Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Bookseller

Local Bookstore Home to Antique and Everyday Books
by Brit Charek

The Bookseller, Inc may not be most noticeable storefront in all of West Akron, but it's worth going the extra mile to experience.

You can see this sign approaching the Westgate plaza from West Market Street westbound

The locally-owned, family operated shop specialize in Ohio, and specifically Akron and Summit county history, including much about the rubber industry, which seemed to put our fine city on the map. They also highlight aviation and "lighter than air" books. Don't let that discourage you if you're just looking for something to read-- They also carry a wide variety of other works, from gently used fiction novels to kitschy vintage cookbooks. I especially enjoyed their selection of classic children's books.

The store has an intimate feeling about it. It feels more like a home collection than a stuffy library. It may not seem the most organized upon first walking in, but the always friendly staff (which is usually a single person manning the shop) has no problems navigating through the books to find a particular work.
The shop was originally established in a basement in Cuyahoga Falls by Clarence Klein in 1948. Since then, it has been passed down from generation to generation. Although they've had to change the location several times in the sixty plus years of operation, it still remains in the Klein family to this day. It is currently operated by father and daughter team Frank and Andrea Klein and since 1997 has been located behind the Westgate Shopping Plaza on West Market Street just west of the intersection of Market, Hawkins and Exchange.

Chairs and tables encourage customers to sit and enjoy their findings.

Being that they specialize in rare and antiquarian books, you'd think that the prices would be somewhat inflated, but this isn't the case. When I stopped by over the weekend there was even a 20% off sale that I didn't even know about until I got to the cash register.

The Bookseller does a good amount of their business on their website, which you can visit by clicking here. There you can browse books by category, or search for a specific work by title or author.

Although online shopping is convenient, there's still something satisfying about physically picking out a book with your hands, or letting your two year old do it for you. Next time you're in the area, stop in to the Bookseller. You might be surprised at what you find.

The view from the front entrance, next to the Eye Opener
The Bookseller, Inc. is located at 96 Westgate Circle in West Akron.

What are your favorite places in Akron that you'd like to see featured? Send your suggestions to: AkronEmpire [at] gmail dot com.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pat Gerber with the Robot Consortium

People in Your Neighborhood: Pat Gerber
of the Robot Consortium

by Joanna Wilson

Meet Pat Gerber (on the left!)
Our first profile on Akron Empire is Patrick Gerber from Massillon, Ohio.  Pat is married to a great lady named Jodi and has four kids he’s always bragging about.  During the day, Pat works as a shipping inspector at a local company that distributes metal gratings for industrial and architectural needs.  At night, Pat is busy running the Robot Consortium.  This means making wooden robots to sell at local arts & crafts shows, retail stores and on-line.

The Robot Consortium includes all sorts of creatures...
I met Pat when we were vendors at the same independent crafts shows around Northeast Ohio.  You too may have seen Pat with his very popular, wooden robots at Akron’s CraftyMart, Rowdy Indie Craft Fair and Oddmall, as well as Bazaar Bizarre in Cleveland.  Pat hand crafts his adorable robots from re-purposed hardwood taken from shipping palettes that are destined for local landfills.  He cuts, sands, shapes and finishes the wood, strings together the body pieces and adds the eyes, faces and personalities to each one.  He makes them in various sizes, the most popular ones range from about 6 inches tall to 24 inches.

plain woodbot looking pensive

Pat at his table at Cleveland's Bazaar Bizarre in February.
Pat shared with me that he began woodworking when he was a boy in his father’s basement workshop.  At first Pat sold wooden kitchen utensils and bandsaw boxes.  Pat explains further, “The robots were kind of an accident, they looked different than they do now, I made 4 originally when I did my 1st Craftymart so I would fill up my table. I didn't think much about them at first but they all sold early and people kept coming up and asking if I had anymore and that’s when I started to mainly do robots. I don't get bored making them because I can make many different characters.”

Viking robot ready to pillage!
My favorite in the Wizard of Oz set: the flying monkey (left).

