Thursday, August 27, 2015

Akron Women in Tech

Akron Women in Tech
By Rachel Krantz & Stephanie Baker

Kevin Wirth and Monette Richards founded Akron Women in Tech in July of 2014. They each noticed that they rarely worked alongside women in their jobs, and they started the group to create a network of women in Akron interested in programming, having fun, and building a community.
Since the first event, the group has grown to more than 200 members and has hosted more than 25 events, including presentations ranging from Basic Web App Security to introductory HTML/CSS.
They’ve also expanded their offerings to include quarterly workshops and monthly hack nights, which are an open forum for people to work on independent projects collaboratively. At the last hack night, two people got new websites up and running, one person was connected with potential job opportunities, and another brought up her idea for a tech company she wants to start and got feedback from other attendees.
And that is exactly the kind of energy AkronWIT wants to continue to grow in Akron.
In the upcoming year, AkronWIT is looking to:
  • --Set up a mentorship program for their members
  • --Help women who currently work in tech continue to advance in their careers
  • --Host on-site tours with companies looking to hire junior programmers
  • --Create a scholarship fund to send women to developer conferences across Ohio
  • --Form a network for women who want to start their own businesses
  • --Make Akron the place to be if you are a woman who wants to work in tech
AkronWIT just gained incorporated nonprofit status, which better positions the group to achieve these goals. It’s also going to allow the Akron community to support AkronWIT along the way.
If you’d like to promote more diversity in tech and want to be part of a supportive tech community, we’d love to meet you.

Please join us at The Nightlight Cinema on August 31st, and celebrate our first year and future with the AkronWIT community!
Please RSVP on meetup by August 28th. We hope to see you there.

More Upcoming Events from

September 16th - Part II of Jump into Javascript
September 24th - Hack Night
September 26th - Wordpress Workshop - $45 for 5 hours of instruction – lunch included
October 21st – Become Agile with Heather

Monday, August 17, 2015

Akron History: Sojourner Truth in Akron

The following essay first appeared in the July/issue #11 of The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #11 is now available--go out and pick up a copy or eventually read it on-line.  As many of you know, I love researching and writing about Akron history. I'm writing a regular column about Akron history for The Devil Strip.  If you have any suggestions or requests for particular topics, let me know.

Sojourner Truth in Akron: A Brief but Powerful Historic Moment
by Joanna Wilson

Akronites have always been supportive of the underdog. This is true whether the underdog is one of our own or even someone passing through. Evidence of this truth lies in the long-standing pride we have that social and political thinker/lecturer Sojourner Truth once spoke here. 

Truth was an outstanding nineteenth-century women’s rights advocate and abolitionist.  Born into slavery, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth to embody “a traveler preaching truth to all she met.” Already a noted lecturer, Truth came to Akron to attend a women’s suffrage convention on May 28-29, 1851 at the Universalist Stone Church in downtown.  According to reports, a group of local ministers occupied much of the gathering with criticisms about women wasting their time worrying about their right to vote. Hearing enough of this malarkey, Truth stood up and extemporaneously but eloquently pleaded for human freedom. In what has since been titled the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, Truth demanded to be considered the equal of anyone, despite gender or race.

Sojourner Truth Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-119343

Her ideas and words were well received amongst the progressive-thinking crowd in Akron that day. Those unmoved by her words included a local newspaper writer for The Summit Beacon, who dismissively reported that Truth “also spoke.” However, the convention participants were inspired by Truth’s fiery passion and eventually the speech was written down and published. Although women’s suffrage would continue the struggle nearly forty years after Truth’s death in 1883, the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech grew in popularity through the following decade--the Civil War years--calling for racial equality.

An Ohio Historical Marker identifies the spot where Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech in Akron. Anyone can easily visit the location where the Universalist Stone Church once stood. The marker is on the wall of what is now named the Sojourner Truth Building, of The Summit County Department of Job and Family Services, on N. High Street between Perkins and E. Market Street.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Good Life: Body Piercing and Jewelry

Good Life Body Piercing and Jewelry in Highland Square
by Joanna Wilson

At the start of our blog three years ago, Akron Empire welcomed a guest writer named Laura Maidens who shared about her favorite neighborhood tattoo and piercing shop.  Today, I'd like to do a follow-up on Good Life which has grown to become a piercing-only business.

