Monday, May 18, 2015

Akron History: Lewis Miller

The following essay first appeared in the May 12th/issue #5 of The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron.  The theme of that issue was Big Ideas in Akron--and Lewis Miller was certainly a man with big ideas.  Issue #5 is still available--go out and pick up a copy or read it on-line.  As many of you know, I love researching and writing about Akron history.  I'll be writing a regular column about Akron history for The Devil Strip in upcoming issues.  If you have any suggestions or requests for particular topics, let me know. 

from Lewis Miller: A Biographical Essay.

Lewis Miller: Akron’s connection to Elvis and Edison
by Joanna Wilson

In Akron’s rich history, inventor and industrialist Lewis Miller (1829-1899) was certainly a man with big ideas.  Miller made his fortune from designing more efficient, safer mowing and harvesting machinery which he then maximized by supervising the manufacture of his farm equipment.  Moving from Stark County to Akron during the Civil War, Miller expanded his manufacturing empire here and continued to grow richer from his Buckeye Harvesting Machines.

Once he became wealthy, the farm equipment magnate didn’t get lazy. Instead, Miller took the opportunity to nurture something very dear to his heart: education.  He is still highly regarded for his contributions to spiritual edification; he designed the “Akron Plan”--a church building layout that incorporates Sunday School classrooms to facilitate learning and studying--optimizing the acoustics, air flow, and light.

In the 1870s, Miller co-founded The Chautauqua movement--a sort of adult education, summer schooling which included music, exercise, spiritual discussions and scientific lectures. The Chautauqua Institute (located near idyllic Chautauqua Lake in western New York) became a popular concept, and the movement eventually expanded throughout the country.

If it weren’t for Miller, we’d have one less Elvis movie in American film history.  Almost 100 years after Miller founded the Chautauqua movement, in 1969, the King of Rock 'n' Roll would star in “The Trouble With Girls,” a movie about a traveling Chautauqua tent show.

Education was so important to the indefatigable Miller that he also served as Akron's school board president, as well as the president of the board for what is now known as the University of Mount Union, in nearby Alliance. 

Lewis Miller's home, Oak Place, still stands in West Akron at 142 King Drive.  The mansion has since been converted into apartments.
Miller also had a connection to Thomas Edison, arguably the man with the biggest ideas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Lewis’ daughter Mina studied music in New Jersey where she met the brilliant Thomas Edison, and the lovers wed in the Miller family home in Akron in 1886.  If you'd like to see where the magic happened, the Miller family home is still standing in an isolated West Akron neighborhood across from Glendale Cemetery. Miller’s red brick mansion, called Oak Place, still retains its dignity and stands high above the Innerbelt. 

If you’d like to learn more about Lewis Miller and the Chautauqua Movement, archivist Jonathan Schmitz is giving a special presentation, June 28th at 3p.m., at First United Methodist Church in Akron, 262 E. Mill Street.

And, June 23-28th at Hardesty Park and Akron Main Library, there will be a week's worth of Ohio Chautauqua events.  For more info, click HERE.

For more information about Lewis Miller, see the book Lewis Miller: A Biographical Essay by Ellwood Hendrick (published 1925) which is available at our own Akron-Summit County Public Library.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Neighbors Apparel

Have you seen people wearing the Ohio Tee around Akron yet?

Neighbors Apparel: Fashion Forward in North Hill
by Joanna Wilson

I'm super excited about the upcoming Akron Better Block in North Hill--aren't you?  When I found out my new friend Tessa Reeves with Neighbors Apparel was setting up her clothing company in a pop-up market within Better Block, I asked her if she'd be willing to talk with me about her less-than-a-year-old venture.  I first became aware of Neighbors Apparel through their vendor spotlight on the website for Crafty Mart.  I ended up meeting Tessa in person for the first time during our Akron2Pittsburgh trip.  And, now it turns out, we're both playing on the same team in a summer softball league!  I love how Akron often turns out to be a smaller town than it often feels.  In our conversations prior to this, I've been extremely impressed with Tessa's vision of Neighbors Apparel.  If possible, I think I'm even more impressed by her strong character.  See if you aren't too after reading our conversation:

Joanna:  Please tell me about yourself. How did you come to start Neighbors Apparel?

Tessa:  Fashion was always something that made my heart beat fast. The passion really developed in high school, and I found myself diving into copies of ELLE or Vogue in between classes, dreaming of landing a job at such a publication after college. Naturally, I went to Kent State for their renown fashion merchandising program. There I had the opportunity to study and intern in New York City — the heart of the fashion industry. I thought I had officially “made it” when I finished up a junior year internship at ELLE magazine, my senior editor there (also from Kent State!) telling me to contact her personally when I needed a job post graduation.