Pat has created a line of fat headed woodbots, viking robots, vampires, mummies, frankenstein’s monsters, robots with mohawks, girly-girl robots, robots with the visible circuitry from the innards of a computer and even robots as the characters from the movie The Wizard of Oz.  Of course, my favorite is my own wooden robot I’ve nicknamed Cecil.  I added the fez.

My own robot I've named Cecil
More recently Pat has added wooden owl lamps to his catalog.  These night creatures have plexi-glass eyes with a light bulb behind them which light up and glow when hung up against a wall or sit atop a table.  Photos for these owl lamps can be seen on his Facebook page for the Robot Consortium.

I love this sad little pirate!
You may have also seen Pat’s robots for sale at Hazel Tree Interiors (143 W. Market Street in  Akron, OH) and at Thirteenth Floor Gallery (currently undergoing a move in Massillon, OH).  You can see more from the Robot Consortium on the Facebook page or you can contact Pat through his Etsy store at Robot Consortium.  You can also find him at Oddmall again this year on May 12, 2012.

Devil Bot

Do you know an interesting person in the Akron area?  Send your suggestions for Akron Empire profiles to: AkronEmpire [at] gmail dot com.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Akron Art Museum's Reverend Howard Finster Exhibit

Akron Art Museum's Reverend Howard Finster Exhibit
by Joanna Wilson

High Street Entrance

The Akron Art Museum is currently hosting “Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster.”  The exhibition includes sculpture, paintings and personal mementos of the Outsider artist from rural Georgia.  Many of us were first introduced to the art of Reverend Howard Finster by the 1980s album covers of the Talking Heads and R.E.M.

Talking Heads' 1985 album "Little Creatures" cover art

R.E.M.'s 1984 "Reckoning" album cover art

I was lucky enough to see a small show of Finster’s work at the Toledo Museum of Art in the late 1980s when I attended college in Toledo.  It was because of this earlier attraction that I was excited to see Akron’s latest exhibit.

I still have the poster for the Toledo Museum of Art show from 1989.
Reverend Howard Finster was a colorful and charming Southern character.  A self-taught artist, Finster began painting in his 60s after claiming to have received instructions from God. Finster’s works are visions from God painted in a unique voice that often combines text and iconic imagery.  Finster is fond of re-using certain images including smiling faces in clouds, UFOs, angels, towers, and even shoes.  He frequently paints words, phrases, explanations and even Bible verses into his images.  His paintings are so packed with words and images that the viewer’s eye is drawn to investigate every corner of the work.

Finster's "The Seven Devils (2095)" can be seen all over Akron on billboards advertising the show
His subject matter ranges from religious appeals for salvation to portraits of famous people and American Presidents.  The Akron show includes portraits of Presidents George Washington, Eisenhower, Nixon and Grant as well as inventors and persons of interest such as Henry Ford, Eli Whitney, Elvis Presley, Uncle Sam and Santa Claus.  One of the most provocative portraits I saw was one of Daniel Boone with startling wolves surrounding him.  You can’t miss it.

Finster painted many angels similar to this one
One of Finster’s unusual signatures was to include in his paintings not only the year the work was completed but also the month, day and time of day.  Following what he believed were instructions from God to paint a specific number of paintings, Finster completed more than 46,000 in his lifetime which we know because he numbered them all.  I also noticed that Finster painted a great deal of his works using tractor enamel, an unusual medium.  Did I mention he was quite a character?

My favorite piece in the show
Finster achieved a certain amount of celebrity in his lifetime, dying in 2001.   He made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1983.  A clip of this talk show is on display at the Akron Art Museum where you can see Finster discussing Paradise Garden, his outdoor garden and art space.  After a commercial break, Finster plays the banjo and sings an original song.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to.  I think my favorite piece of the Akron exhibit is found in a table-top display case, and is based on his experiences on The Tonight Show, a painting entitled “Howard Was On Johny [sic] Carson Show (3868).”  This piece is his own personal expression about how he felt after being on TV.

