Friday, December 19, 2014

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Burger

Akron Empire Favorites: Favorite Burger
by Brit Charek

We asked our readers to tell us their favorite things to do in the Empire, and you responded with amazing ideas-- some of our own old favorites, and some things new to us that we're excited to check out!

We've been rolling out the winners for the past few months-- Click HERE to see the categories we've already covered.

This time, we're announcing your favorite burger!

1. Swenson's

There's really no suprise here. Swenson's, who just celebrated the 75th anniversary of the opening of their first drive-in on South Hawkins this year, is an Akron institution! Over the years, they've expanded to seven locations all over the Empire and-- I'm particularly excited about this-- a food truck!!

Swenson's is most famous for their Galley Boy, which many readers voted for specifically. It's a double cheeseburger topped with two sauces: mayo-onion sauce and barbecue sauce, on a buttered and toasted bun topped with lettuce and tomato.

Even three readers voted for the veggie option, the Salad Boy! Although it might be the least healthy veggie burger in existence, add in one of their peanut butter milkshakes and you have one of my all-time favorite meals!

Check out Swenson's website or follow them on Facebook to learn more and find locations.

2. Stray Dog Cart

I was so excited to see Stray Dog Cart on the list! I wrote about them back in July of 2013-- click HERE to see that post again!

As the name implies, Stray Dog is known for their hot dogs, but the bright-colored carts that show up all over town carry hamburgers as well, and sometimes even pizzas!

The best way to find out where the carts are at each day is by following them on Facebook.

3. The Rail

Guest blogger Stacey wrote about The Rail back in 2012-- click HERE to see that post again!

The Rail is unique because they insist on only using beef farmed in Ohio, maintaining the balance between sustainability and great taste. To compliment that, they have a variety of local craft beers and even have a "Beer Exploration Society" where you can attend classes to taste and learn about the local brews.

Their flagship store is in Fairlawn, but they've also expanded to Canton and N. Olmsted. To learn more, visit their website.

Make sure to check back next week when we reveal more of your favorites!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Landmarks

Akron Empire Favorites: Favorite Akron Landmarks
by Joanna Wilson

You voted--and we heard you!  Last summer we asked our readers to identify their favorite landmarks in the greater-Akron area.  Here are the results:

The Gate Lodge at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

First place: Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens
Also the winner in our poll on Favorite Places to Take a Tour. Stan Hywet is the former home of F.A. Seiberling, the co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.  It is a favorite place for Akronites and out-of-town guests.  Stan Hywet's Gate Lodge is also a favorite landmark to those wishing to honor the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA started right here in Akron and is known as one of the most powerful social movements of the twentieth century. Check out their website:
Second place: Glendale Cemetery
The beauty of this landmark location, just on the other side of downtown, transcends its historic value as the final resting place of several Akron founders, industrialists, and former leaders.  Many people now visit Glendale to attend its popular public events held in the Great Meadow.  When was the last time you visited Glendale Cemetery?  For more information, check out their website:

Third place: The Towpath
The bike and hike trail along the historical Ohio & Erie Canal is a popular outdoor destination for locals.  Within the next few years, the entire 101 mile trail along the canal will be open from Cleveland to New Philadelphia.  The section of the trail through Akron and downtown is a natural wonder and open year round.  For more information about trailheads and historical stops along the towpath, check out the Summit Metro Parks website link HERE.

Sorry--the only photo I could find I had of the Signal Tree includes the cover of my book A IS FOR AKRON.  And, yes--I used my book to help me research these favorite Akron landmarks!

Honorable Mentions:
Another favorite landmark Akronites voted for includes the Signal Tree located in the Cascade Valley Chuckery area of the Summit Metro Parks.  The 300 year-old tree is believed to have been shaped by Native Americans looking to mark the area to assist persons passing by in locating the nearby river. 

Rotaynah continues to stand despite the harsh winters and insects of Akron.

And last but not least is Rotaynah, the wooden sculpture carved by artist Peter Toth.  This proud Native American landmark is located along West Market St. in front of the Judith Resnick Learning Center.  Do you have another favorite Native American landmark in Akron?

Thanks to everyone who voted.  Please check the complete list of Akron Empire Favorites found HERE.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Place to Tour

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Place to Take a Tour
by Joanna Wilson

Thanks to everyone who shared their opinions with us this past summer.  We've been rolling out the winners one category at a time throughout the Fall.  Click HERE to see the categories we've already covered. Have you taken a tour in all of these places yet?

In the category of Favorite Place to Take a Tour:

3. The Akron Civic Theatre
Did you know they give free tours once a month?  Here's my experience when I took the Civic tour in 2012.  For more information about tours and their schedule, check out their website.

