Meet the Man Behind “Interesting Akron”

This week we take a look at another travel blog and the person behind the blog.  “Interesting Akron” tells the story of out-of-the-way places in the Rubber City that are both fun and unique.  The author is Rob Lucas:

How did “Interesting Akron” begin?
I help operate a small film festival and organization and in 2008 was told by one of the attendees that there was finally something “cool” in the Akron area. This struck me, because I think there are a lot of unique places to visit in the Akron area, you just have to spend a little time looking for them. So, the basic idea was to start organizing descriptions of these funky locations so that residents and visitors won’t have to hunt for them individually. Whenever I travel out of town, even if it’s just for a day, I usually run a few Google searches with terms such as “Weird Columbus” or “Underground Columbus” to see if I can find a new restaurant, thrift store, record shop, or quirky location to visit. So, Interesting Akron is supposed to be kind of a one-stop shop for that kind of stuff.

I also have to thank Neil Zurcher for his travel books, particularly Ohio Oddities, for being a major inspiration.

Tell us something about yourself. Do you travel alone to do your research?
I was born in Akron, but I lived in Memphis, TN for most of my childhood. When I eventually moved back to Ohio to attend the University of Akron I thought it was a boring, dreary place and didn’t want to stick around. It took a few years, but Akron changed and so did I. My appreciation for my hometown grew as I discovered the people and places that make it special.

I usually do search for new Interesting Akron locations on my own, but sometimes when friends are visiting from out of town we go together. It’s fun exploring and discovering new things with people who used to live in Akron because they start to realize what they left behind. Every once in a while my wife Sara or my dog Spock serve as willing travel partners.

With all of your other interests when do you find time to research “Interesting Akron?”
I work as a book editor for Gray & Company, Publishers (we publish Neil Zurcher books!), volunteer my time with the organization Akron Film, and I’m in the middle of making a documentary, so I have to budget time carefully for the blog. At first I started posting a new location each week, but I’ve scaled it back to twice a month. I’ve also had a few guest posts by my friend Mike Manges, who recently worked as a writer for a rubber tire publication. How Akron is that?!

What has been your favorite discovery in Akron so far, and why?
A few years ago I was having dinner with my friend Kyle and his parents when his dad mentioned that Thomas Edison was married in a house near downtown Akron. Kyle’s dad likes to tell a lot of wild stories, so I forgot about it for a long time until one day I decided to conduct a little research. It turns out that it’s totally true. The house is still standing and is being used as an apartment complex. There isn’t a plaque and it wasn’t easy to confirm by just running a few Google searches. I was surprised how few of my friends knew about it, which I think makes it a perfect Interesting Akron location.

Do you include Akron Suburbs in your research?  How far would you go for a destination?
I do cover locations outside of the downtown area, in fact I consider anything roughly 20 minutes from West Market and Main to be fair game. I think I might even include a little bit of North Canton, but it depends on what I find. The basic idea is that you can visit many of these places without burning a lot of time and gas.

Have you had any unusual feedback from places you have reviewed?
I do receive some feedback. I’m particularly proud of the posts from former Akronites who say that they have several places to check out when they to come home to visit family. There was one comment from a reader who visited a now-defunct flea market. I guess he exchanged some words with a particularly nasty vendor who pulled a gun out of his jacket. Luckily nobody was hurt, but I post a warning on our page noting that some of the Interesting Akron locations are in high crime areas.

Has anyone ever refused to be interviewed for your stories? Why?
This may go against blogger code, but I don’t usually interview people for my stories. I have found that many store owners are pretty busy trying to operate their business and aren’t interested in answering questions for a blog they have never heard of. Some have expressed a little concern that their location will be labeled as “weird” or “wacky,” so I usually stop by, take a few notes, and informally chat with them as I visit or make a purchase.

How often do you run new entries in “Interesting Akron?”
I try to update the site every two weeks on Sunday nights, but there have been a few periods where I’ve had to take a break. I have a long list of locations I want to cover, but some of them are only open during work hours or by appointment only, so I have to plan for them way in advance or hope that I can hit them on a day off.

What criteria do you use when deciding where to visit in Akron?
I do have a few criteria. All locations must be:

  • Within (roughly) 20 minutes of downtown Akron. I probably won’t cover anything that is farther north than 82 or south of North Canton.
  • Open to the public. I had a friend offer to help me visit the old Akron train station, but it’s only accessible to city employees. It would have made a great history post, but readers wouldn’t be able to visit the location themselves.
  • Free or very cheap. The locations are supposed to be easily accessible, so those that require more than a few bucks or a membership usually don’t make the cut.
  • Fun and/or educational and have some connection to the city. Even if I cover a location that many Akronites routinely visit I try to offer some nugget that they may not know already. For instance, I plan on writing a story about the Italian restaurant Luigi’s, which is pretty popular local haunt. I want to cover the history of the building, which was once a hotel frequented by some of the greatest jazz and blues musicians of the ‘20s and ‘30s. I’ll also give a little background on the music box above the door that features Barbie dolls that move along to music from the jukebox.

How much background research do you do on the places you choose for inclusion in your blog?
For the historical sites I conduct a lot of research. I usually search through the Beacon Journal’s archive through the Summit County library’s Web site to find as much information as I can. Some of the buildings I drive by everyday have their own stories, but unless you do a little digging you won’t know much about their quirky history.

Name three places people should not miss visiting in Akron

  • Luigi’s Restaurant (www.luigisrestaurant.com) in the Northside district has always been my favorite Akron restaurant. The white pizza is awesome and the walls are covered with old photos of the city and of the many bowlers who stopped by when the city was home of the Professional Bowlers Association’s biggest tournaments.
  • The Goodyear Airdock was once the largest single-room structure without internal supports and even though it’s now over 80 years old it’s still a sight to behold.
  • I spend a lot of time in Highland Square, which is a small strip of shops and restaurants just a few minutes from downtown. It has a lot of character and has my favorite record store, Square Records (www.squarerecordsakron.com), which has a wide variety of used vinyl and music by local artists. It’s a great place to hangout and chat about music and is the location where the Akron band the Black Keys have taken many of their publicity photos. I also enjoy a great boutique called Revival (www.revivalresale.com) where you can purchase a variety of a locally made garments, particularly the Akron-based T-shirts designed and hand silk screened by my friends at Campfire Goods. Also, don’t forget to catch a flick at the Highland Theater, a single-screen movie house that still has its 1930s charm.

The first two of these locations haven’t made it to Interesting Akron yet because they are pretty popular and kind of obvious for anyone who lives in Akron, but I plan on doing a little more research and posting them soon. If you’re not from the city they are great places to check out.

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Our thanks to Rob Lucas for taking the time to join us this week and to remind you that you can find his blog at: www.interestingakron.wordpress.com

Or just click on “Interesting Akron” in our list of links.

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