“Stranger in Paradise: The Works of Reverend Howard Finster” continues at the Akron Art Museum until June 3, 2012.  There are still two exhibition related events coming: a lecture on April 19 and a film screening on May 10.  Click here for the link to more details.  Who’s with me for a road trip to Paradise Garden--Finster’s outdoor garden and art space in Summerville, Georgia?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thirsty Dog Brewing Company

Local Brewery Offers Tours Every Saturday
By Brit Charek

This St. Patrick's Day, I chose to do something educational. Naturally, there was beer involved.

Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, located on Grant Street between the University of Akron and I-77, offers tours of their facility every Saturday afternoon at three o'clock, free of charge.

The tour starts in a small room in the very back of the warehouse filled with bags of malt and barley stacked high to the ceiling. Our tour guide, Adam, a pleasant gentleman who looked a bit too young to know as much about beer as he did (although as the daughter of an avid homebrewer who was capping bottles at the tender age of nine I have no room to talk), narrated the various adventures that magically change the malt into delicious beer.

The brewery, established in 1997, recently underwent an expansion a year ago, and plans to expand again this year. Thirsty Dog beer is now available in 13 states, and the company hopes to continue to grow.
Bourbon barrels from Kentucky used to add flavor to darker ales and stouts
The tour ends in the tasting room, which is basically a bar with a dozen beers brewed in-house on tap, as well as two hand pumps for serving cask ales. There they serve samples for $1 or pints for $4. My personal favorites (why yes, I tried them all) were the Siberian Night, a Russian Imperial Stout, and the Old Druid Saison, a Belgian "farmhouse" style blonde ale.

The tasting room is open to the public on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4-8pm, Fridays from 12-8pm and Saturdays from 2-6pm. They also rent out the tasting room for private events. I'd recommend going on Thirsty Thursdays, where you can fill up your growler with draft beer for $2 off and stay to enjoy a discounted pint as well. Don't have a growler? You can get one with the Thirsty Dog logo on it for $5.

You can learn more about Thirsty Dog by visiting their website or by touring the brewery yourself for free any Saturday afternoon this summer. They also offer private tours for groups.

Thirsty Dog Brewing Company
529 Grant St.
Akron, OH 44311
(330) 252-2739

Thursday, March 15, 2012

DDPP-Akron Spring Social, March 30th

DDPP-Akron’s 2012 Spring Social: Madge Vs. Michael, Friday March 30th
by Brit Charek

No booze, no boys, and no judgment.  Those are the only three rules at Dance Dance Party Party (DDPP), a local group for women to dance and express themselves.  They are pretty serious about the ‘no judgement’ rule, according to Juniper Sage, one of the den mothers of DDPP-Akron.  By that, Sage means no judgment of others but more importantly, no judgment of yourself as well.  She says the goal is to freely express your inner diva through dance. 

DDPP-Akron dancers in their handmade legwarmers

DDPP-Akron is the local chapter of an international organization of women who gather together regularly to dance.  The Akron group meets for one hour, not for instruction or dance class, but to merely dance to pop music.  The other den mother is Akron Empire’s Joanna Wilson.  She says “Some people don’t know what to expect before they come to DDPP the first time, but we really encourage women to dance any way they want.  We have women of all ages and backgrounds that attend so some show up in sweat pants and t-shirts who are there for a work-out and to burn calories while other dancers are more intent on perfecting their hip-hop moves or getting out to socialize with friends.” 

Masthead of DDPP-Akron website:

If you’re looking to experience a dance party yourself, women may join the group at Martell’s School of Dance at 788 W. Market Street in Akron’s Highland Square.  They dance every first, third and fifth Friday of each month starting at 7:30pm.  They have more recently added an hour of dance on each second Sunday afternoon of every month starting at 4pm.  The women of DDPP-Akron have been throwing their dance parties for three years, recently celebrating their anniversary in February.

The King and Queen of Pop Music: Friday March 30th

A perfect time to check the group out for the first time is during their annual Spring Social on Friday, March 30th at 7:30pm.  This special two-hour dance party will feature a provocative music mix.  The first hour’s playlist will consist solely of dance hits by Madonna followed by a second hour’s worth of music by Michael Jackson.  It will be a dance-off between the Queen and King of Pop Music.  If that doesn’t have you running out on to the dance floor to bust a move, then nothing will!

