Distinctly Downtown: She’s A Smart Cookie

Shana Stiel, creator, owner, and sole-employee of She’s A Smart Cookie, a gluten-free and vegan treats business, brings healthy and tasty snacks to Northeast Ohio and Akron’s The Market at Lock 3.

Stiel’s certified home bakery is located in North Canton. She provides services primarily at farmers markets and to businesses and bakery shops in Cleveland, Akron, Kent, and other surrounding Ohio areas.

Stiel delivers special orders to cafes where her products are then featured. She’s A Smart Cookie is sold at several shops in Akron such as Highland Square’s Angel Falls Coffee and The Coffee Pot Cafe downtown.photo(12)

Stiel is very active in the downtown Akron dining life through her involvement at The Market at Lock 3 and her locations in Akron stores and bakeries.

Stiel makes various baked goods, health snacks, and energy bars; providing a wide range of gluten-free and vegan options that taste good and provide essential nutrients. Her specialties are cookies, granola, almond butter, and energy balls.

These products are not only completely vegan, but they are also packed with natural ingredients- with no fillers or artificial flavors. Her treats are both healthy and delicious.

“I want to make a cookie taste like a cookie—not like it’s trying to be a cookie,” Stiel said.

Stiel began her business after personally suffering from food allergies. For the past 4 years, Stiel struggled with countless health problems. She was lethargic, constantly tired, and had severe migraines and body pains. After seeing numerous doctors, none of whom could diagnose her, Stiel sought a solution through her diet.

Similarly, Stiel’s sister suffered from allergies to wheat and dairy, which encouraged Stiel to get testing done for food allergies. After getting the results back from her tests, Stiel learned that she was allergic to wheat, dairy, and gluten. This knowledge motivated Stiel to change her diet drastically. She already maintained a vegetarian diet and exercised regularly, but this inspired her to look for more ways to improve her lifestyle.

“No food tasted good enough for me to feel so bad,” Stiel reminisced about the first few weeks upon discovering her food allergies.

Over time Stiel adapted to a gluten-free and vegan lifestyle. She felt the results of her diet change immediately; quickly recognizing the improvement in her body and health.

Still, Stiel struggled while grocery shopping for foods. She found that most products in stores were loaded with gluten and artificial fillers. She always loved baking, so she took matters into her own hands and began testing ingredients to create more options that her sister (the sister with a sweet tooth) and she could enjoy.

As Stiel saw the changes and improvement in her life and diet, she wanted to share this with others, knowing that she couldn’t be alone in this issue with her allergies. Stiel hoped that if the awareness of gluten-free snacks that tasted good reached the public, more people might make the switch to wheat and dairy-free products.

Stiel is passionate about helping others with health problems, and she encourages those who struggle with aches and lethargy to get tested for allergies to food. Yet, Stiel also seeks out people without food allergies to still take a look at their diets and find room for improvement. Stiel said that if vegan products taste as good as regular products, people’s bodies might feel and look better eating the first choice.

Stiel’s advice to anyone hesitant to change their usual eating habits is that “you can eat smart, and it can taste great.”

While grocery stores primarily offer popular manufacturers’ brands, despite their unhealthiness, Stiel’s goal is to popularize not only She’s A Smart Cookie products, but gluten-free and vegan options in general.

“I think it’s getting to that point where people want to be healthy now,” said Stiel. Taking the initiative to put her product in numerous shops and bakeries, Stiel hopes people become familiarized with her vegan treats and make the transition over to a healthier diet.

Stiel’s business is continually growing; roughly every week, she starts selling to at least one more bakery in Ohio. Her goals are to one day see She’s A Smart Cookie as a trusted and recognized brand in bakeries and grocery stores everywhere.

By: Spencer Skolnick, Downtown Akron Partnership Intern

Distinctly Downtown: Cascade Plaza

Cascade Plaza, a new addition to Downtown Akron’s vibrant atmosphere, attracts employees and residents of the area for games, music and relaxation.

The Cascade Plaza

The Cascade Plaza

Developed recently this summer, Cascade Plaza, located along South Main Street, is a public spot many people frequent during their lunch hour, for the lively and beautiful environment it provides. The tables and open field give people an outdoor lunching area and a great escape from the office.

Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) hosts Summer on the Plaza, a program that brings events, musicians, and games to the new downtown hotspot, attracting more people to the area.

As the summer intern with DAP, I get to experience Summer on the Plaza firsthand. Participating in “Throwback Thursday” each week, a day that brings old recess games back to people in downtown Akron and onto the plaza’s field, I’m able to watch partakers roll up the sleeves of their office suits and get down and dirty in competitive games of corn hole.

Playing a game of corn hole with the DAP staff

Playing a game of corn hole with the DAP staff

While every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. reminds participants of their past with games like bocce, ladder ball, and badminton, other days of the week attract people to the plaza as well.

Tuesdays during lunch break hours, free concerts take over the Cascade Plaza. Artists such as Ohio’s own Michael McFarland perform free shows at the plaza. For the remainder of the summer from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., Akron employees, residents and students are encouraged to enjoy their lunches on the plaza, entertained  by some rock ‘n’ roll.

Wednesdays welcome Namaste and downward dog with Yoga on the Plaza on evenings at 5:30 p.m. Akron Yoga & Wellness introduces free yoga classes, the perfect way to relax before heading home from work.

I highly suggest to anyone able to utilize the resources of these free events to take advantage of this summer fun. And for anyone unable to attend the Summer on the Plaza events, I still recommend enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful surroundings of the Cascade Plaza during your down time.

Summer on the Plaza occurs from now until September 3. Stop by to soak up the sun and free entertainment before the summer ends.

By Spencer Skolnick, Downtown Akron Partnership Intern

Distinctly Downtown: Tammy O’s Hair Salon

Tammy O’s Hair Salon exceeds typical salon and barber shop expectations and provides a sense of community to its customers, contributing to Downtown Akron life.

The Shoppestammy-o-for-constant-contact at Akron Centre offer a wide range of shopping and dining options. This shopping center adds to the lively, entertaining atmosphere of Downtown Akron. Well-known establishments such as Angel Falls Coffee, as well as original specialty shops like NOTO, are centered in this building, drawing in local workers and shoppers in the Akron area.

A place of its own—famous for its friendly employees and wide variety of offered salon and spa services, Tammy O’s, owned and operated by Tammy O’Strander, attracts men and women of all ages and ethnicities to the salon. The salon specializes in nails, massages, hair coloring and styling, as well as cuts and waxes, and cosmetology.

O’Strander is working in her fifteenth year at the franchise in the Shoppes at Akron Centre. She is a licensed barber, who started a career at this salon as an employee in her youth. She then took over the shop when the previous owner left and has run the salon ever since his departure. Although O’Strander began as a men’s barber, she expanded the salon to offer far more services, for both men and women.

O’Strander started in the business at a young age. She enjoyed cutting hair and considered it her hobby. She made the initiative to turn it into a career after working at a salon in Beachwood, Ohio, where her co-workers and employers taught her more than she imagined she could learn. O’Strander states that was when she fell in love with her hobby, and it developed into her career.

O’Strander took these life-changing lessons and applied them when she started running Tammy O’s Salon.

As the owner, O’Strander refuses to operate a cookie-cutter hair salon and spa; she wants both her employees and customers to get the most out of her knowledge and services. She aspires to motivate and teach so that her employees receive that same experience she gained at her first hair salon job. O’Strander says she focuses strongly on growth.

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Tammy O’s stylists and spa specialists.

Working alongside O’Strander at Tammy O’s is Vicki Martin, the massage therapist and shoe shiner. She began working there in 2003. She specializes in therapeutic and deep tissue massaging. Also, Cindi Rains is the nail technician, an employee of over ten years.

Recently, Robin Jones, a friend of O’Strander’s since 1995, joined the team, focusing on cosmetology at the salon. Jones was a licensed barber in Maryland, specializing in hair replacement, where she previously worked. Joining O’Strander’s salon, Jones brings a background of culture and diversity in regards to hair styling, as her passion and talent centers around styling and re-growing hair of people with mixed ethnicities. As a woman of mixed backgrounds herself, Jones sees “this business [as] artistry.” She plans to incorporate more diversity in the salon’s services, hoping to attract more female customers and customers with diverse backgrounds.