2.  The Akron Art Museum 
In addition to the permanent collection, there is a rotating schedule of traveling exhibits, visiting artists, and events.  There's always something fresh and new happening at the Art Museum.  Check out their website for what's going on now.

High Street entrance.

1.  Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens
The former home of F.A. Seiberling, the co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, is a favorite place for Akronites and out-of-town guests.  Currently, they have their holiday lights and decorations on display.  Check out their website for more details about Stan Hywet and their tours.

The Great Hall in the Manor House at Stan Hywet.

Honorable Mentions include:

Hower House
The historical home of Akron industrialist John Henry Hower and his family has been turned into a museum and is owned by the University of Akron.  Click HERE to see the review of my tour of Hower House from 2013.

Hower House is located on Fir Hill, near the university.

John Brown House and Perkins Stone Mansion
These two neighboring properties in West Akron are historical homes as well.  Tours are available from the Summit County Historical Society.  Akron Empire was lucky enough to have a guest blogger share her experiences of touring these propertiesClick HERE to see Juniper Sage's essay on John Brown House and click HERE to see Juniper's essay on Perkins Stone Mansion.

Thanks again to everyone who voted!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Place To Do Your Holiday Shopping

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Place To Do Your Holiday Shopping
by Brit Charek

You voted, we listened! We asked our readers to tell us their favorite things to do in the Empire, and you responded with amazing ideas-- some of our own old favorites, and some things new to us that we're excited to check out!

We've been rolling out the winners one category a week-- Click HERE to see the categories we've already covered.

With the biggest shopping weekend of the year right around the corner, this week we are announcing your favorite places to do your holiday shopping!

1. Crafty Mart

Photo courtesy of LoveWhatIDo Photography.
Crafty Mart has been hosting annual handmade markets downtown at Musica for five years, and this year they are having their biggest event yet! Crafty Mart will take place next weekend, November 29 & 30, at three locations: Musica, the Akron Art Museum, and Summit Artspace.

There is free parking on the street and in the library parking deck on the corner of High and Market Streets. There will even be a trolley provided by the city of Akron to get shoppers to all three venues!

For more information, check out Crafty Mart's website or follow them on Facebook!

2. Don Drumm Studios

Photo courtesy of Don Drumm Studios website
Don Drumm Studios has been an Akron staple since the early 70's. The two building gallery provides a unique shopping experience where you can purchase a variety gifts made by more than 500 different artists from all over the country, including the work of Don Drumm himself!

Don Drumm Studios is located at 437 Crouse Street, right across from UA's Infocision Stadium. For more info, visit their website.

3. Portage Trail Barn

The Portage Trail Barn Sale is a consignment shop which features local artists and handmade makers. Their slogan (which also happens to be my mantra) is "Shop Local. Buy Handmade." We're so excited for their next sale. The barn will be open December 4th, 6th and 7th just in time for all your holiday shopping needs! Joanna wrote about last year's Winter Barn Sale-- see that post again by clicking HERE.

The Portage Trail Barn is located at 151 W. Portage Trail Ext. in Cuyahoga Falls.For more info, see their website or follow them on Facebook!

Honorable Mentions:

Square Records
Square Records is the perfect place to shop for the music lover in your life! This local record shop has become an institution in the Highland Square Neighborhood. Record Store Day at Square Records was one of the first things I wrote about for Akron Empire-- click HERE to see that post again!

Square Records is participating in Record Store Day's Black Friday event. Doors open at 11am!

They are located at 824 W. Market Street in Highland Square. Check out their website or Facebook page for more information.

the Bomb Shelter

The Bomb Shelter is more than just a cool store-- it's a experience. It's basically a big warehouse full of just about everything. They sell a variety of vintage kitschy goods, from furniture and cars to smaller items like kitchen accessories, telephones and radios. The staff, including the shop dog, Gravy, is really friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.

I wrote about it back in 2012-- click HERE to see that post again.

Thanks again to everyone who voted! Check back next week as we reveal more of your favorites!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Archie the Snowman and Akron's Other Christmas Attractions in 2014

Archie the Talking Snowman at Chapel Hill Mall--probably the 1980s.  Photo used with permission from Tommy Uplinger at the Official Archie the Snowman fan page on Facebook.

Archie the Snowman and Akron's Other Christmas Attractions in 2014
by Joanna Wilson

Nothing like our first snow storm of the season to remind us of the upcoming holidays.  While every city has its own holiday traditions, Akron is known for its love of its own homegrown Christmas traditions.  Many of you know that I'm a book author--my latest project is A is for Akron, co-authored by Karen Starr, which came out last March.  My next book is about Akron's own Archie the Talking Snowman and our city's long history of Christmas attractions. That book will be released in the spring of 2015.  So let me share a little bit about what a rich cultural history we have available for our families in Akron this upcoming holiday season.

