Take a seat

Written by Jason Chamberlain

Edited by Ted Lehr

Since 2021, you may have noticed black park benches on both sides of Kenmore Blvd, spanning from Florida Ave. to 13th St. This inspired addition to the area was the brainchild of Kenmore resident (and member of the Board of Trustees of the Kenmore Chamber of Commerce), David E. Culbertson.

Culbertson, an avid cyclist, was riding along Main St. when he noticed similar benches and realized that the BLVD District has several bus stops but nowhere for waiting patrons to sit. This led to the idea that has manifested before us today.

The benches, manufactured by Victory Stanley, each weigh 300 lbs., and are 50- inches wide with powder coated seats. They are of a classic design and built to last. A placard is centered in the middle of the backrest that reads “Donated by Kenmore Chamber of Commerce.” Funding for the benches was exclusively provided by the Chamber.

So, what can we expect in the future from the COC? According to Culbertson, there are plans for more benches to be added throughout Kenmore.

Iconic new wave musician Chris Butler has become a part of Kenmore’s expanding music community 

Interview by Jim Carney

Iconic new wave musician Chris Butler has become a part of Kenmore’s expanding music community.

The member of The Waitresses and local favorite Tin Huey has renovated a century-old building to house a music and art studio on Kenmore Boulevard.

The writer of popular songs “I Know What Boys Like” and “Christmas Wrapping,” both performed by The Waitresses, answered a few questions about his newfound Kenmore creative space.

How did you land in Kenmore?
I had a space in downtown Akron for recording and rehearsing, but outgrew it, and so I started looking for a building to work in and house my pile of musical equipment. I looked at a lot of dire structures at various places in Akron for a few years. But I kept returning and cruising around Kenmore since it had the feel of neighborhood. Plus, as a former New York City resident, I was attracted to the real Brooklyn pizza shop (Pierre’s Brooklyn Pizza & Deli) that sells slices!  I eventually met Tina Boyes, who at the time was the executive director of Better Kenmore. She showed me a few buildings and I ended up buying  my place, which has the famous Kenmore mural on it, in 2022. It took about a year to renovate it. It was a big help that the area is designated as an historic district, and eligible for “Great Streets” grants from the City of Akron to help with fixing up facades. (greatstreetsakron.com) 

Do you have a name for the studio?
No name right now. Sort of waiting for it to tell me its name. I could go with Future Fossil Music, which is also the name of my music publishing company, but I’d like something new to show up. Still waiting…

Is the studio your private workplace or do you think you may want to record other bands there?
Already recorded two bands there, but it’s not set up as a commercial/retail studio. The room sounds very good – not too bright, not too dead, and I do have the capacity and the gear to track a live band. But the space is more of a playpen for myself, with a few friends doing their projects there from time to time.

What do you know about the history of the building where you set up your studio?
Quite a bit, actually. The building dates from 1923, and was built as a pool hall, which back then must have been a den of sin! Then it was an A & P grocery store for decades. Some of the Kenmore old timers remember shopping there.

The building houses both your music studio and a studio for your fiancé Beth Becker. What does Beth do in her part of the building?
Beth is a photographer and graphics artist, so her space will be used for that. She also is a painter, and the natural light coming from the street is a plus. She’s considering doing the occasional pop-up gallery shows, but for now, it’s a place for her to play in.

Are you making new music now?
Yes. I am a songwriter, and I always have something I’m working on. I also play drums in Dave Rich & His Enablers, a great local  power-pop combo. Dave churns out an enormous number of songs and finished albums – at this writing he’s getting ready to release his sixth CD. We’re going to record as a band, too. That’s in the works. And we are on the bill for the first Kenmore First Fridays event of the summer season on June 7th. 

You are among several music related businesses in Kenmore. Is it becoming Akron’s Music Row?
I think it already is. There are venues for live music, many recording and rehearsal studios centered around the intersection of Kenmore Boulevard and 15th Street. There also are Lay’s Guitar Repair Shop and The Guitar Department for new and used instruments,  as well as repairs. All that’s missing is some sort of drum store, which I’m helping to establish. 