But within a couple of weeks, I experienced a pull that led me to make a complete 180 from the industry. Maybe it was hindsight, maybe it was my continued exposure to the heart of the industry, but I soon realized how ugly my own selfish ambition to simply climb the masthead was. It benefited nothing other than my own name and my bank account; it gave no real value to anyone or anything else. This was also during a season where I was growing in my faith and really learning about the example Christ set for his followers. Not to sound religious-y, but this was an integral part to my suddenly huge desire to give my life (and entire career) to something other than myself. The call to love our neighbors, and the reason behind that call, became the thing I wanted to pursue through my career. I didn’t know how quite yet, but I didn’t feel that I could best do that in the magazine world.

Neighbors makes more than t-shirts.  Here's Tessa herself modeling a headband and infinity scarf made right here in Akron from Karen fabrics.

Fast forward a couple of months and I find myself as a volunteer at Urban Vision, a community-development ministry in North Hill. I had never really volunteered anywhere; this was just one step towards figuring out what it was that I wanted to with my life. I immediately fell in love with their mission of holistically developing the North Hill neighborhood, and had to join in. Plus, I was extremely inspired by the people already doing work there; the UV staff moved into the neighborhood to do life there in order to better hear ways to solve problems, and simply be able to love people already living there. Within a few months of volunteering there, the Executive Director caught wind that I both had a fashion degree and wanted to be a part of the mission at UV. He came up with the idea that UV would fund a small business that employed refugee women to use their seamstress abilities…if I wanted to head up the business. I of course said yes!

Bringing joy to their work.

Joanna:  What motivated you to start a business working with refugee women? What have you learned from them along the way?  Do they do more in the business than sew?

Tessa:  This opportunity really fell into my lap. I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur. But my passion for the North Hill community was a gateway to being handed the opportunity to start this business, and I can’t think of a better outcome for all of my passions to come through in my career!

I have had a huge change of perspective ever since working with the refugee community. I’ve become much more aware of the refugee crisis that we have going on in so many parts of the world. When I started learning about the refugees we have here in Akron, I was appalled that this was something that I hadn’t heard talked about before. I grew up 20 minutes from Akron and never once heard someone talk about the refugee neighbors we have living here among us, nonetheless WHY they’re here. It’s such an important story people need to be hearing, and I’m very thankful to have the platform of a business to help garner social conversation around the topic.

It’s been humbling to work alongside such hardworking women who have experienced things in life I will never come close to facing. As I continue hearing bits & pieces of their stories, I admire them more and more for their strength. I have so much respect for many in the refugee community, because I haven’t once seen anyone operating off of self-pity. The refugees I know are not only hardworking, but HAPPY. They put so much value on family and community relationships, and I have a hunch this is why they’re so content despite being torn from their homes across the world. They are a tight-knit community that looks out for each other day in and day out, especially here in their new Akron home. Observing this has taught me to live a more thankful life — how could I not, seeing their contentment with the cards life has handed them? I also feel very lucky to be able to experience new cultures so up close in so many different ways; it literally enriches my life week to week in countless ways. And, my employees are hilarious; I have so much fun with them in the shop. We all have a great relationship with each other despite coming from three different cultures!

The main job of our refugee women is sewing. Some of them have helped with the design of products, which is always cool to watch. But mainly, they execute the making of the product — and they do it darn well!

Neighbors Apparel also makes bags and purses in all sizes, from wristlets to crossbody bags, and totes.

Joanna:  How and where do you sell your items? What has the response been from the community?

Tessa: We’re in about 10 local shops between Cleveland and Columbus, our main retailer here in Akron being The Market Path in Highland Square. Neighbors Apparel also travels to as many Ohio craft shows/maker’s marts we can fit into our weekend schedules! And of course, is always open for business. Our website also allows for custom EVERYTHING, which makes it a fun way to shop our stuff.

Last week, on behalf of Neighbors Apparel, Tessa Reeves accepted the Innovation Award at the Zenith Awards ceremony from the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. Congrats to you!

The response has been…overwhelming. Every time I think about how Akron has responded to our mission here at Neighbors, I don’t know how to be thankful enough worthy of the response. People get really excited when they find out that our product is made right here in Akron. It’s also been amazing to see how customers actually listen to our story, ask questions about our mission, and decide they want to become a Neighbor through our product. We are so thankful for each and every interaction we have. Another cool thing is that our audience has become very diverse; we have men, women, young and old from a diverse array of backgrounds, whether business men or fashionable twenty-somethings.

Poster art from 427 Design.

Joanna:  Tell me about your participation in Akron Better Block. What is your connection to North Hill?