Dedicated workers at Tammy O's gather at the spa.

Dedicated workers at Tammy O’s gather at the spa.

For O’Strander and her co-workers, a significant part of their success is due to their location. They are a part of downtown city life; the Shoppes at Akron Centre is located in the heart of the city. She describes it as “a perfect place to be.” The city life draws in a lot of excitement and entertainment, and O’Strander mentions that she sees her salon as a part of it all. “I see [customers] on a daily basis because they work in this building or they [frequently visit],” she says, “They’re more like friends than clients.”

Employees in the downtown area, along with shoppers and browsers, see Tammy O’s and are intrigued by its welcoming appearance and many spa services. O’Strander says that her business is always growing because the people who have used her services before continuously return, while regularly new customers visit. This salon is a great place for students at the University of Akron and workers downtown because of the convenience of location and short amount of time it takes to get there.

What used to be a barber shop transformed into a full-package “head-to-toe” service salon and spa. O’Strander puts her passion and skills into her business, offering expert hair and other services, as well as a friendly, inviting environment where the workers know each customer by name. In 2010 and 2011, Tammy O’s was named the Akron Beacon Journal’s Best Barber and in both those years and in 2012, named Beacon’s Best Spa and Salon. Tammy O’s is a great place to get pampered or a haircut—they provide care and talent that is hard to find elsewhere.

For more information about Tammy O’s Hair Salon, visit their web page on our site, give them a call at 330-253-2300, or stop in at 50 S Main St, Suite 111. When visiting the salon, remember that Tammy O’s has a Do Downtown card member promotion of 10% off any service.

By Spencer Skolnick, Downtown Akron Partnership Intern

Distinctly Downtown: Natalie’s

Natalies logoIf you are familiar with The Dessert Bar, then you know Natalie’s will be an experience you won’t forget. The location of the pleasant eatery might have changed, but the delicious recipes have expanded and they offer new menu items including breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Now located in the Shoppes at Akron Centre, Natalie’s is open and ready to connect and share their new vision with Downtown Akron. Whether you are in the mood for an appetizing chicken salad or a sweet signature Hollywood square, Natalie’s will meet your needs.

Natalie, who co owns the restaurant along with her husband, started cooking in her younger years. She attended a culinary arts trade program during high school which fueled the fire in her heart for cooking and baking. Although Natalie loved the restaurant business and working in the environment, being young and in school made that difficult. She then entered the corporate world and worked there for about 15 years. With the passion for the kitchen still residing inside of her, five years into her corporate America career, she started baking cakes. Baking cakes and catering soon became the focus of her drive. Natalie left corporate America and decided to open a business to what many would remember as The Dessert Bar.
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Natalie switched locations from the Montrose area to right here in the heart of Downtown Akron. She has expressed her love for the city and for the history and security of the Chase building. After asking Natalie what she looked forward to the most, she replied “the increased traffic flow”. Now that she is more out in the open and not as hidden as before in her previous location, she anticipates serving existing formal customers and meeting new patrons to make them customers for life. While working in a friendly family environment, she hopes that new and existing patrons notice the name and menu change. The name change from The Dessert Bar to Natalie’s was designed to give insight to the larger spectrum of food Natalie and her restaurant could offer other than just desserts. Natalie’s offers breakfast, on request only, home-style dishes, standard deli options, specialty items and grill items. All menu items are made with homemade recipes, and are accompanied by homemade sides. Catering is also available upon request. Natalie’s catering events range from corporate lunches, and weddings, to anniversaries and school reunions. Natalie enjoys being in Akron and serving her community. Along with anticipating meeting new customers, a smooth transition from the familiar Dessert Bar to the current Natalie’s, is the main goal for this restaurant owner.

To experience the warm and friendly environment that Natalie strives to offer her customers, visit her new location in Downtown Akron 50 S, Main St., Suite 122. To inquire about her catering or to make a delivery request contact Natalie’s at (234) 334-4166. From about 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Natalie’s receives a rush of patrons for lunch, so when visit, plan accordingly.

