Elwood P. Dowd: “Wouldn’t that get a little monotonous, just Akron, cold beer and ‘poor, poor thing’ for two weeks?”
Dr. Chumley: “No. It would be wonderful.”
from “Harvey,” starring Jimmy Stewart
For months, I squirmed whenever someone asked to meet me at our office. Our “office” was my attic. Sometimes my dining room table or a comfy chair. I just couldn’t afford more but thanks to email and Google Docs, I didn’t have to worry about it. If I needed to meet someone, there were coffee shops and lunch spots to frequent. For editorial meetings, we could hole up in John S. Knight’s old office in what is now the Summit Artspace.
However, I’d recently begun secretly searching for a space. I’d resisted making the investment but having the magazine at our house was getting difficult. We keep growing and Unbox Akron needs room to store the goodies we ship. Still, I didn’t picture pulling the trigger for a couple months, trying to find a cool storefront to host fun, weird things instead of an ordinary office, which conjured visions of the cubicles I hoped to escape.
That is, I was looking for the exact opposite of what Rick Stockburger was asking me to consider by suggesting an office inside the OSC Tech Lab on the 2nd floor at 12 E. Exchange St. Plus, they’re a bunch of tech folks and I’m print media, so aren’t we sworn enemies or something? But we’re pals so, out of courtesy more than curiosity, I went to visit a place I’d been several times before.
Their pitch made plenty of sense, but it didn’t move me. Overlooking East Exchange, the office was roomy enough and affordable enough. A parking space and utilities would be included, and the wi-fi is great and about to be upgraded. The lease was flexible. All in all, it was certainly worth considering but we were nearing the end and nothing had changed my mind, until…
“We think you’d be a good fit here,” OSC Tech Lab owner Nick Petroski said.
As he explained how important culture and community are to him and the coterie of the co-working space’s regulars, I flashed back to the afternoon I first walked into that place. I was still working at WEWS and only 50-50 on doing this magazine thing. Since the Tech Lab opens its doors to everyone for free on Thursdays, I went by, pretending to need a space to work. In reality, I was looking for people. I was dying to connect with folks.
That day, Nick asked me what I do. I tried to explain the concept for The Devil Strip in a casual, “like whatever” way because if they knew how badly I wanted it to happen, I was sure they’d smell my vulnerability and laugh me out of the building. If anything, he seemed to dig it. We had a short conversation, nothing spectacular, but when I left the idea had become a little more real. Nick, his wife Meghan and the Tech Lab crew — Jon, Eric, Josiah, Patrick, Stephanie and Kevin — were the first to make this terrible idea feel sane.
One small victory — a little more than one crazy, rollercoaster year ago — gave me enough juice to keep going which helped me find other Akronites who showed unwarranted faith in me and this magazine: Beth Boggins at United Way, features writer Jenny Conn, Jill Bacon Madden at Jilly’s Music Room, Nicole Mullet and Jessica Cherok and their Torchbearer friends, Liz Tyran and Jason Scala at Urban Eats, Akron Empire’s Joanna Wilson and Brit Charek, Beyonderer Doc Rich, and the Akron2Akron folks through whom I met Jason Segedy and the aforementioned Stockburger. It’s only snowballed since.
As all that came back to me, I could picture being part of that community and maybe one day helping other nervous weirdos find validation for their moonshot plans. It was all I could do not to say yes on the spot and hand Nick a check. Guess that’s what I get for not having checks, which I suppose should be the next thing to tackle on the list of grown-up things to do as a business owner.
So, come up and see us sometime. We’ll probably be busy, me with the paper and Roger Riddle with Unbox, but it’s always good to stop and chat. I’d love to introduce you to everybody.
PS – Thank you to Cleveland Magazine, which named me one of their “Most Interesting People of 2015” because of The Devil Strip, Unbox Akron and the ongoing pro-Akron, pro-arts & culture movement in which we get to take part.