Ron Shea’s Plans for Akron’s First Brewery District
words and photos by Brittany Nader
After two years of producing complex, innovative and downright tasty beer in the heart of Merriman Valley, R. Shea Brewing has big plans for the future.
Owner and Brewmaster Ron Shea is moving forward with his goal of creating a cohesive Akron Brewery District, a downtown destination spot for the local business crowd, tourists and riders on the Towpath Trail.
New Akron breweries, including Lock 15, Missing Falls Brewery and Akronym Brewing, will be within close proximity of each other, helping downtown grow as a beer-tourism hot spot. The city, Shea says, is on board with labeling and designating this area as the Akron Brewery District as it begins downtown redevelopment projects.
“Akron’s almost there, but no one’s really banded together until now,” Shea says. “It’s not a competition [between the new breweries]. Being in the same complex, or same area, helps lift everybody up.”
A key part of the plan for the district lies in the 60,000-foot Canal Place building, part of the former B. F. Goodrich complex. By fall of this year, the gigantic industrial complex will transform into a brand new R. Shea taproom, restaurant and mezzanine. Shea plans to get in and begin breaking ground in February.
R. Shea’s original Merriman Road location will remain, but its intimate size and locale will be better suited for experimenting with new, limited-release beer varieties. This facility will grow steadily in its own right, with the addition of an outdoor patio, more seasonal beers and continued development of its menu.
The brewery’s new home at Canal Place will be more expansive, with plenty of space for large parties, full-service dining, a substantial U-shaped bar, live entertainment, barrels for aging beer and even space for cornhole and occasional yoga events.
“We supply our beer to Mustard Seed and bars on Front Street, but we’ve had to turn people away because our supply goes into our own facility,” Shea says. “So I thought, ‘why not have a bigger taproom and restaurant?’ Then we can slow our pace down [at the Valley location] and put some more polish on what we already have.”
While Shea admits the Valley wasn’t his first location choice for the brewery, it has served him and the community well since 2015. The space is street level, has ample parking and is in a high-traffic area right along the commute home for many nearby workers.
“If I had to do it all over again for the first location, I’d do exactly what I did,” Shea says. “I had to stop looking for the perfect place… it finds you.”
The Canal Place building on South Main Street has the look and feel that aligns well with Shea’s new vision. He plans to maintain the raw, industrial look and feel of the space while incorporating its history as a mainstay in the rubber and aviation industries into the décor.
“It’s a cool piece of history,” Shea says. “A lot has been made on this building’s floor.”
Beer drinkers can expect themed brews that incorporate this history, such as a variety named after the space shuttle tires produced by B. F. Goodrich in the very same building. Shea plans to keep many of the structure’s original features, such as the skylights that emit an ethereal green glow in the proposed mezzanine area. In this space, future visitors will overlook the vast production brewery floor. Eventually, Shea would like to construct a bridge that takes customers from the brewery to an outdoor patio nestled between two buildings.
Once the new R. Shea taproom and restaurant is complete, Shea plans to get brew buses looping the area, where craft beer fans can stop at each taproom along the Akron Brewery District trail. With the addition of these breweries, restaurants and event spaces, this slice of downtown will transform into an entertainment destination.
“Just look at the population density in this area,” Shea says. “People leave work downtown together to go to breweries… People are going to love this because they won’t have to travel far to hit several destinations at once.”
Brittany Nader highly recommends the Chocolate Hazelnut Imperial Stout from R. Shea Brewing!