To find out more information about the menu, catering information or to see examples of Natalie’s exceptional cakes and desserts, visit her website at www.nataliesakron.com or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook/TheDessertBarAkron.

By: Chantel Burt
DAP intern

Distinctly Downtown: Urban Eats

058Urban Eats is a pop-art cafe owned by Elizabeth Tyran and Jason Scala, two creative geniuses, who turned their former order counter into a visual, compelling & fun place to eat! Jason and Liz both have a passion for food as well as art. Whether it’s local art, or a masterpiece from home, they acknowledge the beauty in each piece and showcase them in the restaurant. Liz is an UA alumnae while Jason has mastered the art of culinary. When you put their two minds together and you witness the talent this power couple posses, the outcomes are unlimited. They both strive to provide healthy and hearty meals to the people they appreciate most, the people in their community.

Urban Eats is the center of a live, 053 work and play environment. The owners of this cafe appreciate all the walks of life they encounter and the relationships they build while residing in the this community. Since their work and personal home live here; they especially know the importance of community and supporting one another. Liz says, although the occupants of the neighborhood may change over time, the community and the city constantly grows. Outside of their cafe, they support local artist in attending art shows and hosting a children’s “artwalk”.

Along with the fascinating and eye catching wall art, their food is definitely something worth discussing. Referring to the menu, Liz says “they have something for everyone”. What’s so unique and diverse about Urban Eats is the fact that they change their menu each month. Sometimes it’s a new and captivating item or it could be a familiar favorite that you love and crave. In order to balance the variety of meals they offer they have to work together. Liz considered herself the “dreamer’ and referred to Jason as the “doer”. She thinks and creates these thoughtful and balanced recipes while Jason creates magic in the kitchen to bring her ideas to life. They listen and accommodate to their customers to make sure every trip is special.

Creative, exceptional and inspiring are just a few words to describe their establishment. working alongside Musica, which is now open during the week, Urban Eats tries to integrate and encourage originality and creativity. With help051 from their small but mighty staff, Max, who is also multi-talented and artsy, they are able to achieve the motto of live, work and play. Whether you are vising for lunch during the rush, or stopping in after an event at Musica, Urban Eats is a place where art meets food and community is welcomed. You will quickly be inspired by Liz and Jason’s refreshing personalities, their fine food and the original atmosphere, they cherish. Urban Eats is located on East Market and they are open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday thru Friday and during any Musica events. You can always call ahead to order and delivery within downtown is available with a $25 minimum. Catering is also available for businesses and organizations upon request. Visit their website at www.urbaneatsmusica.com.

By: Chantel Burt
DAP intern

Distinctly Downtown: Crafty Mart

Crafty Mart logoCrafty Mart was first established in 2009 as a haven of uncommon, quality-made, local arts and crafts. In 2013, Crafty Mart won a “Best of the City” award from Akron Life Magazine.  Growing by leaps and bounds to fit the needs of the crafting community, Crafty Mart is now a non-profit organization.

In 2015 Crafty Mart joined the Downtown Akron Artwalk as a pop up space on the third floor of Summit Artspace.  Beginning in February with Valentine’s Day-themed items, Crafty Mart became a regular stop on the monthly Artwalk route.

Crafty Mart filled three Downtown Akron venues in November 2014 including Musica Performing Arts

Crafty Mart filled three Downtown Akron venues in November 2014, including Musica Performing Arts

On Saturday, March 7 from 5-9 p.m, Crafty Mart hosts the Nerdy Pop Up Market with vendors featuring items that celebrate geekiness, nerdiness and pop culture obsessions.  The Nerdy Pop Up Market theme has been chosen to honor Pi Day which takes place the following week.  Pi Day is a celebratory time by nerds of all stripes who cleverly recognize that the day March 14, 2015, can also be seen as 3.1415–the first five significant digits of the mathematical constant (pi.)

“The Nerdy Pop Up Market is a fun way for Crafty Mart to contribute its culture of local artisans and crafters to the monthly Akron Artwalk,” said Brit Charek, Crafty Mart Director.  “Artwalk guests get to experience the creativity and inspiration of these arty entrepreneurs. I’m also excited to introduce a passionate group of our vendors to give Akron residents a fresh new Artwalk experience.”

