City: Cow-town image lives on at airport

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From the February 2, 2012 edition

Last year, Columbus was named the No. 3 city for technology jobs by Forbes.com. The city’s also been ranked as a top destination for sports, arts and college grads. Its national accolades have piled up in recent years.

However, if you strolled through Port Columbus, you might get a different sense of what’s happening in Ohio’s capital city.

You might believe that Columbus is a great place to go cow-tipping.

Merchandise prevalent throughout the airport links the city to the fictional rural pastime. Many shirts picture an upside-down bovine over an image of Ohio with the slogan: “Nothing tips like a cow.”

“It is merchandise that [is sold] throughout airports in the Midwest,” said Angie Tabor, communications manager for Port Columbus. “It has been one of the top-selling items, at least locally.”

Versions of cow-themed gear exist for Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other locations. It’s sold locally by The Paradies Shops, an Atlanta-based operation with outlets in 70 airports and hotels in the United States and Canada.

The company sells cow-themed merchandise in six of the 11 retail spaces it leases at Port Columbus, said Justin Marlett, a project manager for Paradies Shops.

Though popular with airport visitors, the merchandise has angered many Columbus supporters who in recent years have tried to distance the city from its outdated cow-town image.

“The whole cow-tipping thing weakens our momentum,” said Alexandra Kelley Fox, who organizes community events like the Goodale Park Music Series. “Some travelers only experience Columbus at our airport, and it sends the wrong message.”

Scott Peacock, public relations manager for Experience Columbus, agreed that the merchandise paints a limited picture of the city.

“It’s obvious the merchant intends for it to be a joke,” he said. “But I think the problem we have is that for years we were known as a cow town. When you get to the airport and that’s the only non-Ohio State merchandise for the city of Columbus, it’s a little disheartening.”

Experience Columbus is working with airport officials and tenants to sell bicentennial-related items, Peacock explained. He expects 200Columbus merchandise to be available “as another option” by the end of the month.