Did you know anything about Kenmore before you bought your building?
Not much. I’d have a guitar repaired at Lay’s Guitar Shop and pop into The Guitar Department now and then for drumsticks and strings. What grabbed my attention was the broad boulevard and the number of interesting buildings that line it. This was a place that at one time must have been a busy urban center, and was due for a restoration and revival. Which is happening.

What’s your hope for the future of Kenmore?
That it continues its upward trend. And that the Akron Music Row idea grows.

Is there a Kenmore song in your future?
Maybe! It’s a good environment to create in and the positive feel I get from the people and businesses is… well… the vibe is good!

The Center Yoga + Dance Studio to host grand opening celebration this weekend

The Center Dance + Yoga Studio – which quietly began offering dance and yoga classes in the former Etta Mae Smith Studio of Dance building this summer – will host an official grand opening celebration this Saturday, October 7, at noon. Deputy Mayor for Integrated Development Sean Vollman will join members of the Kenmore community to help cut the ribbon at noon. Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, The Center will host free class demonstrations and a fundraiser to help The Center upgrade its facilities and offerings. Last spring, after over 60 years of operation and a year of inactivity, the Etta Mae Smith Studio of Dance building was offered for sale. The building didn’t stay on the market long, and its buyers only ever had one plan for the space to let their friend and longtime Etta Mae Smith student Gina Wilson continue to run it as a dance studio.

The Etta Mae Smith Studio of Dance name wasn’t included in the sale, so Wilson renamed the space The Center Dance + Yoga Studio.

The new name helps represent the type of studio model adopted by Wilson which is one that focuses not only on dance, but on movement as a whole and includes yoga classes and drop-in classes where anyone can drop-in and pay for a single class as they wish. “It’s an honor to build on the legacy of my teacher, mentor, and friend Etta Mae Smith and to offer not only dance, but yoga and additional classes in the same building where I took classes for nearly 30 years,” Wilson said. “The goal is for The Center to become a resource for performing artists in Kenmore, Akron and beyond, and we really hope the community will come by Saturday and see what we’re all about!”

The ribbon cutting ceremony will be followed by a silent auction featuring gift cards, gift baskets, The Center swag, items from local businesses. All proceeds from the auction will go toward facility improvements at The Center. The day will also include a series of free disco line dancing, yoga, and TikTok dancing demo classes beginning at 2:30 p.m. so guests can get a taste of the programming.

Josh Gippin, executive director for Better Kenmore CDC is excited to have The Center Dance + Yoga Studio on Kenmore Blvd. and recognizes it as an asset for future generations.

“The Center is a great addition to the growing arts and music scene here on Kenmore Boulevard,” Gippin said. “And with Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts moving in just one block north of Kenmore Boulevard in 2026 it’s really great timing for a performing arts hub like The Center to be here.”

Wilson says she hopes people will come and experience all the new, exciting and creative plans she and her team has for the space.

“I’m just so excited to engage with the community to channel our shared passion for dance, fitness and artistic movement to ultimately create an inclusive space for everyone to participate.”

The Center Dance + Yoga Studio offers a variety of dance, Zumba, yoga and movement classes throughout the week. Follow The Center on Facebook @thecenterdanceyoga and Instagram @thecenter_danceyogastudio for the full schedule and updates.

Alternative rock pioneers to celebrate grand reopening of Kenmore Blvd. music venue

On Friday, September 22 at 5 p.m., The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, along with Chris Butler of new wave band The Waitresses, will cut the ribbon at Buzzbin Art & Music Shop at 952 Kenmore Blvd. in Akron. The celebration will conclude with Stinson’s Cowboys in the Campfire headlining a night of rock and roll revelry starting at 6 p.m.

Last September, after 12 years in its downtown Canton location, Buzzbin relocated to what is quickly becoming Akron’s Music Row, Kenmore Boulevard. Since then, owners Chris and Julia Bentley have been holding shows in conjunction with Better Kenmore CDC, The Bank Lounge and The Rialto Theatre in expectation of Buzzbin’s liquor license transfer from Stark to Summit County.

After a year of waiting, the couple is working hard to make up for lost time.

