Don’t Sleep on Barberton

A New Chapter for Second Street and Tuscarawas Avenue

by Jenell Marsek

In downtown Barberton, new businesses are preserving old structures and welcoming new players.

In the last two years, these entrepreneurs have given residents new hangout spots and hope for continuing economic development. They’re even attracting visitors from outside the city.

One of the first newcomers was, naturally, a brewery. In 2017, Jay Graham opened Magic City Brewing, Barberton’s first.

“This is my hometown community. There is something to be said about the people of Barberton. It’s the type of the community that comes together for everything. I wanted to showcase my love for brewing with the community backing me,” Jay says.

Ignite Brewing Company, the second for the city of 26,000, celebrated its grand opening in September. The brewery sits on Tuscarawas Avenue, one of the business district’s two major streets.

A busy day at Ignite Brewing Co.

“We wanted to be in Barberton because it’s central and closely connected to the major highways that take you to Columbus, Akron or Cleveland,” says co-owner Michael Chisnell. “In fact, less than 20 percent of our customers live in Barberton. We are frequently seeing visitors from all over who’ve heard about our success and great beers. That means a lot to us.”

Jay, the owner of Magic City Brewing, says his business has attracted plenty of people from outside Barberton too. “A huge portion of our weekend customers don’t live in the city,” he says.

Coming to Barberton

Barberton was founded in 1891 by Ohio Columbus Barber, an industrialist, who wanted the city to encompass his vision of “industry, progress and community.” His Diamond Match Company set up shop in the city and began producing as many as 250 million matches per day. The city grew so fast during its industrial years that it became known as the “Magic City.”

One of O.C. Barber’s big plans for the city was an L-shaped business district located on Second Street and Tuscarawas Avenue. Local investors took a chance on the newly formed city and started constructing two and three-story commercial buildings from brick.

The L-shaped business district sits to the south and east of Lake Anna, separated from the park by one block of buildings. Lake Anna was named for Barber’s only daughter, Anna Barber.

Today, it’s home to the Barberton Mum Fest, one of the city’s biggest events. According to Barberton Parks and Recreation, 55,000 people attended the 2017 festival.

“People always look forward to the design of 15,000 mums in the gardens,” says Kathy Lewis, assistant director of Barberton Parks and Recreation. “We also pride ourselves as one of the largest craft shows that only allow homemade crafts in the area. This year, we had over 130 crafters at the show.”

Most of the buildings on the L-shaped commercial strip sat untouched for the last few years. Some hosted pop-up shops, while others were vacant.

But today, new businesses are moving in on Second and Tuscarawas. They’re are preserving the architectural character of the city’s buildings and bringing more people downtown.

What’s New in Barberton?

Block 7 Bar & Grill occupies a space that dates back to 1905. William Henry operated Henry’s Bank Cafe here from 1905 to 1920 while living in an apartment above the space. Recent renovations have restored the character of the storefront and interior, with its colorful tile floor and pressed metal ceiling. The tile at the corner entry was also preserved, a reminder of and honor to Henry.

“We wanted to purchase this bar the minute we walked in and knew it was for sale,” says owner Tonda Skaburn. “I’ve never felt such comfort in knowing it was 100 percent the right decision. We fell in love with the history and decor. We are happy to own a piece of Barberton history and we also love having a place where we can continue supporting the live music scene in our community.”

Across the street from Block 7 is M&M Taphouse, which Michelle and Michael Seladoki opened this year. The building is Barberton’s oldest standing bank, Central Savings and Trust, which began operating in 1918. Its monumental character is seen in its stone facade, two-story Corinthian columns and decorative roofline.

The space was vacant for years before M&M moved in. The owners preserved the interior and made a few renovations of their own, installing a bar and kitchen. The main bank vault stands untouched in the back of the building and guests are free to check out the preserved structure. But the rest of the experience is thoroughly modern: M&M has 16 rotating taps of craft beer, cider and international brews. They host regular Beer Bingo theme nights and there is a full-on game room.

Also along this strip of new businesses is Kave Coffee and Wine Bar. Kave, pronounced kaw-VAY, serves hot, iced and frozen espresso drinks. On Friday and Saturday evening they offer wine by the glass or bottle, and if it’s a nice day, they open up the rooftop bar. Kave is undergoing renovations and plans to reopen in November just in time for Barberton’s annual Winter Wonderland Festival.

The old Hone’s Corner Cafe, now Fehr’s Corner Cafe, owned by Cobey Fehr.

Beyond Downtown

Beyond the downtown district, Barberton is home to several beloved business landmarks. Several chicken houses have been serving customers since the 1940s. Locals call the city the Chicken Capital of the World. In fact, Chef Michael Symon came to see for himself in 2010 to film an episode of the Food Network’s “American Food Feud.”

Chris Durbin, a third-generation business owner, runs Durbin’s Magic Freeze. For 11 months of the year — every month except January — they sell homemade ice cream. For 43 years, they’ve also been selling Christmas trees. If you’re looking to pick out that perfect Christmas tree while enjoying some homemade ice cream, Durbin’s is only a mile and a half west of downtown.

Longtime local and bar owner Cobey Feher wasn’t planning to buy the old Hone’s Corner Cafe on Tuscarawas Avenue, but when the business went up for sale this year, he says he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “These regulars were always like father figures in my life. I wanted to purchase the bar now to keep the traditions going and to support the people that I grew up with,” Cobey says.

The recently announced Matchstick Kitchen — its name referencing the community’s history — plans to open across the street from Magic City Brewing on Second Street in 2019. Jay of Magic City says he’s excited for the new business neighbor. “We are a bring-your-own-food establishment on nights we don’t host a food truck. Having Matchstick as our neighbors will only enhance our business and theirs,” Jay says.

The L-shaped business district on Second Street and Tuscarawas Avenue, where O.C. Barber originally imagined industry, is now a burgeoning neighborhood for food, entertainment and beer. There is a sense of rebirth happening on these streets.

Michael Chisnell of Ignite Brewing added: “Barberton is a beautiful city, and we are in business here to rekindle and ignite the flame that is the community.”

The Barberton Winter Wonderland Festival is on Saturday, Nov. 24. For more information:

Jenell Marsek is a writer of blogs, articles and marketing content.

Images used with permission from Durbin’s Magic Freeze, Cobey Fehr, Magic City Brewing, Ignite Brewing Company, Block 7 Bar & Grill, M&M Taphouse, Kave, and Justin Greer