Good Life owner Jeremiah Currier and I have been friends for a few years--we initially met through mutual acquaintances--and we were able to spend some time together this Spring on the Akron2Pittsburgh trip. I hadn't been to the shop in Highland Square in a while, so Jeremiah invited me over to get a look at the recent remodel inside. The changes include an additional piercing room, carpet in the lobby area, and tower jewelry showcases. These expansion efforts give more of a boutique feel to the space.  The new piercing room also provides shortened wait times and more privacy to patrons. The expansion in jewelry now includes more than 100 options across styles and a range in prices to accommodate every budget.

Currier with patron.

"Piercers are changing the world," Jeremiah told me, reflecting his pride in earning his membership in the Association of Professional Piercers. The association is a community of piercers who value knowledge about their craft and advance the use of implant-quality jewelry in their work. Jeremiah explained to me that it is this professional community of piercers that are at the forefront of those advocating for safety and cleanliness standards, professionalism, and helping people express themselves through body piercings. Both Currier and Heather Weber, the other piercer at Good Life, belong to the Association of Professional Piercers.

Jeremiah convinced me that he truly loves the many opportunities he has with patrons (and the family of patrons) to discuss the value of self-expression and self-actualization for those getting pierced--as well as those just considering it. He says he's learned over the years that his skill in safe and speedy techniques are valued but sometimes people need to talk about how important it is to them to get pierced and to adorn themselves.  Both Jeremiah and Heather welcome these conversations and take this part of their work seriously.  As specialists in piercing, they encourage people to not feel intimidated and to make thoughtful decisions about their appearance.  While I haven't gotten pierced recently, I know several of my friends always come to Good Life.  Many thanks to Jeremiah for inviting me to Good Life to see the new changes to his shop and for the good conversation.

Looking for an excuse to stop by Good Life?  Jeremiah let me know that he is hosting a guest piercer later this month--Perry Doig from Rose Gold's in San Francisco.  Follow along with Good Life on Facebook or your favorite social media platform to keep up with their announcements.

Good Life is located at 752 W. Market Street (down the plaza from Two Turtles)
Phone #: (330) 374-0100

For more info, check out the website:
Facebook: GoodLifeAkron
Twitter: @GoodLifeAkron
and Heather Weber's website:

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Bit Factory: Akron's Startup Incubator

This piece first appeared in the August/issue #11 of  The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #11 is now available-- go out and pick up a copy!

The Bit Factory: Akron’s Startup Incubator
by Brit Charek

I have to admit that one of that one of my favorite things that I’ve done this summer was binge-watching HBO’s Silicon Valley. So when I was invited to take a tour of The Bit Factory, a tech startup incubator run by the Akron Global Business Accelerator, I was halfway expecting an environment akin to Erlich’s house, complete with a group of socially-challenged developers and coders awkwardly coping with the existential dilemmas of startup life where the line between work and home life is blurry if not completely nonexistent, all for my viewing pleasure.

Let’s just say that The Bit Factory is a few notches up from Erlich’s house.

Thanks to a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the talents of designer Dominic Falcione of Rubber City Fab, the space is beautifully designed around a collaborative philosophy where startup companies work closely together. In addition to providing members with space, The Bit Factory has a plethora of resources it provides its startups, including a mentorship program.

And of course, The Bit Factory is available to its tenants 24/7. Because, startup life.

“The fact that there’s an internet startup accelerator in Akron is just one reason why Northeast Ohio has arrived as a startup community,” says Annal Vyas, Program Director for The Bit Factory. Vyas teaches full time at the University of Akron School of Law, where he organized the NEXTOhio Internet Startup Conference, but is loaned to the Akron Accelerator one day a week to assist with various initiatives, with The Bit Factory being one.

Akron, in particular, has truly arrived as a startup community. Just this week the city was named a "TechHire City" by the White House as part of a new federal program aimed at providing technology job training programs.

“Before, people thought they had to move to the coasts to work on sophisticated technology startups,” continues Vyas. “Now, they’re realizing that there’s so much activity and energy in their own backyard, and that this region is a great place to start a company.”

Vyas hopes to expand The Bit Factory’s programming to host evening events that will generate a culture of innovation, not just in the tech scene but also the art scene here in Akron. On Thursday, August 6th, they hosted a brainstorming sessions for artists and creative businesspeople interested in sketching out ideas for the upcoming Knight Arts Challenge.

In 2017, The Bit Factory plans to launch Bits and Atoms, a makers’ space that will provide entrepreneurs access to technology and equipment that will continue to fuel creativity and innovation in Akron.