“It’s almost surreal and a dream come true for a lifelong Replacements fan like myself to be able to have Tommy at our official grand reopening,” said Chris Bentley. “Kenmore is exactly where Buzzbin belongs. After a yearlong struggle, we are thrilled to finally be open again. We have always been the underdog, and where better for us to rise again than in Kenmore as it rises again.”

Corey Jenkins, marketing and events director for Better Kenmore CDC and guitarist for Akron band Big Pop, recruited Buzzbin to Kenmore Boulevard last summer. He views arts-centric businesses like Buzzbin as critical to Better Kenmore’s revitalization efforts. “Kenmore has always been a musician- and artist-friendly community, but it has been best-kept secret in Akron for too long,” he said. “Part of Better Kenmore’s mission is to celebrate the unique culture of our community, and that includes celebrating, attracting and supporting artists and entrepreneurs like the Bentleys and aspiring artists like those of Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which is slated to move to the site of the former Kenmore High School in 2026.”

Also on hand to celebrate will be The Waitresses’ Chris Butler, author of new wave classics like “I Know What Boys Like,” and “Christmas Wrapping” and recent Kenmore Boulevard relocatee. Butler says he’s excited to help welcome Buzzbin to Akron’s Music Row.

“I’m glad to have another venue on the Boulevard,” Butler said. “We’ve got instrument stores, recording studios, great places to eat, and most importantly – an audience for live music!” Minneapolis native Tommy Stinson’s musical journey began at age 11 when his older half-brother Bob gave him a bass guitar in 1978. Later that same year, the Stinson brothers, along with drummer Chris Mars, formed Dogbreath, the band that would become known as The Replacements in 1980. Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, The Replacements set the stage for the alternative rock scene of the 80s and 90s and influenced everyone from Wilco to The Goo Goo Dolls.

The Replacements’ initial 12-year run ended in 1991, and in 1998 Stinson was hired by Axl Rose to replace Guns N’ Roses’ original bassist Duff McKagan. Stinson was featured on GNR’s long-delayed 2008 album Chinese Democracy and also performed with his high-school friends Soul Asylum after the band’s founding bassist Karl Mueller passed away in 2005. In Stinson’s latest project — Cowboys in the Campfire, a duo with friend Chip Roberts –he embraces classically American soundscapes including rough rockabilly rumbles and Johnny Cash-esque shuffles. Tickets for Tommy Stinson’s Cowboys in the Campfire at Buzzbin are available through Eventbrite.

Buzzbin hosts live music throughout the week and Jam Night, where musicians can combine their skills with those of other area musicians, every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Visit buzzbinkenmore.com for a full schedule of live music and events, and follow them on Facebook @ buzzbinshop and Instagram @buzzbin for updates.

Around Akron with Blue Green

Published September 16, 2023

Blue Green learns about Better Kenmore CDC, which is devoted to improving the Kenmore neighborhood, before dropping by Velvet Vintage Boutique’s new Copley location for a stylish blast from the past.

Celebrate Creativity & Community at Kenmore First Friday on September 1st.

by Corey Jenkins, Better Kenmore CDC

Photo by Shane Wynn

The 2023 Kenmore First Friday season has drawn some of the largest crowds in the history of

the event and brought some of the region’s best musicians, makers, vendors, and creatives to Kenmore Boulevard. The schedule for the final Kenmore First Friday of 2023 on September 1st is packed with live music, food and fun, and will be a true celebration of creativity and community unlike any other event this summer.

For starters, Summit Artspace will bring a mini market featuring the works of area artists,

Kenmore Girl Scout Troop 90187 will sell sidewalk spaces for kids to decorate with chalk, Let’s Grow Akron will bring a sampling of what they offer at their Summit Lake farmer’s markets, and Trillium Schools of Music will host performances from the next generation of rock stars in the McCutchan Courtyard, while Glory in the Beat, Akron Dream Center, and First Glance continue to present hip hop and urban expression artists at the Kenmore Branch Library.