Crafty Mart will host between 20 and 30 vendors on the third floor of Summit Artspace during the Artwalk.  Crafty Mart’s addition to the tradition of the Artwalk not only opens a wider audience to its vendors but gives Akron’s residents more opportunities to discover local artists, crafters and their handmade items.

The Downtown Akron Artwalk takes place on the first Saturday of each month and features multiple destinations for art, shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Each month is a unique experience and a wonderful opportunity to meet artists that make downtown a culturally and artistically vibrant community.

The Akron Artwalk is a FREE event and entry into Summit Artspace is FREE.

For more information on Crafty Mart’s past and present, visit www.craftymart.org.

Follow Crafty Mart on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the most recent updates on this event.

Content courtesy of: Crafty Mart

Distinctly Downtown: Akron CitiCenter Florist

 Valentine’s Day is approaching and that means love is in the air. Love is not the only comforting scent in the air; flowers are a perfect way to express your love for someone on that special day. Giving flowers as a gift can be filled with love, appreciation and thoughtfulness. If you are in the Downtown Akron area and heading down Main Street and turn on the corner on Mill Street, you’ll see a very distinct and lovely display. Red, white and pink illuminate the front window of Paul Stitt’s Akron CitiCenter Florist. Stitt’s shop offers an array of beautiful bouquets and arrangements ranging from roses, to lilies to chrysanthemums.DSC00853

Before Stitt became a florist, he lived in San Diego, California, where he was a young boy just simply delivering flowers. After gaining knowledge in the florist business, he used that knowledge to move up and make a career out of his experience. Stitt opened his shop in Downtown Akron in September of 1989. His first location was the CitiCenter building during the 90’s, but once the city took over the building he relocated. Stitt is fully staffed during the holidays and supplies floral decorations and arrangements for occasions such as weddings, funerals, hospital stays and birthdays. If you are having a small gathering for any occasion and looking for an affordable florist, this is the perfect place. I asked Stitt what he liked most about being downtown, he says “I like the corporate business.” “I like dealing with business people…It’s different.” He enjoys assisting and servicing, but not limited to, small businesses and their employees.

Along with having a friendly environment for staff and customers, Akron CitiCenter Florist strives to accommodate the different emotions and situations their customers may experience. “I think what the customer sees, is romance,” says Stitt on the subject of flowers. Aside from other emotions, creating that feeling of romance is the main goal for Stitt and his employees for this upcoming holiday.

Despite roses being his personal favorite flower, Stitt admits that the mixed bouquet is the most popular arrangement with a standard price of $6.98. Many might stray from flowers for their loved ones who may believe flowers are not affordable.DSC00858 Unlike some florists, who may significantly raise their prices for special holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Stitt values his customers and his community and does not raise his prices as high as some other companies might raise them. To show appreciation and support for the community he lives in. I asked Stitt what his best advice for people wanting to order for Valentine’s Day was and he said, “Order early!” The earlier he knows what you want, the better chance of it being available.  No matter how difficult the order might be he also says, “We try to deliver that upon their request.”

As of last week Akron CitiCenter Florist is also participating in DAP’s Kiss My Akron promotional campaign. During the month of February, different businesses downtown handout ‘kiss’ window clings to their customers, who then go out and stick them in the window of their favorite establishments. This is a way to display the love of Downtown Akron businesses. Akron CitiCenter Florist also participates in Do Downtown. DSC00851Akron CitiCenter Florist offers a 20% cash and carry on cut flowers if you visit and sign up on the Do Downtown page. Next time you are on Mill Street, stop by Akron CitiCenter Florist to tag a sticker in the window or buy a bouquet for that someone special. Valentine’s Day is approaching fast, so remember when ordering flowers to order with Akron CitiCenter Florist and don’t procrastinate!

Akron CitiCenter Florist is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. & Saturday 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. & CLOSED on Sundays. So, order online today at their website OR call ahead at (330) 253-3700.