For more information: check out the DDPP-Akron website: or find them on Facebook under ‘Dance Dance Party Party-Akron.’

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chocolate Factory and Retail Store

Harry London/Fannie May/Fanny Farmer Chocolate Factory and Retail Store
written by Joanna Wilson

The factory building is visible from 77 when traveling both north and south on the freeway.

Did you know that we have the largest chocolate factory in the Midwest in our own backyard?  The factory makes chocolate treats for three lines: Harry London, Fannie May and Fanny Farmer.  The factory and retail store for the three chocolate lines is located at 5353 Lauby Rd, North Canton, OH 44720.  It is found just off 77 South at exit #113 for the Akron Canton Airport.  Turn right at North Lauby Rd and the entrance is just 100 feet to the right.

Stepping through the doors of the store...

...chandeliers and CHOCOLATE!

I’ve visited the very spacious retail store, located just inside the building entrance, twice since February.  I was impressed with the wide variety of chocolates available including Buckeyes, a creamy peanut butter and chocolate candy, and seasonal confections.

Adorable Easter candy is the current seasonal chocolate.

Two sizes of boxes of Artisan handcrafted, premium chocolates

What caught my eye and made my mouth water is a line of ultra-premium gourmet chocolates called Artisan by chocolatier Norman Love.  Artisan is a new line of chocolates with Fannie May available since the fall of 2011. Created in small batches, these confections are a delight not only in flavor and texture but in appearance.  They are airbrushed with cocoa butter and coloring for a very distinctive, appealing look.  Biting into the crisp chocolate, you’ll discover a ganache filled with a rich, satisfying flavor. There are currently twelve flavors: Lemonade; Double Shot Espresso; Mint Cookie; Swiss Milk Truffle; Candy Apple; Hazelnut; Birthday Cake; 64% Dark Chocolate; Peanut Butter Fudge; Chocolate Dipped Strawberry; Bourbon Vanilla; and, Caramel.  Did I mention they offer samples in the retail store?

FM Artisan premium chocolates in the display window of the candy counter.

During my first visit to the retail store, I sampled several pieces of the premium Artisan chocolates and returned several weeks later to purchase my own box.  I’ve tried each flavor and I confess my favorites are Double Shot Espresso, Caramel and Chocolate Dipped Strawberry.  The extremely friendly staff behind the counter revealed that they were working on new flavors as well. 

A bus arrives as I'm leaving.  It is filled with people excited for a factory tour--is that Charlie Bucket? Veruca Salt? Augustus Gloop?

Can you believe that this factory and gem of a retail store is located right in our own backyard?  If you are looking for an extra special Easter treat or a premium Mother’s day gift, consider a box of chocolates made locally.  Have you taken a tour of the factory yet?  What an interesting activity for entertaining out-of-town family members or for educating youth groups.  For more information about factory tours and the hours of the store, check out the website or call: 1-800-321-0444

Thursday, March 8, 2012

About Us: Akron Empire

Akron Empire is our favorite places, people and events in Northeast Ohio.

This blog came about because Brit and Joanna wanted a platform to share their thoughts on their favorite places, people and events in their community.  You can expect to read about local stores, businesses, restaurants, bands, organizations and groups, happenings and events.

Who are Brit and Joanna?

Brit is a high school English teacher, the mother of a young son and the maker of custom guitar picks that she sells at indie craft shows in the area. ( is the author of two books about Christmas on television, a triathlete, and the maker of hand embroidered greeting cards. ( and They met at a local independent arts & craft event and share a passion for the Akron community and its people.

We ask for your help in making Akron Empire the best it can be:
--if there is a restaurant, business, band, group or event you’d like to see covered on Akron Empire, please send your suggestions to: AkronEmpire [at] gmail dot com
placing the words ‘post suggestion’ in the subject line.

--if you have a subject you’d like to write a blog post about for Akron Empire, please email us and place the words ‘I wanna WRITE’ in the subject line.

We welcome your feedback as we make and grow this blog.