art. He’s thoughtful when choosing pieces, and I appreciate the growth he’s made,” she says. Koch and Hawk frequently collaborate on exhibits – both in his space but in other Short North locations as well.
As for Salons at High and Hubbard, Koch took a novel approach when he went to spiff up the space recently. He found a painting and sculpture by Russ Vogt he liked and used the colors from the artworks to inspire his color choices for each salon suite. “He started with art, and based his re-design on it,” says Hawk.
Koch says he’s also assembled a “modest” personal art collection. “I have 35-40 pieces overall,” he says. But the talent he’s assembled is impressive. ”I have a piece by Emerson Burkhart,” he says. That’s like a ’49 gold-miner saying he just “made a discovery.” Burkhart is one of Ohio’s most pre-eminent artists, and his work is increasingly difficult to find. “I bought it from a man whose father used to do his framing for him,” says Koch.
In addition to the Burkhart, Koch also has paintings and sculpture by such artists as Sid Chafetz, a crayon piece by Christian Faur, and pieces by Craig Carlisle, Santiago Perez and Janis Mars Wunderlich. “I like Perez’s paintings because they’re so whimsical,” says Koch. And he owns two of Wunderlich’s ceramic artworks, including one, Family Frenzy, which shows children climbing over a mother who looks exhausted. It could be a metaphor for Koch’s numerous responsibilities. How does the man relax?
Click. If you happen to see a small car running around the Short North with a kayak strapped to its roof, you can probably bet it’s driven by Dan Koch. The kayak is a constant summertime companion for both Dan and his sister Linda Koch. Dan grew up with two other sisters as well, Laura, now in Ft. Wayne, and Sylvia, still in Akron. “And mom. It was a house full of women, but Dan got along fine. Especially with mom. Those two were the dynamic duo,” says Linda.
As far as kayaking, “We like to go to Hoover Dam and Alum Creek,” says Linda. “And the Upper Scioto,” says Dan. Both agree the kayaks have been the best investment they ever made. “We came to the sport separately,” says Linda. They each wanted to maintain their fitness level, and they thought kayaking would be a fun way to do that but it became so much more. “It’s a way to de-stress,” says Linda. “It’s so peaceful.” They often kayak together, enjoying each other’s company. “We’re out there from May to late October,” says Dan. “After that, the water becomes too cold. You wouldn’t want to fall in.”
Dan Koch has kayaked longer distances – from Marblehead to Kelley’s Island, and he has sea-kayaked in Alaska. “I had gone up the inland route, but the only way to see Alaska’s coast is from boat,” says Koch. So, he took a cruise and leapt to take a kayaking trip the ship offered. He enjoyed it immensely, but says he’s just as happy kayaking Ohio’s lakes and rivers.
Kayaking on the Hoover reservoir. (Courtesy Photo)
When the kayaks are put away, Koch turns to skiing, occasionally making the trip to Colorado to ski down its formidable mountains.
Of course, it’s always good to get away and indulge your passions. But by 2011, Koch is ready for more community activism.
Click. With his business humming along and Salons at High and Hubbard fully rented, Koch joined the board of the Short North Special Improvement District and served on it for four years. For those who have lost count, that’s the third board that Koch has served on. That’s the third time he has stepped up to bat for the Short North.
His latest community project, “Start with Art,” is an effort to bring focus back to the Short North’s art and art galleries. After all, it’s what attracted Koch to the Short North in the first place, and it’s the art and the galleries that have been a large part of his life since. He doesn’t want the community to lose sight of what makes it unique.
It’s one more piece of the mosaic that is Koch’s life.
Click. There are flashy heroes – like Batman and Superman – then there are the quiet heroes, the ones who operate without benefit of capes or superpowers, just with hard work, grit, determination. These are unsung heroes whose work makes a huge difference in the lives of others, and yet who never receive the recognition they deserve. No wonder, then, that Dan Koch recently accepted the Short North Alliance’s Unsung Heroes award.
“He was nominated by Sherrie Hawk,” says Betsy Pandora, executive director of the SNA. The award is given each year at the Alliance’s Short North Gala. Past recipients have gone to area artist Ralph Rosenfield and Surly Girl’s Carmen Owens among others. Pandora says she is glad to see Koch receive the recognition he deserves. “He has a quiet presence in the community. He is truly focused on the greater good, and is truly a treasure to the neighborhood,” she says. In addition to a plaque, Koch also received a $1,000 grant from the Alliance for his favorite charity. He asked that it be donated to the “Start with Art” project.
“I’m proud of him,” says his sister Linda. “He works really hard, yet he still volunteers his time. He’s made a huge difference in the Short North.”
Sherrie Hawk calls Koch one of her best friends. “I respect him,” she says. “He’s always been a pillar of the community.” But then she also has fond memories of watching the OSU national championship game with him early this year. “We were screaming like kids,” she says.
Bits and pieces of actions, a thread of memory here and there – that’s what makes up a life. It’s the mosaic we all build. It’s the big picture we’re all working to create.
Dan Koch is 15 years into his Short North experience. He lives here, he works here, he plays here. And for a good portion of that time, without a cape or superpowers, without anyone singing his praises, Koch has quietly and steadily made the Short North a better community for everyone. That’s some hero. That’s some picture.
For more information about Daniel Koch’s eye practice at Columbus Eyeworks located in the Short North at 25 W. Hubbard Ave. visit www.columbuseyeworks.com
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