Tessa:  We’re stoked for Akron Better Block because part of the purpose of the weekend is celebrating the potential of little guys like us. We’re based in North Hill, where there is a large refugee community, so we’re a perfect fit to have a pop-up storefront over this weekend. We’d love to one day have an actual storefront and be a catalyst for the development of North Main St. in our neighborhood, having other small businesses join alongside us there.

And, for a plug: Neighbors Apparel at Better Block is going to be a BLAST! I won't give away all of our surprises, but the store will have many interactive activities going on besides just shopping. One of them will be getting the chance to design your own t-shirt and take it home, hot off the sewing machine and after a handshake with one of our refugee seamstresses.

I see I'm not the only one looking forward to Akron Better Block!

Joanna:  Tell me about your plans to grow the business?

Tessa:  There are quite a number of growth strategies we could (and I’d like to) try. Coming from a background in fashion, I realize that the industry is huge. So, my plan is to take as large a chunk out of it as possible. One strategy we’re obviously currently implementing is going the wholesale route, and trying to create an organic following through local customers in Ohio. We’d also like to expand our product line in the near future to things like toddler, baby, home accessories & more. There are other things like potential collaborations, and a huge step would be securing spots in industry trade shows, where buyers would come to us. However if we do get there, I’m sure it’s going to take a few years. But, like I said, our industry has so much potential!

Neighbors specializes in making Ohio Tees but they can make other states as well.

Joanna:  What should people know about Neighbors Apparel?

Tessa:  What should people know? Don’t put us in a box, as I feel many people tend to do. Just because we have a social mission doesn’t mean we’re non-profit, and doesn’t mean we’re a “training program” that’s set to be that and only that. We strive to be innovative with our product, fashion-forward, and we want to be one of your favorite brands that you use in daily life. We’re in this to create as many jobs — and Neighbors through our product — as possible. And, while we are extremely Akron-proud, we want to grow past our borders. It will help that much more if people catch that wind and get excited with us, and tell our story in THAT way — make sense? We can grow as big as our following lets us, so jump on board and let’s do it!

Joanna:  Thank you Tessa Reeves.  I'm proud to know you and I'm inspired to be a Neighbor too.

Show your support this weekend: #supportlocal  #iamaneighbor

You can find more information about Akron's own Neighbors Apparel on their website:
and on Facebook: Neighbors Apparel

And, don't forget: you can find Neighbors Apparel this weekend: May 15th-17th at
Akron Better Block
their website:
and the event on Facebook: Akron Better Block

See you in North Hill this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Akron Better Block: May 15th,16th, and 17th

427 Design.

Akron Better Block:  Imagining a Better Akron, One Block at a Time
by Joanna Wilson

Can you imagine Akron's North Hill with new small-business markets and the streets made safer and more accessible for bicycles and pedestrians?  I spoke with John Ughrin and Tina Ughrin, from the organization Team Better Block, who are working to create a temporary example of that vision.  They're calling it Akron Better Block--a weekend long event--and an opportunity for neighborhood residents and visitors to see what improvements could actually look like and how they could work in an actual North Hill location.

I first met John and Tina on the Akron2Pittsburgh trip.  Tina lead a group of us on a walking tour through several notable Pittsburgh neighborhoods, as we observed the negotiation of retail and residential spaces.  I chatted with John on the two hour bus ride home at the end of our day in Pittsburgh.  Both John and Tina impressed me immensely with their hard work and commitment to North Hill.  Their enthusiasm and vision for their neighborhood was exciting and inspiring.  I think you'll think so too.  The conversation below took place after we returned to Akron.

Joanna: What is Akron Better Block all about?

John: A Better Block is a kind of "flash mob" urban planning project. For one weekend, we narrow the street, fill empty shops with pop-up businesses, bring in art, bike lanes, and other amenities. Almost everything is temporary, but that means its relatively cheap and easy to generate consensus. It gives people a physical vision of what their best hopes for an area can be. The power of that inspiration does the rest.

In some ways, it's about reconnecting neighborhoods with themselves.  We've spent the last 60 or so years designing our spaces around cars, and a Better Block is a way to start and take them back for people. This is especially true in a place like North Hill, where the bones of that people-centered past still linger in our buildings and streets.

Joanna: Where did you get the idea to launch this project?

John: Last spring (2014) AMATS [Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study], through its Switching Gears group, put on a conference on Active Transportation (bicycling and walking). We (Tina and I) went, and Jason Roberts (inventor of the Better Block concept) gave a talk about the process. We left very enthused about the possibilities for applying it to North Hill.

Joanna: Why North Hill?

John: North Hill has a lot of untapped energy and diversity! Its reputation is outdated. As we've welcomed new populations to our community, we've outgrown our old image. We live in North Hill and love it. Hopefully, the Better Block will be a kind of catalyst to share that energy with more people.

