Monday, April 21, 2014

Mustill Store

The site of the Mustill Store is at the bottom of the hill on North Street, not far from the intersection at Howard Street.

The Mustill Store Visitors Center
by Joanna Wilson

Most of us have been past the Mustill Store, located right along the Towpath Trail just north of downtown.  But have you stopped, gone inside, and enjoyed the historical displays and information on the inside?  It had been awhile since I had done that--so I went again to the museum and familiarized myself once again with the history of this special place.

If you're not running or biking past the store on the towpath, you can easily find the Mustill Store behind the parking lot off North Street.

The Mustill Store's location--right along the towpath--makes it easy to find.  But this living site of Akron's past is also one of the most accessible history museums in the area.  It is open seven days a week from April through October each year (thanks to the Cascade Locks Park Association and their volunteers).

The convenient location of the Mustill Store isn't just a contemporary advantage.  The store's location had much to do with its success during the nineteenth century and why it remains as a museum.  The store was a profitable business that operated directly across from Lock 15 along the canal--a bustling water route that hauled goods and passengers by boat.  For people who love history as much as I do, it's fun to re-call that the Towpath Trail was once literally a path for mules to tow the heavy boats that lined the canalway.  An essential part of canalways were the systems of locks, allowing the boats to continue along the canal despite any change in elevation.  Think about it--a couple of mules and horses could never pull a heavy boat UP or DOWN waterways.  The boats need flat water conditions to be towed--and the locks provided a controlled way to change the water levels and keep the boats moving along.  In the Cascade Valley, the elevation changes 150 feet within a mile so there were created seventeen locks--known as the Cascade Locks--to create a controlled and safe water level for the passing boats.  Navigating each lock might take twenty minutes or more, so boat owners, crew, and even passengers might get off the boat.  A place like the Mustill Store located right along Lock 15 had a steady stream of customers each day--perhaps as many as seventy boats a day stopping and doing business.  Of course, Akron wouldn't even be a city without the canal--having the means to ship to and from this region meant our natural resources and farm goods could be sold and transported elsewhere, and manufacturing could develop.  The story of the Mustill Store is essentially Akron's story.

The inside of the museum reflects the origins of the building as a store...

....complete with an iron stove in its center.

Inside the Mustill Store, you can read the many displays which explain the three generations of the Mustill family, immigrants from England, who ran the store throughout the nineteenth century.  There is also information about what goods the store sold, what life in early Akron was like, and about the store's eventual restoration.  In a side room, there is even a display to help visitors understand how the lock system worked and what life on the canal was like back then.  While I'm aware that travel was extremely grueling in the nineteenth century (before railroads, before cars, etc), it's still shocking to learn that canal boat passengers from Cleveland to Akron, a 38 mile trip, usually arrived after 24 hours!?  I'm not going to complain about the drive along 77 South again.

The Mustill Store Visitors Center includes this back room with more details about how the canalway and the lock system worked.

This helpful display will help visitors better visualize how the locks work to raise and lower water levels so boats can continue along the canal despite changes in ground elevation.

Visiting the Mustill Store Visitors Center is free and open to the public.  The displays include information but there are always helpful, knowledgeable volunteers there to assist you with any questions as well.  You can also learn about their Friday music concert series, the annual Duck Derby, and their other events at the Cascade Locks Park Association website.  You can also follow them on facebook:

When you visit the Mustill Store, don't forget to go across North Street and check out Schumacher's Mill water wheel display too!

Akron Empire and its guest bloggers have visited other local historical sites as well.  Please feel free to check out these past blog posts: The Hower House, John Brown House, and Perkins Stone Mansion.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Record Store Day 2014

Record Store Day 2014
by Brit Charek

On the third Saturday in April for the last seven years hundreds of independently owned record stores across the country have have celebrated Record Store Day. This year RSD lands on this Saturday, April 19th and there's more places than ever in the Akron Empire to join in the festivities. Here's just a few:

Square Records
824 West Market Street in Highland Square

The shop opens at 11am, but if years past is any indication of what is in store on Saturday, there will be people camped out several hours earlier. Check out Square Records' RSD Facebook event to see the ever-growing list of what they'll be getting in stock. There will also be giveaways, a limited amount of hand-pressed Square Records t-shirts by The Social Dept for sale, and live music from Analog Fog, Travelogue and Chimney Swift and the Echoes.