By: Chantel Burt, Downtown Akron Partnership Intern

Distinctly Downtown: Pizza Fire

Of all the places to dine in Downtown Akron, one of the newest ones can be found at 22 East Exchange Street: Pizza Fire, a pizza restaurant with a new and different twist. Pizza Fire gives customers the chance to have the staff build their own pizza right in front of them, and cook and have it ready in a matter of minutes. After hearing about its new pizza fire interioropening, I decided to travel there on a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon. The restaurant itself is well advertised from the outside, and as soon as I walked in, the warmth and smell of fresh pizza hit me quickly. The inside of the restaurant itself has a sleek and modern style, and has many tables and bar-esque seating against the windows. There is a big screen television in the corner, and the entire restaurant was extremely clean and well modeled.

When I first sat down with Pizza Fire founder and CEO Sean Brauser, his passion for the Northeast Ohio area and the industry became very apparent. He was raised in Hartville, Ohio, and graduated from Lake High School in Uniontown, just 20 minutes from Akron. After graduating from Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania, Brauser began working in New Jersey at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, but soon left that job to open up his first pizza restaurant at the age of 24. He returned to Northeast Ohio and opened the first Romeo’s Pizza in Medina in 2001, and the chain has quickly grown to 36 locations since then.

Brauser first came up with the concept of Pizza Fire about two years ago, and after some careful planning, found the perfect location in Downtown Akron. “We got lucky with the location and space. It was previously a different pizza restaurant, and it was obvious that it would be the perfect location for the first Pizza Fire,” he said. “We’re at the juncture of Downtown, The University of Akron campus, and the nightlife.” The restaurant space was quickly designed and set up, and the first day of business for Pizza Fire was Sunday, October 12.

When it comes to pizza, Brauser cited great product and great customer service as the two most important things he focuses on. He’s traveled to Italy eight times, and talked with some of the most successful pizza chefs in the world in order to gain knowledge of what it takes to become successful in the industry. “Everything I’ve ever learned about pizza I put into Pizza Fire,” he said. “All of the ingredients here are fresh; we don’t have a freezer in the entire place. We hand crush the tomatoes, hand roll the dough, and make sure everything is high quality and that it tastes great.”

Brauser mentioned how pleased he was with his staff so far as well, and that he has hired many University of Akron students who have done a great job. He also praised the revitalization of Downtown, “I love what they’ve done to the city; it’s a very clean and safe environment. With places like Lock 3 and Canal Park with the RubberDucks, Akron is definitely headed in a great direction.”

pizza fire chefs

Approaching the order line, Pizza Fire definitely has the feel of a Chipotle or Subway-style system. All of the ingredients are laid out in plain view for everyone to see and choose from. Customers start at one end of the line and first choose which one of six sauces they would like, followed by their choice of five different cheeses. After that, it’s onto toppings, where there is a choice between 11 different meats and 18 different vegetables. When it was my time to order, I admittedly had a tough time deciding between all of the different possibilities, but finally settled on a pizza with authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers. The staff did a great job pointing out all of the different options available. After my order was complete, the staff put it in the oven, and I grabbed a drink and sat back down at my table in the restaurant, and the pizza was ready about 90 seconds later. Cut into six slices, the first thing I noticed was the crust. It wasn’t too thin or thick, and had a great crispiness to it. The rest of the ingredients were light and fresh, and it all combined to create a great-tasting pizza. After eating about half of my pizza, I grabbed a box and packaged the rest of my pizza to take home with me. All in all, it was a great experience, one that is definitely different from any pizza restaurant I’ve ever been to before. The restaurant was clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the pizza was delicious and came out extremely quickly. It is an ideal place to grab a quick bite at anytime, as one could easily walk in the door, design and order their own pizza, sit down and eat, and be out the door in 20-30 minutes at most.pizza fire pizza

Brauser also mentioned his desire to expand and open up at least eight new Pizza Fire locations in the near future, stretching from Cleveland to Canton, and even expressed interest in opening up locations as far as Columbus and Pittsburgh as well.

Pizza Fire is open seven days a week: Monday-Thursday from         11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday from 12 p.m.-9 p.m. They are now offering delivery services to downtown locations during lunch hours as well. Pizzas can also be called in or ordered online ahead of time and picked up anytime during business hours at (330) 535-4545 or their website.

By: Brent Flanik, Downtown Akron Partnership Intern.