Concept drawing from Team Better Block.  Click on it to enlarge.

Joanna: Tell me a little about yourselves--and what inspired you to do this?

John:  Tina and I have been living in North Hill for about 8 years. We've become rather fierce patriots for the neighborhood. Living in a place where you can be friends with your neighbors and share city life is a great experience. Our kids say that its like living in an old TV show. People in the 'burbs are missing out!

We are also big on walking and bicycling. If neighborhoods had commercial centers reminiscent of the past, we could reduce our collective use of cars.

Joanna: Please list 5 things visitors and North Hill residents should NOT miss at Akron Better Block?

John: Just 5? I don't want to leave anyone out, though! We've got Food, Clothing, Art and Art Galleries, Performances, and Games. Not to mention the changes to the street! I'm not even familiar with all of them! So I'm going to cheat a bit. Of the ones I know, I'd recommend visitors try:

1) Three Sisters' Momos (a type of Nepali Dumpling)
2) Chatpattey (sp?) - a puffed rice snack/lunch from Family Groceries
3) Neighbors' Apparel - a designer clothier staffed and supplied by Karen women from the US and Asia.

Thanks Google!

John continues: Of the ones I don't know, I'm most curious to see:
4) the Sepak Takraw tournament, if that happens.
5) The Dawn Group - Indian Fashions and accessories.
6) the various ethnic dance groups that will be performing on our small stages.
7) Carrom (sp?) a tabletop game similar to pool, but with disks instead of balls.

Tina:  I would simply add that I am also excited for folks to experience Stray Dog restaurants, Wandering Aesthetics theater, a bike in movie, soccer tournaments, bocce tournaments, yoga, tai chi, and so much more. We can't possibly be sure we have mentioned them all as there will be so much to experience. It is an exciting time to be part of North Hill and Akron.

427 Design.

What are your goals for that weekend? How will you know if it is a success? Do you have plans for a 2nd Akron Better Block?

John: The primary objective of a Better Block project is to re-activate a block (or other space) for the neighborhood. In our case, we're hoping to reactivate the block on North Main Street by Cuyahoga Falls Ave. "Reactivate" means a lot of things including filling vacant commercial space by generating new businesses as well as inspiring physical changes in the space to make it more inviting as a place for people to linger and enjoy, rather than drive past or through. If those things start to happen, then it's a success. For the weekend itself, we're just hoping that a lot of people have a good time, and maybe re-examine how they see that block and North Hill in general.

Tina and I aren't planning a second Better Block right now, but others are looking into it in other Akron neighborhoods. I know Nolan James is working one up in Kenmore, and there's rumors of one being planned in West Hill or Highland Square.

I'd love to see other neighborhoods do one as well, and they don't have to be nearly as involved or large as this one is. All it takes is for neighborhood leaders to step forward and make it happen. If you're thinking about it, look around for help. Tina and I found great allies in Lisa Weiser at the North Hill Branch of the Library and Maria Mancinelli at the International Institute. They had a group of North Hill Community Leaders waiting for us already. People's Bank and North Realty have been wonderful as participating property owners. We've also gotten a ton of support from the city's Department of Neighborhood Assistance, Keep Akron Beautiful, AMATS, and the Knight Foundation. It's the kind of project that's easy to get behind.

Joanna: Thank you Tina and John!

Join us at Akron Better Block on N. Main Street at E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave.  
Fri May 15th: 6-10pm, Sat & Sun May 16th & 17th: 10am-3pm.
For more information: check the website:
click HERE for the schedule of activities

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crafty Mart's Mom & Pop Shoppe 2015

5 Reasons You Need to be at Crafty Mart's Mom & Pop Shoppe
by Joanna Wilson

Akron's own Crafty Mart is known for their two annual shows--the holiday show just after Thanksgiving and the spring show, The Mom & Pop Shoppe.  This Saturday, April 25th is The Mom & Pop Shoppe--an event that expands this year to include 75 makers across three venues in downtown.  You may have noticed that we here at Akron Empire like to promote Crafty Mart--we do it every year.  That's because we think it's the funnest days of the year.  We also do it because both Brit and I organize it.  Let me try to convince you that Crafty Mart is the funnest day of the year with the following five reasons.

 (click on image to enlarge)

1.  Supporting local is important.
The impact of shopping local is HUGE.  Crafty Mart compiled some of the statistics that were gathered after the last November show and MBL Design made an infographic.  Read more about Crafty Mart's local financial impact HERE.

Crafty Mart Pop Up Market at Artwalk in April.