Square Records will be celebrating their 11th anniversary this summer-- click here to check out when I talked to the owner about the store's humble beginnings.

Time Traveler Records
2615 State Road in Cuyahoga Falls

This shop is selling raffle tickets at the store for an autographed Black Keys El Camino vinyl for $2.00 per ticket or 6 for $10.00 The winner will be announced on Record Store Day. 

pork records of n.e. ohio (inside Stone Tavern)
110 E. Main Street in Kent

Stone Tavern is hosting a free vinyl release show for Kent based punk group Kill the Hippies who are unveiling their new album, You Will Live With Us Forever.

Lucky Records
126 S. Market Street in Wooster

This is Lucky Records first RSD! Click here to check out the post I wrote about them when they first opened last year.

There will be bands playing the store all day, including psychedelic rockers Buffalo Killers just before they leave for a tour of the West Coast to promote their new record.

Visit Record Store Day's website to see a complete list of stores participating, and remember to support your local record store year round!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ready Dress Go

Ready Dress Go
by Joanna Wilson

Spring is in the air--I can just feel it!  As the earth and air begins to warm, I hope I can encourage your heart to warm again as well.  I've just recently come across a worthwhile movement, Ready Dress Go, which aims to help underprivileged teens participate and enjoy prom.

Ready Dress Go started in 2011 as a project to provide prom dresses to teens whose families were financially challenged.  Four years later, they have outfitted over 350 young ladies and have provided an economic solution for many Akron families.  Since many teenagers today are being raised by single parents, grandparents, and agencies on a fixed income, prom and other formal events can be a stressful time.  Ready Dress Go aims to alleviate that stress.

On Saturday, April 12, 2014, Ready Dress Go (RDG) will host its 4th Annual Teen Gown Giveaway for underprivileged teens.  The giveaway will be held at Relentless Church, 1878 Killian Road, Akron, OH 44312 from 9AM to 1PM.  Participants will receive prom dresses, shoes, accessories, Glam Bagsand a chance to win beauty related services. In addition, guests are welcomed to enjoy refreshments in the Glam Cafe. 

The event is entirely funded by the donations of local businesses, organizations and individuals.  RDGs largest contributors are Youngs Screen-printing, Revolution Church, YMCA Teen Leaders Club, Relentless Church, University of Akron, and E&R Factor.  With the help of more than 60 volunteers, RDG provides an extravagant event unmatched by other prom giveaways.  We offer our guests a boutique-quality experience with everything from a personal shopper to catered food while they wait, states Co-Founder Amanda Brant.

Do you still have your teen's prom dress hanging in a closet?  Why not help someone else in need?

They will have one final collection of gently-used, clean formal dresses (newer dresses please--purchased since 2009).  This will take place Friday April 11, 6:30pm at Relentless Church.  What a wonderful second-life for last year's gowns.

For more information, please follow this organization on facebook: Ready Dress Go
or contact Co-Founder Leslie Laney at 330-926-6629
link to RDG event on Facebook

The 4th Annual Teen Gown Giveaway is Saturday April 12, 2014 from 9am-1pm
Relentless Church, 1878 Killian Road, Akron, OH 44312

Please feel free to share this info with your friends and family.  



Monday, March 31, 2014

Akron's Ultrasphinx has a new self-titled CD

Akron Empire would like to welcome guest blogger Dominic Caruso for this review of the new record by Akron rockers, Ultrasphinx. Dominic has also written about Dolly Rocker Ragdoll, Travelogue, the Ultrasphinx/Bad Trouble split 7", and ShiSho. If you're interested in guest blogging or having your local band written about, please email us at AkronEmpire [at] gmail dot com.

This Band Could Be Your Life: Ultrasphinx
by Dominic Caruso

Ultrasphinx album art by D-WREX

Ultrasphinx (Joe Dennis, guitar; Aaron Rogers, bass; and Ian Cummins, drums) has a new full-length self-titled album available digitally now, or as a limited edition CD, available on April 26. The album presents 12 songs in a thoroughly cool 36-minute flurry guitar rock that successfully fuses a number of styles: math-rock, metal, shoegazer, stoner-rock, and punk, into an often hypnotic emulsion.