Distinctly Downtown: My First METRO Experience

Having grown up in rural and suburban areas, the thought of using public transportation rarely crosses my mind. To be honest, the few times it has crossed my mind it has always made me a little apprehensive. I have had a slightly irrational fear of getting on the wrong bus and worried that I might somehow break the rules (rules that don’t actually exist except in my own mind). Inspired by a recent trip to Detroit with the Knight Foundation, and my time working at DAP, I decided to challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone and ride the METRO bus to and from work one day.

photo 1 (5)Because I had never ridden a METRO bus before I was clueless on how to ride, how much it costs, and everything else one would need to know. While preparing for my first bus ride I found the METRO website to be extremely helpful. I used their Trip Planner to find out what bus I would need to ride, where I should get on and off, what time to be at the bus stop, and how long my trip would take. If you are planning to ride the METRO in the near future, or are curious about the routes, be sure to check out the Trip Planner first!

Feeling prepared, I walked outside my apartment on a chilly Wednesday morning and made my way to the bus stop near my West Akron apartment. Standing there waiting I was transported back in time and felt like I was waiting for the big yellow school bus. When I got on the bus the driver showed me where to put my money to pay for my ride and I quickly took a seat. Riders put on their headphones and listened to music, watched out the window, or talked on the phone and almost everyone seemed to observe the unspoken one seat buffer between them and other riders. Just 25 minutes later I exited the bus outside the Shoppes at Akron Center and had time to grab a coffee from Angel Falls Coffee Shop before walking to my office.

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Boarding the bus to go home, I no longer felt nervous or scared. Instead I felt confident. I knew which bus to wait for, paid my fare, and enjoyed my ride home. While I prefer the convenience of travelling according to my own schedule, something I have become accustomed to since I got my license at 16, I feel at ease knowing I have another way to get to work should I need it.

In September, METRO and The University of Akron started a new partnership that allows students, faculty, and staff to ride for free using their ZIP Card. You can read more about this program on the METRO and University websites. Also, be sure to check out METRO’s new video, “All About the Bus!”

By: Kelli Fetter
Director of Events, Downtown Akron Partnership

Distinctly Downtown: Crafty Mart

Crafty Mart logoThe sixth annual Crafty Mart returns to the Rubber City on Saturday November 29 and Sunday, November 30, 2014.  Not only will the annual non-traditional holiday arts and crafts show take place over two days but it is stretching to include three separate locations in the downtown area. With over a hundred talented artists and makers selling a variety of unique handmade items, this is the perfect place to find distinctive gifts for everyone on your list.  Admission is free and the event runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on both days at all three locations.

Crafty Mart takes place at Musica (51 E Market St), the Akron Art Museum (1 S High St) and Summit Artspace (140 E Market St). The expansion is a coordinated effort by three community-minded venues to offer Akron residents the best opportunity to discover, meet, and purchase from some of the area’s best fine artists, artisans, and crafters.

Once again, Crafty Mart coincides with Small Business Saturday (November 29, 2014), a craftymart6thannualconsumer movement that encourages holiday shopping from small local businesses.  It is Crafty Mart’s intention to not only support local artists by giving them an opportunity to vend their wares but also to provide an exciting event for local residents to shop from small-business individuals.

The sixth annual Crafty Mart will also expand to include free workshop opportunities for members of the community to sign up and take classes from skilled artists. Crafty Mart’s workshops were first introduced during the outdoor Summer Faire 2014, July 5th Crafty Mart, and the new workshops scheduled during November 29 and 30 are expected to fill up quickly.  More information on the workshops is available at http://www.craftymart.com/#workshops

Food and coffee will be for sale during the event and deejays from The Mighty Soul Night will be spinning our favorite soul tunes at all three venues. Parking is free on the street, the Library Parking Deck on the SW Corner of High & Market Streets, and the flat lot on Summit Street across from Summit Artspace.

Crafty Mart was first established in 2009 as a haven of uncommon, quality-made, local arts and crafts. In 2013, Crafty Mart was voted one of the “Best of the City” by Akron Life Magazine. For more information on Crafty Mart’s past and present, go to: www.craftymart.com.