2.  Crafty Mart is not your grandma's craft show.
Do you still think a craft show means an old-fashioned church basement filled with moldy leftovers?  I don't mean to bad-mouth church basements but the contemporary local indie-maker and artisan scene is different than that.  It's not only much bigger than that but it's covered in tattoos and knows how to rock out to funky R&B classics (Thanks The Mighty Soul Night!)

3.  What's a party without food and drinks?
All three venues have amazing food and drinks to satisfy your appetite.  While shopping at Musica (51 E. Market St.), you can enjoy the delights of Urban Eats with their specialty wraps, paninis, pizzas, and gelato.  The bar inside Musica will also be open.  At the Akron Art Museum (1 S. High St.), their own iQ-Café will be open with wraps, soups, fresh baked goods, and locally brewed beer. 

And, at Summit Artspace (140 E. Market St.) on the third floor, everyone will find a pop-up café with food from Nuevo Modern Mexican, Stray Dog Cart, Three Sisters Momo, beer from Thirsty Dog, and pop from Norka Beverages.  We'll even have a signature cocktail called the Strawberry Fizzle--featuring Norka's strawberry/cherry soda pop, orange juice, and Watershed Distillery vodka.  You can't get more Akron-centric than that! (Although shopping ends at 5pm on Saturday, the Summit Artspace 3rd floor café will stay open until 6:30pm so everyone can stay and hangout to enjoy the food and drinks longer.)

4.  You can learn to make something for yourself.
Crafty Mart also is offering four Workshop classes where you can learn a valuable skill from a local maker.  This Saturday, you could learn to brew your own Kombucha, make weavings on a loom, build your own air plant terrarium, and concoct a sugar scrub.  Registrations are required.  Click HERE for more info and all the links to sign up.

Crafty Mart Pop Up Market at Artwalk in April.

5.  Crafty Mart is the party of the season.
Not only do you get to shop local and support small business artists and makers but there's a whole other side to it all.  The family-friendly event allows you to explore the three venues surrounded by funky music, eat and drink from local restaurants and beverage makers, and learn a new skill in a workshop.  So invite your sister, your partner, and your children to join us for a day filled with new friends and new opportunities.

Crafty Mart Pop Up Market at Artwalk in April.

Again, Crafty Mart is this Saturday, April 25th, from 10am to 5pm.  It is spread across three venues (Musica, Akron Art Museum, and Summit Artspace) all in downtown Akron.  For more information, see the wesbite:

For a complete list of vendors and their locations, click HERE.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


A gorgeous mural seen along The Strip, Pittsburgh's historic market district.
My Experiences on the Trip: Akron2Pittsburgh
by Joanna Wilson

Early morning Monday April 13th, more than four dozen energetic Akron professionals--including myself--loaded onto a bus parked across from the Akron Art Museum, to make a day-trip to Pittsburgh.  The trip was designed to be an opportunity to meet and speak with Pittsburgh's business people and community-builders to learn about their successes (and failures.)  Maybe we would even bring back ideas to try out in Akron.  I have to admit the day was a delightfully exhausting adventure.  It is now two days later and I still feel like I'm recovering.  On Monday, I purposefully opened my mind and tried to absorb as much as possible from our activities.  My sponge-like approach also meant that I felt saturated by the end of the day.  Although many others in my group tweeted and hashtagged the highlights of their experiences spontaneously in the moment on Monday, I'm more of an old-fashioned, pen-and-notebook-kind of gal.  So I'd like to share the highlights of my experiences from Akron2Pittsburgh trip here.  Different strokes for different folks, right?

I was invited to take part in the Akron2Pittsburgh trip because I work as Assistant Director for the non-profit organization Crafty Mart.  However, this opportunity forced me to reflect on the variety of ways I contribute within this community.  Yes, I often embarrassingly overlook and take for granted my own experiences.  So not only did I feel like I was representing Crafty Mart in Pittsburgh, but I was also bringing with me the perspective of an Akron history/nostalgia book author (I co-authored A is for Akron and I have a new book coming out in July on Akron's own Archie the Snowman.)  I'm also a Den Mother for the local women's group Dance Dance Party Party-Akron (DDPP-Akron).  I'm the co-founder of this blog Akron Empire and I write for the new alt-weekly arts & culture paper, The Devil Strip.  These Akron-centric experiences also connect me to quite a few others who made the trip to Pittsburgh on Monday.  Already having worked with several others on the trip--and meeting in person several others I'd only previously worked with through email--made the trip that much friendlier and easier.  The community-building began on the two-hour bus ride on our way to Pittsburgh.

Hahahaha!  The bus must have been turning when I snapped this blurry photo.  At the front of the bus is Wesley from Akron Honey Company introducing himself.

