Think of all of the places that come to mind when you read the words “rock climbing” and I bet Akron doesn’t rank. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that no place in Ohio is on your radar, but that won’t remain true for long.
Some years ago, Liz and Nathan Yokum were college kids who decided to build a rock climbing wall in their garage. Climbers can tell you that the wall isn’t usually the expensive part of that project. The expense comes in when you have to buy all of the hand and footholds that allow you to actually climb on that wall. The Yokums quickly realized this and Nathan, an art education major at the University of Akron, decided to try to make their own holds instead of buying them. Though they didn’t end up saving much money, the creativity of the process had them hooked and their company, Rock Candy Holds, was born.
Rock Candy eventually expanded from its humble beginnings in the garage to a manufacturing space in Akron. Not all of the space was being used, so Nathan and Liz built another climbing wall. Nathan carved the designs for Rock Candy Holds, and then was able to experiment with the shape and form by letting climbers use them. What the Yokums built as their test space quickly turned into a local co-op for climbers. The co-op allowed them to develop their product, but also developed a community of Akronites who shared their love of climbing.
In 2010, Rock Candy had grown enough that the co-op had to be closed to use the space for the business. This was an especially tough choice for the Yokums, as they had come to love the community that had grown there.
Thinking back on it Liz says, “We always knew we would bring back the space for climbers. We just didn’t know where or when.”
After stabilizing the growth of the company, while also growing their family, it became clear that Akron was home and would continue to house the creative process behind Rock Candy Holds. Nathan and Liz began to explore places where they could reignite the climbing community in Akron, and added fellow climber Mike Ochwat to their team.
Together with their partners, the Yokums have made another dream a reality, and they will open Rock Mill Climbing this January. The 12,000 square foot facility will have a state-of-the-art climbing area, a yoga studio with multiple classes daily and a general fitness room with weights and treadmills. Rock Candy Holds will also be headquartered there and Nathan and Liz will continue to work towards creating a climbing community in Akron through events and workshops that will be hosted at Rock Mill.
But why Akron? Both Nathan and Liz say they wouldn’t think of taking Rock Mill anywhere else. They want to contribute to the recent resurgence of their city and hope to help stop the “brain drain” of students leaving by helping give the college demographic a community to which they can belong.
As Nathan points out, “We live, work, and play in Akron—and we think Akron needs more PLAY.”