Enduring Friendship Evolves into a Dream-Fulfilling Venture
words by Alissa Danckaert Skovira, photos by Tessa Skovira
“Rust Belt Chic” might best describe The Northside Cellar and its owners, Wendy Geonis and Jodie Oates. A modern vibe infuses the boutique, which features new and consigned clothing, artwork, furnishings, candles and accessories. Both women are vivacious and tough Akronites, eager to take on the challenge of business ownership.
Just as Akron has evolved from its industrial days, so too has the relationship between the two women grown over decades.
Wendy and Jodie met while working together at a real estate firm 25 years ago. During a meeting both admitted they found dull, they took stock of each other’s accessories. Jodie recalls that she said, “‘I like your shoes,’ and (Wendy) said, ‘I like your shoes.’”
Thus began a friendship that included years of double dating and girls’ nights out. In 2017, they discussed purging their closets and the idea arose: What if they started a business together?
The boutique features a charcoal gray industrial interior softened by walls of silk scarves begging to be touched, plus snazzy outfits, shoes of all styles, comfortable furnishings and plenty of natural light. Original works by local artists are for sale. Scented candles fill the air, and nail polish and skin cream round out the eclectic offerings.
The inviting atmosphere encourages visitors to linger and explore. Reclining in the store’s cozy seating nook, Jodie and Wendy eagerly describe the dynamics of their relationship. Wendy, a blonde woman with short hair, and Jodie, a brunette with a sleek updo, finish each other’s sentences, make each other laugh and seem as comfortable together as an old married couple.
“She’s my work spouse,” Wendy laughs.
Wendy’s stint working alongside her husband at David Hawkins Design Management provided some foundational knowledge for the venture, but both women say they overcame some obstacles.
First: “Technology!” Wendy exclaims. “I want to go back to the old paper receipts–you know, the kind I played with as a kid.”
Second: “Starting a business when you’re older,” Jodie chimes in. “When you’re not 25, but nearly twice that age, it’s exhausting” — a radiant smile suddenly lights her face — “and amazing. Really amazing. We’ve met so many incredible people who come into the store. But it’s hard work, a lot of sleepless nights, trying to fit into our space.”
Originally, the only space available in the Northside district had been the cellar — hence the store’s name. Then a business upstairs moved out. They hesitated for a split second, then agreed to take the extra space, eagerly settling in at 106 North Main Street.
The store covers 2,400 square feet. Much of the merchandise is new, purchased in Chicago or Dallas. But Northside Cellar also serves as an upscale consignment shop. Consignments are on the shelves for 90 days. Whatever doesn’t sell is donated to Rahab Ministries, an Akron charity that helps victims of human trafficking. Wendy and Jodie also want to explore giving back to animal shelters.
Just as important as giving back is the relationship they have developed with the other merchants around them.
“All of the retailers and all of the businesses down here work together for growth,” Jodie says. “It’s an amazing thing.” Businesses in the Northside district actively refer patrons to each other, determined to make the area a vibrant hub in the city.
“I’ve been coming to Luigi’s my whole life,” Wendy adds. “We really wanted to be here, with all of the arts and things. It’s pretty cool, the nice people we’ve met.”
That includes the Cellar’s customers. Jodie and Wendy have a steady flow of shoppers. Some wander in from out of town, staying in the Marriott nearby. Others are locals dining at dante boccuzzi akron or Luigi’s who decide to pop in for a look at their new digs.
Wendy and Jodie also get to know the artists who sell their works in the store.
“We love the art, but we really love the artists too,” Wendy says, sweeping an arm upward toward their large display.
“The creative part is magical,” Jodie agrees.
The pair plan to foster the arts by holding pop-up concerts in the basement. Their goal is to make the space as inviting as possible.
Though the new venture has had its hectic, even scary moments, both women approach each day eagerly.
“I can’t wait to get here every morning,” Wendy says.
“Some days are fabulous and super busy, and other days we may see one or two people, but overall it’s been — my gosh.” Jodie exchanges a smile with Wendy, who finishes the sentence: “It’s exceeded our wildest dreams!”
Painted on the wall above an alcove is an inspirational message urging others to “Be you. Be strong. Be. . .” Visitors are encouraged to write their own hopes and dreams on the wall beneath it.
The evolution of North Akron from industry to arts shows the city’s second act can be even more vibrant than its first, and Wendy and Jodie are determined to give the Northside Cellar a strong supporting role in the neighborhood’s transformation.
Location and hours:
106 North Main Street, Akron
Tuesday-Saturday 11 am – 8 pm
Alissa Danckaert Skovira teaches writing and honors courses at Kent State University.