Several of the new songs pack a wallop into 2 minutes (or less) of focused, precise fury. This includes the disc’s first two songs, “Bark at” and “the Moon,” which build a masterful tension with Dennis’ chiming, fiery guitars atop Rogers’ punchy bass lines and Cummins’ feverish drumming (and just below all that in the mix, is Dennis’ with an Ian Curtis-like vocal delivery). It’s pretty fantastic stuff. As impossible as it would seem, the band just builds more energy, punch, and precision into the next two songs: “X is the Nth Loneliest Number,” and “Useless Phantoms.”

Ultrasphinx at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ. Photo by Jeff “JCK” Klemm

Versions of “Left Objects” and “Stoned Hearts,” from the group’s 2013 split 7" with Bad Trouble make up a portion of the new record’s core, and they sound excellent in this new context. The stately rhythms and cascading riffs of “Left Objects” drift into the spaced-out “Garden Slugs I,” and the pummeling, defiant “Stoned Hearts” sounds incredible along side the angular, punkiness of “Username _Assword,” a song which might be my favorite of this new batch. Luckily I don't have to choose, and neither do you.

Ultrasphinx at Annabell's in Akron, Ohio - Photo by Matt Stansberry

The instrumental track “Movies About Horses are Stupid” somehow manages to be psychedelic and and totally, expansively metallic in the space of the same minute and thirty seconds. “Tight Leafs” is a glorious blast of hardcore that opens the door to the sprawling eight-minute “Ruling Planets.” The record closes with the contemplative, yet off-kilter “Garden Slugs II.”

Ultrasphinx at the Stone Tavern in Kent, Ohio. Photo by Jason Prufer

What are they singing about? I have no idea. There seems to be a sort of sinister futurism as a running theme throughout the record. “Stoned Hearts” might arguably be a break up song. Or something else entirely. Ultrasphinx is like a number of my favorite bands (like, say, The Fall, or pre-Green R.E.M.): I like them even more because I don’t exactly know what they’re saying. I understand the atmosphere, the mood, and the overall message of uneasiness, tension, and suspicion. The fire Ultrasphinx is bringing couldn’t come at a more opportune time. See their mercilessly propulsive live act around town this spring: they’re well worth the price of admission.

Check out Ultrasphinx
Buy or pre-order the new album:
Friend the heck out of them on Facebook:
Get tweets from them: @Ultrasphinxxx

Ultrasphinx will play live at the Auricle in Canton on Saturday, April 19 (with Jucifer and The Got It Got It Need It); and at the Stone Tavern in Kent on Saturday, April 26 (with Murderedman).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: A is for Akron

Book Review: A is for Akron
by Brit Charek via Akron Empire

I've lived a few places in my life—San Francisco, Chicago—but when asked what city has given me the best memories and opportunities, the answer is a no-brainer: Akron, Ohio.

So naturally, when Joanna Wilson asked me to review the new book she co-authored, A is for Akron, I jumped on it and knew I would enjoy it. What I didn't expect was all the new things I learned about my adopted hometown, past and present.

For example, did you know Akron has a Marble Museum? Or that the Cuyahoga Valley National Park has been listed by Popular Mechanics as one of the "10 National Parks to See Before You Die"?

A few of my favorite sections are "B is for Blimp" (of course!), "K is for Keeping Up with the Art Scene," and "N is For Neighborhoods." Beyond all the cool facts I learned, I especially enjoyed all the photos: some recent, and some dating as far back as the 1880's.

A is for Akron is a delight for locals, former locals, visitors and aliens. The authors' hometown pride is clear and infectious. This book is essential to anyone who has ever called the Rubber City home.

The book will be on sale at several local locations and at A is for Akron's website starting this Tuesday, March 18.

You can celebrate the launch of the book at Musica on Thursday from 6-9pm. Authors Karen Starr and Joanna Wilson will be on hand at to sign copies of their book. Food will be for sale at Urban Eats, which is connected to Musica, and Musica’s cash bar will be open for drinks and don't miss out on the free photobooth courtesy of The Magnolia Photobooth Company. The fun continues at 9pm with an After Party, featuring a performance by Roxxymoron. Click here for more details.