To learn more about the Bit Factory, or to keep up with future events, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

National Hamburger Festival 2015

National Hamburger Festival 2015
by Joanna Wilson

One of the highlights of summer each year is the National Hamburger Festival in downtown Akron.  2015 marks the 10th annual event--how many times have you attended?  Last year I wrote a review of my experiences at beefy festival.  Click HERE to revisit that essay.

At 2014's festival, I feasted on a cheeseburg from local favorites, Bob's Hamburg.

This year, the National Hamburger Festival is Saturday and Sunday, August 8th and 9th.  S. Main Street will be closed off to car traffic as food vendors and entertainment line the curbs for all to enjoy.  As usual, there will be hamburgers and food from national eateries as well as regional and Akron-only restaurants.  Are you vegetarian?  You can enjoy the festival as well because several notable burger joints offer veggie burgers as well.  (Might I suggest Cuyahoga Falls' Retro Dog and their outstanding, spicy Retro Bean Burger?)

One new addition to this year's annual event is Sunday's indie band showcase and craft beer tastings.  The National Hamburger Festival is hosting the indie bands The Gage Brothers, The Brothers Band, By Light We Loom, Goodnight Tonight, and Acid Cats.  (We profiled the band By Light We Loom earlier this year--click HERE to see that again.)  The performances run from 1pm-6pm.

The craft beer available this year includes beer from the breweries Thirsty Dog, Buckeye Brewing Company, Lagerheads Brewing, Mt. Caramel Brewing Co., Canton Brewing Company, and Christian Moerlein.  Beers from these breweries will be available 12-7pm on Sunday.

The family-friendly, two-day festival offers contests, children's activities, music, and entertainment all weekend long.  Please check the festival's website for more information.  I'm excited to see DropKick Apparel will be there selling their Akron t-shirts.  I'll be there too--enjoying a delicious hamburger and the music during the indie band showcase.  I'll also be in a tent signing copies of my brand new Akron history/nostalgia book The Story of Archie the Talking Snowman (which just came out last week!)  I'll be signing copies of my new book from 1-6pm on Sunday, Aug. 9th.  Drop by the tent and say 'hi!'

National Hamburger Festival is Saturday and Sunday, August 8th and 9th, 2015
Saturday hours: noon-11pm, Sunday hours: noon-7pm
Admission is $5.  Ticket info HERE.

For more information:
Facebook page: National Hamburger Festival
Twitter: @HamburgerFest

Monday, July 27, 2015

Akron History: Ferdinand Schumacher: Not a Fan of Coats

The following essay first appeared in the June/issue #10 of The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #10 is now available--go out and pick up a copy or eventually read it on-line.  As many of you know, I love researching and writing about Akron history. I'm writing a regular column about Akron history for The Devil Strip.  If you have any suggestions or requests for particular topics, let me know.

Ferdinand Schumacher: Not a Fan of Coats
by Joanna Wilson

We all know Quaker Square on Broadway Street in downtown Akron--what is now The University of Akron residence hall was converted from grain silos. Many of us have visited the giant, red waterwheel sculpture along the Towpath Trail at Cascade Locks Park, located in the footprint of one of the former mills owned by Ferdinand Schumacher, the ‘Oatmeal King’ of Akron. Details of the oat, barley and flour company started by Schumacher can be found on display at the waterwheel as well as online. But what I find just as fascinating as the grand cereal empire that began in Akron is the colorful character of Schumacher himself.

Schumacher Waterwheel sculpture at Cascade Locks Park on North Street.

German immigrant Ferdinand Schumacher started his oat, barley, and flour business here becoming the wealthiest man in town after the Civil War. All this, despite being known as stubborn, a skinflint, and a strict advocate of temperance. I’m thinking his wallet may have been his best guarantee for party invitations. For example, the history books reveal that Schumacher was so frugal that although he was the richest man in town, he refused to buy an overcoat. Ferdinand instead preferred to walk Akron’s streets with a tattered shawl pulled up over his head and shoulders throughout our cold, long and bitter winters. According to a story shared by his sons, when they arranged an elaborate plan to trick Schumacher into purchasing an overcoat at a big discount, he was so delighted with the bargain that he sold the coat to another retailer, preferring a small profit over the warmth of the new coat. Schumacher was also so cheap he refused to purchase insurance. In 1886, when a fire (not his first) destroyed the entire complex of mills including the eight-story Jumbo Mill, Schumacher was unable to rebuild.