Akron-based retro-futuristic goth-classic rock quintet Church of Starry Wisdom headlines Kenmore First Friday at 8 p.m. on September 1. Photo by Jason Chamberlain/JVC Photography

Speaking of music, the 15th Street Main Stage will host Glenn Lazear and Church of Starry

Wisdom – two of Akron’s most unique and original bands. Additionally, singer/songwriter Rami Feinstein and Zach & The Bright Lights will play at The Rialto Theatre, while Buzzbin hosts live music throughout the event and into the night – including Kenmore First Friday alums The Tenants.

“Kenmore First Fridays are the perfect opportunity to experience The BLVD in all its glory,”

said Josh Gippin, Better Kenmore CDC executive director. “My vision for the future is for every day on Kenmore Blvd. to feel as fun and lively as it does on Kenmore First Friday.”

The September 1st Kenmore First Friday will feature food from Ogarth’s Kitchen, Dee’s Dogs, House of Tacos, Kitchen 212º and Kona Ice, as well as beer from Magic City Brewing Company in the Kenmore Beer Garden located on 15th Street in front of the main stage.

Kenmore First Fridays are FREE and presented by Better Kenmore CDC, Kenmore Chamber ofCommerce and County of Summit ADM Board, with additional support from Akron Civic Commons,Peg’s Foundation, Apollo Supply Co., City of Akron, Kenmore Komics & Games, United Way, The Summit FM, Akron Dream Center, Akron Promise, Akron RubberDucks, Bi-02-Tek Services, Big Love Network, Fastenal, First Glance, Glory in the Beat, Innes CLC, Pierre’s Brooklyn Pizza & Deli, Primo’s Deli, Portage Path Behavioral Health,Regina’s Pizza, Rocco’s Pizza, Showcase Meats, Thomas C. Loepp Law Offices, and Trillium Schools of Music.

Visit betterkenmore.org/first-friday for the full lineup, event map, and more information.

Meet Summit Artspace: Our September Kenmore First Friday Market Partner!

In 2015, the one-time Akron Area Arts Alliance was reborn as Summit Artspace – an organization that connects artists and artist-serving organizations to the community and to the resources they need to thrive.

On Friday, September 1, Summit Artspace will bring a mini-market to Kenmore Blvd. featuring local artists showing and selling their art from 6 – 9 p.m. during Kenmore First Friday.

We caught up with Heather Meeker, Summit Artspace executive director, to learn more about the organization and what Kenmore First Friday attendees can expect.

What kinds of artists will Summit Artspace feature at its mini market on Sept. 1?

Our mini-market includes local artists that create artwork in all types of media! From painting to photography to ceramics to fiber arts – you’ll find all kinds of creatives at Kenmore First Friday, just as you would when you visit Summit Artspace.

What sparked your interest in bringing artists to Kenmore Blvd.?

This is a great chance to show Kenmore and Akron the wonderful local artist community we have in Summit County. Anytime we can spread the work outside of our historic downtown Akron building, we are thrilled! The stronger our local artist community is across all of our neighborhoods, the more vibrant our local community will become. We want to facilitate that vision.

Summit Artspace’s mission includes connecting artists and artist-serving organizations to the community and to the resources they need to thrive professionally, creatively, and financially. Can you expand a bit on how Summit Artspace does some of these things?

In addition to our 35 resident artist studios and arts organizations at 140 East Market Street, we provide five nonprofit galleries for visual artists and rehearsal and class space for small performing arts companies. We hold numerous community events at our building like our quarterly ArtWalks and Artists Sunday, a national event that takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year. 2023 is the fourth annual and it is a great chance to support local artists while picking up one-of-a-kind gifts for friends, family, and yourself! We also provide artist-centered professional development for artists, who we believe are already highly successful entrepreneurs.

How does Summit Artspace select the artists it works with/showcases/supports? Can artists reach out?

If you are an artist in Summit and surrounding counties, we are here to help. Our programs and events are affordable and designed to help you grow your practice. While we have a wait list for our studios, our events and community are a true resource for creatives, and open to all genres, ages, and stages in your artistic journey. Just visit our website or social media – and contact us via email, phone or in-person. We always post our opportunities across lots of platforms.

What should visitors to Summit Artspace’s physical location in downtown Akron expect? What do you think makes Summit Artspace unique?