During a break--outside Union Project.
On the ride to Pittsburgh, every participant took his/her turn to stand at the front of the bus and introduce themselves.  These introductions made it much easier to begin conversations later in the day.  It's also nice to actually put a face to many of Akron's familiar organizations and small businesses.  When we arrived in Pittsburgh, we gathered at Union Project in the Highland Park neighborhood.  Union Project is a re-stored church now used as a civic center and art space.  After a quick brunch, we were introduced to a half dozen Pittsburgh community leaders.  These leaders then hosted 'break-out sessions' in which we divided into smaller groups and asked questions about their projects.  I'm an arts & culture person, so I joined in on three break-out sessions with like-minded speakers.

Several of us started out on our own DIY walking adventure.

The walking group would break off 2 or 3 members at a time as they followed their own interests--and others would join us from other destinations.

In the afternoon, we were turned loose in the city for our own Do-It-Yourself Adventures.  All of us had done prior research and made preparations for the afternoon.  Many of Akron's ambassadors had made appointments with Pittsburgh leaders, business people, and community builders to exchange ideas.  I had pre-arranged to unite with two other members of the Akron group, Tessa from Neighbors Apparel and Kaley from Urban Buzz, to check out some of Pittsburgh's small business retailers and handmade and local goods shops.  We ended up finding several other people interested in doing the same thing, so we joined Tina Ughrin with Akron Better Block on a walking tour of several of Pittsburgh's notable neighborhoods.  It was such a beautiful day--85 degrees and sunny--our walking tour allowed us to observe in the residential and retail spaces more intimately than if we had driven the routes.

The distance we covered was helped by a car service.  We all took full advantage of Uber.  Our small group utilized them twice in the afternoon.  And, I got my first Uber ride in a Cadillac Escalade.

We roamed through East Liberty, Shadyside, The Strip (historic market district), and the Cultural District.  Yes--we were on our feet most of the afternoon.  I even got sunburned.  But it was worth it.  Our planned wandering even brought about a few surprises we never anticipated--including Boutique 208, a handmade art & maker consignment shop located across from Heinz Hall which started as a pop-up project.

Our group from Akron sought out all sorts of organizational and business interests.  I'm more of an arts & culture person and made my way to the Cultural District.

Things I learned: Nicole Mullet knows how to make teeny tiny origami boats. She folded these paper boats from discarded restaurant napkin wrappers at lunch. For size perspective: notice the fork tines in lower right corner.

In the evening, our group of fifty from Akron met back for dinner at a restaurant atop Mount Washington.  Tessa, Kaley, and I took the Duquesne Incline to the top.  Everyone was sharing their individual adventures from the afternoon over dinner.  And, then we relaxed during our two-hour ride home again.

Our restaurant for dinner included windows that looked over the downtown Pittsburgh skyline. Recognize The Point Fountain? (center of photo.)

While I feel like I'm still processing much of what I experienced on Monday's trip, I did pick up a couple lessons I'd like to incorporate in my work in Akron immediately.  My favorite part of the day was the break-out group sessions where we were able to ask questions from the Pittsburgh leaders.  I met Veronica Corpuz, the Director of Festival Management from The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in one of these groups and I was able to ask several questions about their events.  (Crafty Mart organizes arts & cultural events and piggy-backs on other organizations' events too.)  Veronica's advice based on her experiences with marketing to different audiences was invaluable.  Speaking with Anu Jain, a diversity and inclusion consultant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, was also a learning experience.  She shared her experiences about changing strategies when communicating across racial and ethnic boundaries for better cultural inclusion in the arts.  A lesson we can all benefit from and an inspiring challenge from Anu.
Not to be overlooked was the community-building going on throughout Monday's trip just amongst the Akron participants.  I met with some hard-working individuals who have a vision and an energy for a better Akron.  Sharing the day with them and listening to them ask important questions of Pittsburgh's leaders was itself an inspiring experience that I've brought back to Akron with me.  I wasn't the only one forging future collaborations.  I've even had the experience since coming back home of connecting several of those I've met on the trip with resources here in Akron and introducing them to other like-minded individuals.  And, I can't wait to connect with everyone again in a few weeks to hear how everyone else has applied their experiences from the Pittsburgh trip.

Many thanks to Nicole Mullet and Kyle Kutuchief for their efforts in organizing the trip.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Inside|Out with Akron Art Museum

Inside|Out with the Akron Art Museum
by Joanna Wilson

The sun was shining and it finally felt like Spring had arrived.  On Easter Sunday afternoon, I was delighted to get out of the house, drive my car with the windows down, enjoy the fresh air, and look for art.  Look for art!?  Yup.  I was on a treasure hunt--in the best sense of the word 'treasure.'  The Akron Art Museum's new program Inside|Out--where they are placing copies of art from their collection outside the museum and inside our greater-Akron neighborhoods--is in full swing.  I spent my Sunday afternoon in search of the art pieces that are already up.