The most exciting news is everyone's favorite Archie the Snowman returns to Chapel Hill Mall this year.  The twenty foot snowman was created for the mall in 1968 where he stood for 36 consecutive years.  Over the years, thousands of children conversed with the talking snowman, offering him holiday greetings and sharing how they like to spend the holidays--while they shopped at the mall and visited with Santa Claus too.  The tradition of Archie the Snowman was stopped between 2004-2011.  A popular movement to bring back Archie got traction and the city of Akron hosted our frozen friend at Lock 3 during the holidays of 2012 and 2013.  I wrote about Archie the Snowman's return to Akron for Akron Empire in 2012--click HERE to see that post again.  In a twist of fate, Archie will spend the 2014 Christmas season back at Chapel Hill Mall.  The mall is hosting a kick-off event to welcome Archie home--Saturday, Nov. 22nd, noon until 2pm.  After the event, Archie will remain in the mall's center through the holidays.  Be sure to follow Chapel Hill Mall on Facebook for more information about Archie the Snowman this year.

Archie at Lock in 2012.  Left to right: Tommy Uplinger, Raúl Umaña, and David Burkett--three of the people who helped bring Archie back to Akron's children.  Photo used with permission.

Although Archie has left Lock 3, there is still quite a bit of holiday fun to be enjoyed downtown.  Two of the windows in the Polsky Building (now owned by the University of Akron) are being decorated for visitors.  There was a time--for decades, in fact--when the two department stores Polsky's and ONeil's in downtown Akron offered up amazing and eye-catching animated window displays to attract visitors.  Children pressed their faces against the frosty window glass to take in the splendor of the all-new holiday displays each year.  That tradition was interrupted by changes in consumer habits when our culture came to prefer shopping at suburban malls and plazas over the downtown department stores.  Although the stores Polsky's and ONeil's have been closed for years, we can still enjoy a touch of that Akron tradition.  Two displays--Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz--which are a collection of animated figures originally owned by the ONeil's store (from the 1980s) will be in the Polsky Building storefront windows after Thanksgiving day this year.  These displays are put together by Lawrence and Cynthia Nixon, the same couple who have been keeping the tradition of our decorated holiday windows since the closing of the downtown department stores.

The Ice Princess display now at Lock 3--originally owned by ONeil's for their storefront windows. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Jordan at Lock 3.

Downtown hosts more of the ONeil's store window displays at Lock 3.  In the basement of the former ONeil's building (at Lock 3), you can walk through a large attraction comprised of several sets of the old animated window displays.  This year you can see a scene from Peter Pan, the Ice Princess and her Prince, a collection of Mother Goose storybook characters, Santa Claus' Workshop, and more.  Yes--all of these vintage animated displays were originally ONeil's store displays used in their windows and the Santa's Winter Wonderland experience inside the store.  Also on display this year at Lock 3 is the giant-sized Raggedy Ann doll that used to be the talking Raggedy Ann attraction at ONeils during the 1970s and 80s.  Come down to Lock 3 this year with your children or grandchildren and witness a part of Akron's Christmas history.

Peter Pan, his friends, and Captain Hook in another scene once owned by the ONeil's department store--on display this year at Lock 3. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Jordan at Lock 3.

In addition to the walk-through displays, families can also enjoy several activities downtown at Lock 3.  There is an ice skating rink, a toboggan run, and new this year--an indoor miniature golf course.  Check out the Lock 3 website for the full schedule and hours.  Ice skating has already started--but the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony is Friday, Nov. 28 and the annual Welcome Santa Parade is Saturday Nov. 29th.

The gorgeous Nativity display at Cornerstone Church.

If you're interested in another Akron Christmas tradition, then don't overlook this one-of-a-kind opportunity.  Cornerstone Church in south Akron (578 Killian Rd. 44319) now owns the life-size Nativity display that stood for years atop ONeil's downtown store marquee.  Starting on Thanksgiving day, the church stages the sacred display each year for everyone to enjoy.  For all the changes we've seen in Akron over the decades, isn't it heartening to see that some traditions remain? 