For more information about A is for Akron visit:
A is For Akron's website
A is For Akron's Facebook
A is for Akron on Twitter

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tyron Hoisten with the Firestone Park Community Center Theatre Program

People in Your Neighborhood: Tyron Hoisten 
with the Firestone Park Community Center Theatre Program
by Joanna Wilson

I made a new artist friend recently, playwright Tyron Hoisten.  I met him at an arts & culture organizational meeting and he invited me to a dramatic reading performance of his original play "The Baby Experience" at the Main Library last Wednesday, March 5th.  The performance was the result of a new theatre program that is being organized through the Firestone Park Community Center.  The newly formed program, Theatre Ahead, intends to stage productions to entertain the whole family.  If last Wednesday's performance of "The Baby Experience" is indicative of what is to come, I'm excited for Akron's expanding theatre scene!

Young playwright Tyron Hoisten currently works with the Firestone Park Community Center and their new theatre group.

Hoisten explained to me that he wrote the humorous play, "The Baby Experience," after watching the TV series The Cosby Show.  "Looking at this show, I realized that you can be funny without being's definitely harder to write comedy where no one is being picked on or put down and there are no stereotypes present, but it's possible and much more rewarding."  Cosby's influence is clear in this delightful production about a young expectant couple sharing one last evening's meal with their older family members--and a friendly, hungry plumber--before the new baby arrives.

The dramatic reading of "The Baby Experience" at Main Library last week.

The ambitious Hoisten shared with me that he began writing plays when he was fifteen years old, and admires the careers of juggernauts Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry.  Referring to Perry, Hoisten says "This guy wrote, directed and acted in his own productions; he was in control of his own talent. This really inspires me."  So far, I'm very impressed with Hoisten's efforts to write plays that are simply entertaining but complex in character.  In the past, Hoisten has also written plays commissioned by Project RISE (Realizing Individual Strength through Education) of Akron Public Schools that dealt with topical issues such as homelessness.  I can't wait to see what Hoisten does next!

So mark your calendars for Wednesday April 16th for "The Easter Dinner," another original play written by Tyron Hoisten.  This production is presented by Becoming a Light Ministries and will take place at Main Library--admission is free.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mardi Gras Treats at West Side Bakery

King Cakes from The West Side Bakery.  Photo used with permission.

Mardi Gras Treats at The West Side Bakery
by Joanna Wilson

It's Mardi Gras in Akron--a time for decadence before you vow to give it all up for Lent.  While I'm not exactly promising to abstain from sugar anytime soon, I do look forward to the seasonal sweet treats that accompany Mardi Gras.  This year, I ordered my king cake from The West Side Bakery in Pilgrim Square, on West Market Street.

King cakes are a New Orleans tradition that originated in France.  It is a cinnamon braided pastry bread topped with icing and sugar crystals in the colors of the Mardi Gras celebration: yellow, green and purple.  King cakes from The West Side Bakery also include two strands of plastic beads--the sort one acquires along the New Orleans parade route--and a miniature plastic baby that you can hide within the cake yourself.  Tradition has it that whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake will receive good luck in the upcoming year.

Beignets at The West Side Bakery.  Photo used with permission.

This year while at the bakery, I also picked up another New Orleans tradition, beignets-- deep fried dough covered in powdered sugar.  It reminds me of an adult donut and the perfect compliment to coffee.  The West Side Bakery also has Mardi Gras decorated cookies--the perfect seasonal treat for the kids.

Mardi Gras cookies at The West Side Bakery.  Photo used with permission.

If you're interested in indulging yourself, you better act quickly.  These special Mardi Gras treats are only available for a limited time--through today and tomorrow (Monday March 3rd and Tuesday March 4th).  Call to place your order.

West Side Bakery is located in Pilgrim Square at 2303 West Market Street, Akron OH 44313
(330) 836-4101
They have a second location in Green at 1840 Town Park Blvd in Uniontown OH 44685
(330) 899-9968
or check them out online at
or on facebook: The West Side Bakery