Untitled from the Scissors Jack Series (1965-66) by Larry Zox.  You can see this installation in Downtown, on the east side of the building where Crave is located (57 E. Market St.) Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum.

The Artist and His Wife (1938) by Elmer Novotny.  This amazing portrait is located on the east side of Giovanni's Barber Shop in North Hill (343 E. Cuyahoga Falls Ave.)

While some pieces were hung up last week, more are going up later this week.  Soon, there will be 10 public art installations in Downtown, 10 in North Hill, and 10 on the Towpath and the MetroParks.  The one-to-one scale, high quality reproductions from art in the Akron Art Museum collection is a community activated project that brings art into the city's streets.

Man Eating Trees (1989) by John Sokol.  This reproduction can be found in North Hill on the south side of the building where Lentine's Music used to be (844 N. Main St.)

Recognize this Downtown location?  It's the Haven of Rest (175 E. Market St.) The painting is Riverside Plant (c.1927-28) by Carl Gaertner.

According to Executive Director and CEO of the Akron Art Museum, Mark Masuoka, “Inside|Out helps us to have a much deeper conversation about the value of the arts and culture in our community. The project also allows us to deepen the conversation between the museum and the community by offering numerous opportunities to build strong partnerships and friendships across Akron’s diverse communities."  Roza Maille, Inside|Out project Coordinator adds, “One of the most exciting facets of Inside|Out is that it promotes exploration around Akron. It’s a chance to visit neighborhoods and outdoor spaces you normally don’t get to spend a lot of time in.”

The Seine at Andelys (1923) by Abel G. Warshawsky.  This installation is visible on the east side of the International Institute (207 E. Tallmadge Ave. in North Hill.) Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum.
For those living in the neighborhoods with these works of art, interaction is encouraged--whether it's a block party, street festival, bike tour, or whatever inspires your imagination.  The International Institute did just that, last week when students from a language instruction class gathered around a new installation and began using the imagery in the landscape painting on the side of their building to exercise their English language skills.  Video of this lesson can be watched here:

Arrangement with Billboard (late 1930s) by Harvey R. Griffiths.  This reproduction can be better enjoyed near the entrance to Akron Children's Hospital in Downtown (1 Perkins Square.)

Girl in White (1901) by William Merritt Chase.  This reproduction can be found Downtown on the north side of the Kaiser Building (323 S. Main St.) across the street from Cilantro.

 The Museum encourages people to photograph themselves with the art works--and use #InsideOutAkron so everyone can enjoy what's happening at each location.  You don't want to dawdle too long on your own Akron art treasure hunt because these locations are merely temporary.  The thirty reproductions in Downtown, North Hill, and the Towpath and MetroParks will be up from now until mid-July.  Then the thirty art installations will move to the neighborhoods of West Hill/Highland Square, Cuyahoga Falls, and the University of Akron area until October.  

Another Downtown portrait: Miss Molly Duveneck (c. 1888-1890) by Frank Duveneck.  This gorgeous face can be found between the windows on Bricco (1 W. Exchange St.)

A copy of this abstract painting can be found in North Hill on the building next door to The Office (778 N. Main St.) across from Akron's Alcoholics Anonymous Archives.  It's Not Easy Being Green (1980-2000) by Julian Stanczak.
Let's have a little civic pride here!  Akron is only the second city to attempt this community activated art project.  It was first done successfully in Detroit--and now we are following through with it!  How awesome is that?

Go find this one for yourself!  It's the tall and skinny colorful abstract on the wall between the Peanut Shoppe and Baxter's (205 S. Main St.) in Downtown.  Firecracker II (1968) by Gene Davis.

Again, soon all thirty art reproductions will be installed.  The above photos and locations are just the beginning of this inspired program.  I purposefully took my photos to better reflect the location of each art piece--and not capture the beauty of the art itself.  I want to encourage you to go and find these pieces yourself! Let us each discover and enjoy the beauty of these art works in our neighborhoods for ourselves.

For more information about Inside|Out from the Akron Art Museum, check out:

They will be giving info about maps and apps soon.  Keep an eye out for those and stay close to website.  Happy Treasure Hunting!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

George's Donuts in Twinsburg

Akron Empire is beyond excited to welcome back guest blogger Wendy Voelker! She wrote a delicious piece about Aladdin's Eatery back in February. Wendy is a professional events planner, and recently moved to NEO from the Capital Region of New York State (just north of Albany). A New Yorker born and bred, she's slowly adjusting to the Akron-area food scene. An accomplished home cook, Wendy was organically trained in culinary skills by her mom, and is particularly obsessed with baking (usually bread). Her favorite food is hummus, and she is still in search of an authentic NY-style pizza in Ohio. Wendy can also be found at, which she's been writing since 2007.