To keep up with news about my upcoming book on Archie the Snowman and Akron's long history of Christmas attractions, please follow the 1701 Press facebook page and website

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Desserts

Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Desserts
by Joanna Wilson

You voted, we listened!  We asked our readers to tell us their favorite things in the Empire, and you responded with amazing ideas--some are our own old favorites, and some things new to us that we're excited to check out! We are rolling out the results of our poll each week through the rest of the Fall.  Thanks so much to everyone who shared their voices in selecting our favorite things in Akron.  To see the results of all the voting so far, be sure to click on the Akron Empire Favorites badge on the right hand side.

Voters were passionate about the Favorite Desserts category.
1. Made By Mike
2. Strickland's
3. Mary Coyle
Honorable Mention: The A-kronut available only at The Office Bistro (on N. Main St.)

I'm excited to see Made By Mike treats available at Crafty Mart this year--his booth will be at Musica/We Gallery on Sat. Nov. 29th.  I've also seen his caramels for sale at the café at the Akron Art Museum. To learn more about this winner, check out Made By Mike's website and Made By Mike Facebook page.

Strickland's frozen custard is a part of our Akron identity.  Though there are locations all over town, I'm still one of those people that drives to the east side's original location on Triplett Boulevard to enjoy my Stickland's in a waffle cone.  Check out the Stickland's Facebook page as well.

Trecaso's Mary Coyle in Highland Square is another institution in the neighborhood.  In addition to their old fashioned ice cream, the restaurant is also well known for their Italian food menu.  Check out the Mary Coyle website and their facebook page.

A great big shout-out also goes to The Office's A-kronut, a pastry sensation available only during their Sunday brunch hours at the Akron location.  I think the last one I had was German Chocolate--geez, my mouth is watering just thinking about it!  Check out The Office Bistro's Facebook page as well.

Thanks again to everyone who voted--and congratulations to all the winners!

Friday, November 7, 2014

An Outsider's Guide to Akron

Akron Empire is excited to welcome guest blogger Chris Horne!

Chris is a Southerner by birth and an Akronite by happy accident, raising a lovely little girl here with his amazing wife. For most of the last decade, he's worked as a writer, editor, beat reporter, web producer and news manager, but what he enjoys most is meeting people and telling stories. 

Inspired by all the awesome he's experienced in Akron, he's launching The Devil Strip, a guide to what's happening in local arts, music, business and culture. You can check it out at, follow on Twitter @akrondevilstrip and like at

An Outsider’s Guide to Akron, Part 1
by Chris Horne

If you just moved here, congratulations! If you’ve always lived here, congrats! Anything in between?
Way to go, you! Akron’s one helluva town and now is the perfect time to be here.

My wife, daughter and I moved to Akron at the end of July 2013. Coming from the buckle of the Bible Belt, we immediately wondered, “Hey, where’s the summer?” A couple months later, we understood it had been prematurely swallowed by the black hole gravity of that approaching winter’s polar vortex.

“It’s not usually this bad,” we heard.

“Akronites are terrible liars,” I thought.

Then, after years of middle Georgia’s oppressive summer heat and humidity, we rejoiced in the fullness of a mild Akron summer. Ahhhhh, yes.

“It’s not usually this nice,” we heard.

“Akronites are terrible liars,” I’m hoping.

Weather foibles aside, there’s much to love here. Most folks we’ve met get that. Many even carry a little blimp-shaped chip on their shoulder. In that way, Akron feels as much like an eccentric family as it does a city: People who’ll bang out their frustrations about the city’s shortcomings but wouldn’t dream of letting the haters land an insult without reciprocating at double-strength. Family pride and all that.

When you’re born inside such a family, it can be hard to step back and really drink in the weird. You’re acclimated. As someone who just married into the family (and likes to stretch his metaphors), it’s hard for me to ignore just how offbeat Akron can be. For outsiders coming in, make friends with the peculiar and you’ll be alright.

Akron is Wellsville

Do you remember the “Adventures of Pete and Pete?” The Nickelodeon show featured brothers who
shared the same name but were years apart in age. They had a personal superhero—Artie, the Strongest Man… in the World!—and lived in a place where anything could happen. In Wellsville, their mom could play songs from the radio thanks to the metal plate in her head. Once, they found a whole car completely submerged in sand at the beach, dug it out and drove it home. The show was riddled with nutty cameos from Iggy Pop and LL Cool J to Steve Buscemi , Janeane Garofalo and Patty Hearst.

Akron is the real-life Wellsville.

You can go view work by Andy Warhol and Chuck Close at the Akron Art Museum, then walk out, look up and see the Goodyear Blimp strolling the skies above town at almost any time of the year. Next head down the hill to the Diamond Grille where, depending on the seasonal event, you might spot someone like Tiger Woods or Michael Strahan. You’d be just a few blocks from St. Vincent-St. Mary, where the greatest NBA player of his generation first drew the world’s attention as a teen.