Just like Kenmore First Friday, our public hours on Fridays and Saturdays are always FREE, as is our parking! A significant difference between Summit Artspace and other institutions is that local artists come to Summit Artspace specifically to sell their artwork and make connections. Almost everything in our galleries and our studios is for sale, with prices that fit anyone who walks through the door. We are a hub for artists to meet other artists, and for the community to meet and support them as well.

Anything else people should know?

There is always something amazing to see and someone terrific to meet at Summit Artspace! Mark your calendars: our next downtown Akron ArtWalk is on Friday, September 8th, and Artists Sunday is on November 26. And each quarter we change out all the galleries and walls in our building: our summer exhibitions close September 16 and our Fall exhibitions open October 6.

Be sure to Summit Artspace’s mini market during the next Kenmore First Friday on Friday, September 1, from 6 – 9 p.m. RSVP and check out the full event lineup on Facebook!

Summit Artspace welcomes visitors to its historic art-deco building located at 140 E. Market St. in downtown Akron on Fridays from noon – 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, visit summitartspace.org.

Remembering Smith Elementary School

By Corey Jenkins, Better Kenmore CDC

After standing tall at 941 Chester Avenue for 105 years, Smith Elementary School began to crumble to the ground last week. In the days that followed the wrecking ball arrived to take down what remained of the building and Kenmore said goodbye to a piece of neighborhood history.

Smith Elementary School was constructed in 1918 and named in honor of Fred E. Smith – a leader in the early development of Kenmore who donated the land where the school was built. There were few homes near the school when it opened and some members of the community never expected there would ever be enough children to fill it.

When the school opened it was surrounded by brush, trees, and rock piles and did not have a playground. So in 1923 principal Ralph Myers and some of the older school boys grabbed axes, picks, and mattocks and began clearing away the trees and brush. The clearings they made provided spaces for the children to play and slide down the hill during recess.

Houses began springing up like mushrooms around Smith Elementary and any doubts the community had about there ever being enough children to fill the school were laid to rest. By 1927 every available room in the school was in use and some classes even had to be taught in the basement. One teacher had 59 students in her classroom, while another was responsible for over 80 first graders.

Several improvements were made to the school over the years. WPA workers installed the stone wall around the playground during The Great Depression and in 1955 the building underwent an expansion just as enrollment was reaching 500 students.

Smith Elementary School would serve the Kenmore neighborhood for almost a century, and countless students and teachers made lifelong memories there throughout its history.

Former teacher Alta Williams wrote of an incident that occurred at the school one night during the 1920s. One of the other teachers had decided to stay late only to find herself locked inside when she tried to leave. Not willing to spend the night in the school, she went to the basement, broke a window, and crawled out. She made it home safe that night, but the fur coat she was wearing was damaged during her escape.

Matthew Hines was a student at Smith Elementary School from 1979 until 1986 and has many memories from his years at the school – including his experiences with teachers like Miss Mills who was the first person to ever encourage him to be himself.

He also remembers what lunch was like at Smith.

“We didn’t have a cafeteria, so for lunch we would go to the gym and purchase cartons of milk and frozen dinners that were then heated up in huge ovens on the stage,” Matthew recalled.

In the early 1990s, Gina Wilson (who now owns The Center Dance + Yoga Studio on Kenmore Blvd.) attended Smith Elementary and remembers loving Mrs. Delac’s art class.

“Art class was the best,” Gina said. “One year we made clay penguins and mine turned out so good that it wound up on display in the mayor’s office!”

News arrived in late 2015 that Akron Public Schools would close both Smith and Lawndale Elementary schools at the end of the school year. In September 2019, Smith Elementary School was auctioned off for $44,000. The purchaser never made use of the building and it quickly fell into disrepair.

On April 17, 2022, Smith caught on fire just three months after a multiple-alarm fire destroyed Lawndale Elementary School. It took firefighters about an hour to get the fire under control and no cause or injuries were ever reported. The school would remain standing for another 15 months until it suffered a partial structural collapse during a summer night in July 2023.

The Kenmore Historical Society will discuss Smith Elementary School at its next meeting on Monday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will take place at the Kenmore Branch Library and is open to all.