George's Donuts in Twinsburg
by Wendy Voelker

It’s a blessing and a curse working across the street from George’s Donuts. It’s terrific when someone brings in a fresh dozen to share with the office. But it’s torture when the smell of donuts wafts across the street and smacks you in the face when get out of your car. Especially when you’ve made yourself a promise to cut back on the donuts.

That’s a very real, very specific struggle for me.

George’s Donuts is a treasure, nestled in an unassuming little strip mall on Darrow Road in Twinsburg, just north of the Hudson line. It’s a popular place, and seems to have achieved a sort of cult status among locals. It’s one of the first places I heard about when I moved here, from people who didn’t even leave nearby: “Oh, you live in Twinsburg? You have to try George’s Donuts!”

George’s was named a finalist in’s “NEO’s Best Donuts” competition last fall and though they didn’t win, they received lots of votes and plenty of accolades from fans. People drive from far and wide to enjoy the treats made by George Vadaj and his family for the past 46 years.  George’s original location was in Streetsboro; they moved to their location on Darrow Road in Twinsburg in 1997, and the business is still operated by Vadaj and his family.

The interior of George’s is nothing out of the ordinary: two large glass display cases, holding giant silver trays of their famous fresh-baked goodies. There’s a small room on the left filled with tables and chairs, where folks can enjoy their treats with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Though they do sell some other types of pastries and coffee, donuts are the draw. There are at least 28 varieties, though a few are specialty and not available every day. George’s Facebook page lists the varieties they typically have available. Prices are reasonable, though slightly more than the average national donut chain: $1.15 per donut, $11.90 for a dozen.

For this little experiment, I bought a dozen different donuts and invited my lab rats co-workers to enjoy and give feedback.

Here’s the gorgeous dozen I picked up, along with a grid like they give you in Whitman’s Samplers:

And here are a few donut glamour shots:

Blackberry Filled

Chocolate Cream Filled
Chocolate Bavarian Cream

Inside Peanut Butter

Finally, the reviews (I didn’t get reviews from all of them, because not everyone reported back to me):

Peanut Butter - this one was me. Overall, this was tasty, but it could have used a little more peanut butter in the filling. The chocolate frosting was thick and sweet, with a nice chocolate flavor.

Raised with Rainbow Sprinkles - Tania called this one a winner. Actually, what she said was “Sprinkles are for winners!” I could not agree more. There’s not much better than something simple topped with rainbow sprinkles.

Chocolate Iced Bavarian Creme - Rosanne liked this one a lot. I couldn’t hear her review over the enthusiastic chewing.

Chocolate Cream Filled - Cathe likened the filling to a chocolate mousse - light and fluffy, nicely chocolate-y.

Cinnamon Sugar Cake - Jennie ate hers at 12:46pm, but noted that it was still moist a tasty.

Blackberry Filled - Deb particularly enjoyed the white icing on this one, and said the filling was fruity and not too sweet

Overall, these donuts were winners. Fresh, sinful, sweet. Everything you could want in a donut. Best eaten as soon as you can make it to the store. By 4:46pm the edges were beginning to go a little stale, but the insides were still flaky and delicious. I ate three donuts today. For science. SCIENCE. Many people will contend that donuts are not snacks, but I disagree with that assertion. They are an ideal afternoon energy source: portable, sugar and fat in perfect proportions, providing a burst of energy to get you through hours of webinars and email writing. Or maybe that’s just my afternoon and I’m making excuses for eating donuts at 4:46pm.

I ended up bringing home the glazed and peanut, so no reviews on them unless I decide to eat 4 donuts today. Oof.

Be prepared to wait a bit to get your donut fix: there always seems to be a long line. And, if you can, get there early. George’s operating hours are 4:30am-noon (there are a lot of industrial complexes around, so they are likely catering to first and third shift workers). Anytime after 8 or 9:00am, and I think you’re taking your chances with selection. And forget about sleeping in on the weekends if you want donuts – many Yelpers report empty cases by 8:00am on Saturdays. Just plan to set your alarm and get there early. You can always go back to sleep when you have your little gems stowed safely in your kitchen.

One of these days I’m going to get there at 4:30am and see what a full case of donuts looks like. Who am I kidding? That’s never going to happen. But let me know if you go at 4:30am. And take a picture for me, because I’ll still be sleeping.

George’s Donuts
7995 Darrow Road
Twinsburg, OH 44087

Hours: 4:30am-12:00pm, Closed Sundays

No website - check out their Facebook page for updates and specials