While the West Akron Little League team the Black Keys sponsor is a little further away, you’re a stone’s throw from Chin’s Place, which got a little help from its friends Mr. Auerbach and Mr. Carney when the city government stuck the restaurant with a $20,000 repair. Up a little further in Highland Square, you’ll find Platinum Dragon, which best-selling writer Chuck Klosterman says serves the best General Tso’s chicken. High praise in a place he claims has “the best Chinese food in North America.”

In a big city, this stuff isn’t surprising but in the fifth largest city of the seventh largest state, it’s a little bonkers. And that’s before mentioning Devo, Rita Dove, Chrissie Hynde, Dr. Bob, James Ingram or the other Akronites of international acclaim.

Akron is also Eureka, Oregon.

Maybe it isn’t a haven for high-tech scientists toiling away in a top-secret facility, but we do have Tiny Circuits, among others, who are doing super cool stuff. On a wider scale, the Rubber City is transitioning nicely into its role as a world center for polymer research.

That transformation takes several shapes. It’s on display at Stan Hywet, the massive museum and gardens that was once the estate of rubber tire magnet F. A. Seiberling, who also donated the land
that’s become the Nature Realm. You can see this change in the rebirth of the BF Goodrich factory as
the Canal Place complex. It’s evident at the new $160 million global headquarters Goodyear built, as
well as in their gleaming eponymous building on the campus of the University of Akron with its meth-blue rock candy sculpture standing guard outside.

The city’s genius didn’t stop with rubber scientists (that is, scientists who specialize in rubber, not those made of it). John “the first American to orbit the earth” Glenn’s space suit was developed here. The first police car in America was used here—AND, it was electric. That’s 104 years before Elon Musk started Tesla Motors. The first mass-produced marble (and the toy industry in general) began in Akron. So did Quaker freakin’ Oats, the Professional Bowling Association and female mud wrestling. 

The Akron Pros, a charter team in what would become the NFL, won the league’s first championship.
The next year, in 1921, they made Fritz Pollard the NFL’s first African-American head coach. Paul Robeson played on that team too but would soon leave sports and be known as a singer, actor and civil rights activist.

Why? Because Akron.

Akron is Twin Peaks

It’s one thing to find out that, after you’ve joked about how ain’t nobody going to get no Ebola in
America, you find out the second person to get infected in the U.S. isn’t just from Akron but came home aboard a commercial flight to visit. And it’s an entirely different thing to find out Jeffrey Dahmer lived (and killed) here because the bait-clicky web story you saw about his childhood home being up for sale.

Then there’s Edward Edwards, who grew up an orphan in Akron. He became a career criminal then a book-writing reformed criminal, and then a confessed murderer some also consider a suspect in higher profile homicides, like the Zodiac murders.

Mugshot of Edward Edwards

This darkness doesn’t dominate Akron but it’s somewhere in there beneath the rust and decay. Even its suburbs.

Derf Backderf’s graphic novel “My Friend Dahmer” is a memoir that’s as moving as it is disturbing
because it humanizes the notorious serial killer as much as it points a finger (not the finger) at the adults in Dahmer’s life who ignored him. Follow that with Derf’s “Punk Rock and Trailer Parks,” a fiction set during the wake of Devo’s rise as the “Akron Sound” began its boom. The book is as funny and enlightening as “Dahmer” is moving and disturbing. 

Though Akron lays claim to lauded thespians like Clark Gable and John Lithgow, actor Ray Wise is a more interesting case because he’s so damn good at portraying creeps and bad guys. Yes, Lithgow made season 5 of “Dexter” but Wise has been Satan. Besides, as Leland Palmer in “Twin Peaks,” Wise wins hands-down because he’s at his most Akron. Smart, kind and driven but also grieving and possessed.

Akron is Akron

The thing about this place, it seems to me, is that there are a bazillion ways to be at one’s “most Akron.”

While folks to our north use “Only in Cleveland” as a sort of tidy funeral dirge, here the refrain I hear most often is “Sounds like Akron.” That’s a feeling that lays somewhere between resignation and celebration. Again, like family. It’s the way you own the familiar misdeeds of a loved one who has a tendency to act out when he’s drinking.

“Chris bought a 12-pack of High Life, drank half of it, hopped the fence in someone’s backyard and showed up two hours late at your house with an art easel and some potted fabric flowers? Yeah… sounds like Chris.”

Akron is a lot of things, all at the same time. Like a lot of places. But different. Like a lot of places.

However, if there’s anything I’m confident about, it’s that you’ll never have to mount a “Keep Akron Weird” campaign because I don’t think the city knows any other way to be.