In order to raise funds to rebuild, Schumacher agreed to merge his cereal company with several of his competitors in order to fix prices and drive other businesses out of the market. The stubborn Schumacher wasn’t concerned with violating anti-trust laws--instead he resisted the business decisions of his new partners, especially wasting his money on advertising. So he mortgaged most of his holdings in an attempt to buy out his partners--which left him bankrupt.

Schumacher's legacy: Quaker Square Residence Hall.

Another contributing factor in his eventual bankruptcy was Schumacher’s investments in starting a temperance town in Tennessee. He was committed to developing a city that would give its citizens the opportunity to escape the temptation of John Barleycorn--thirty one years before Prohibition. We all know how well that turned out. Schumacher proudly had paid off all his debts before he died in his E. Market Street home in 1908.  However, the company he had started, officially became Quaker Oats in 1901 several years after he was forced out. I guess that’s how the oatmeal cookie crumbles.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Book: The Story of Archie the Talking Snowman

(Book cover)

Book Release: The Story of Archie the Talking Snowman
by Joanna Wilson

I don't just blog about my favorite Akron events, retailers, bands, and organizations.  I'm also a book author with an interest in Akron history/arts & culture.  I found a tremendous amount of support and had fun co-authoring A is for Akron last year.  So you can imagine my excitement with my new book project The Story of Archie the Talking Snowman

I too grew up visiting Archie the Snowman at Chapel Hill Mall.  My research into Archie's story led to a long and complex history of Christmas attractions in Akron.  From the back cover of the book:

"If your childhood Christmas memories include visiting a twenty-foot-tall talking snowman with flashing red eyes, then you undoubtedly grew up in Akron, Ohio.
The Story of Archie the Snowman is the story of the people who helped make Archie more than just a store Christmas attraction.
It’s also the surprising story of Akron’s hundred-year history of elegant, extravagant, and occasionally plain weird retail Christmas attractions--from the enchanting downtown windows of O’Neil’s and Polsky’s, to talking Christmas trees, trained animal acts, and Santa arriving by satellite. It’s the fascinating context for how and why Archie came to be."

(back cover)
Want to know more?  Let me share an excerpt from the book's introduction:

"Tom the Talking Horse? A nine foot-tall Raggedy Ann doll? A walk-through zeppelin “ride” to the North Pole? A Santa that arrives by helicopter to Polsky’s downtown parking deck? For nearly a century, young Akronites have witnessed these fantastic magical Christmas experiences. A giant talking snowman named Archie doesn’t seem that far fetched or even out of the ordinary.
Yet he is.

Akron was an extremely competitive marketplace at Christmas each year as downtown stores, and eventually plazas and suburban malls joined the contest. The unique competition over the attention of Akron’s shoppers benefited us all with an ever escalating build up of Christmas enchantment and entertainment. During our city’s long history, luxury shopping in the downtown city center rivaled that in other large cities including Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and Denver. The shopping was at a level with larger cities, and the windows were extremely good too. Although New York City has been considereddeservedly so—the source of the highest quality in Christmas window displays, I’ve found that Akron also created incredibly extravagant window displays and utilized nationally known window display designs that were available in New York and throughout the country, including markets much larger than ours. Many people in Akron still remember the fantasy and magic of O’Neil’s and Polsky’s Christmas window displays. 
Akron’s retailers didn’t just create awe-inspiring Christmas window displays, the competition for shoppers’ attention also included in-store attractions with fanciful Santa Land walk-through experiences, live clowns, organ grinders, and TV celebrity appearances. Holiday parades with giant balloons marched down Main Street, puppet shows by nationally touring troupes entertained the crowds, and Santa Claus’ arrival at downtown stores became a special event worthy of front page coverage in the local newspaper." 

Newspaper ad for holiday windows--with marionettes--for the Akron downtown retailer Polsky's in 1946.

The book is due for release on Saturday, July 25th--a Christmas in July treat!  You can order the book online through the publisher 1701 Press at this link.   If you live in the greater Akron area, you are invited to the book release party on Sat. July 25th, 6-9pm, on the 3rd floor of Summit Artspace (140 E. Market St.) in downtown Akron.  The party will be the first chance for anyone to get a peek at the new book!  I'll also be there signing books, if you like.  

For more information, check out the following links:

Facebook page for the book: Story of Archie the Talking Snowman
Event details: Book Release Party for the Story of Archie
Book website: