Kent’s ward two features parks, safe neighborhoods and struggling businesses

Councilman Jack Amrhein business developments on Main Street.

The west side of the city of Kent houses ward two, an area filled with quiet neighborhoods, independently owned shops and rich green space.

Driving along West Main street, residents will find a row of car dealerships, small businesses like Kings of Vapor and vacated storefronts. 

Jack Amrhein, ward two council member, said he would like to see economic redevelopment within ward two.

“A lot of people who want to start new businesses want to be in the hub, they want to be downtown,” Amrhein said. “That attracts college students and residents as well, so it is a struggle”

Bai Edwards, an employee at Kings of Vapor, would disagree. Located on West Main Street, the vape shop typically pulls in a steady flow of customers including employees of the nearby car dealerships and people who frequent the busy street. Since the start of the pandemic, customers have dwindled.

Kings of Vapor has several locations throughout Ohio. The West Main Street store has seen decent business due to its location and products.

“It’s not as busy as it used to be,” Edwards said. “I don’t think the company itself is struggling too hard because we keep releasing new products, …  but I think it could be doing a lot better.”

Edwards said Kings of Vapor is one of the lucky businesses. Other Kent vape shops have just barely managed to stay afloat, like Groov-E-Juice on South Water Street, while others have been forced to shut down entirely.

“Silly Vapes closed down a little bit ago because they weren’t getting enough business,” Edwards said. “The pandemic just tore them apart.”

Regardless of the success they’ve seen through new products and company partnerships, Edwards said the location benefits from hiring a full staff once again.

“Technically, we’re super understaffed. We have under 100 employees,” he said. “I got here at 8:45 [a.m.], opened up at nine, and got slammed immediately. … we’re already at like 2,500 [sales].”

Amrhein said he has noticed a labor shortage in the area and attributes the lack of employees to the pandemic.

“If you’re waitstaff, it would be maybe dangerous to go into work,” Amrhein said. “You don’t know who’s been vaccinated, who’s not been vaccinated, you don’t know who has early COVID.”

Noell Wolfgram Evans, a writer and graduate from the University of Akron, recently moved to the area from Hilliard. He said he has noticed “Now Hiring” signs around his ward and downtown. He saw a sign at Burger King offering new employees a signing bonus, free Airpods and a discount on a new iPhone.

“I think knowing that going into places is fine because you can be aware and be patient about it,” Evans said.

Noell Wolfgram Evans said the Kent community is a safe place for his children.
“Help Wanted” sign at Kent Mold and & Manufacturing Company.

Jeremy McCord, a resident of ward two, said he has also seen help wanted signs in his area. 

“It seems to be not as much as some of the bigger cities,” Jeremy said. “Labor shortage for sure. Everybody’s got help wanted signs right now.”

Roger Sidoti, Council at Large for the city of Kent and a ward two resident for over 45 years, said he has noticed “almost all the businesses are out there with Help Wanted signs of some kind.”

Sidoti attributes the labor shortage across Kent to a long adjustment period for people still reeling from the pandemic and transitioning back to an in-person workforce. 

“People don’t like change, and then when change is forced on them, like a pandemic, what’ll happen is that they’re forced to live a life they’re not comfortable with,” he said. “But then when it’s time to go back … they [aren’t] necessarily … that quick to go back to what it was like before.”

Aside from the commercial streets, the city of Kent honors its title of “Tree City” in ward two. The five parks provide plenty of space for fully grown trees and other beautiful glimpses of nature like wildflowers, geese, ponds, streams and rivers.

The ward is also home to the Portage County Bike and Hike Trail where visitors can run, hike and ski through the city’s scenic path.

The trails in the parks invite residents from around Kent to walk their dogs or go on a bike ride. Amrhein said that ward two provides the community with safe places to walk for its residents.

John Brown Tannery Park features tall trees that create a canopy of green in the sky next to the Cuyahoga River. The park is on the former site of a tannery built by an abolitionist named John Brown and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jennifer McCord, human resources coordinator and Kent State graduate, moved back to Kent a few years ago. She enjoys Kent’s parks and lives within walking distance of Al Lease park.

“That’s why we chose the house in this development that was up against the park and we have the walking trails and the playground in the back for [our daughter] when she gets older,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer has also noticed improvements in the city since she was a Kent State student. She said the addition of the Esplanade helped expand downtown Kent.

“I didn’t have the downtown area when I went to school and so it’s kind of nice to have that downtown area now and just everything is super close like shopping, restaurants, McCord”

Dan Vigorito has enjoyed living in Kent for the past 17 years because of how quiet it is.

Kent’s ward two has always been a safe and eclectic neighborhood that’s a great fit for a variety of residents, Sidoti said.

Solar panels on rooves of houses in the Lake at Franklin Mills.

“We affectionately call the south-west side of Kent … somewhat dodgy in the sense that it is so mixed,” he said. “We have duplexes right next to homes, some dead-end circles, some more modern-type homes [and] we have some old-style craftsman homes.”

According to the census data for the city of Kent, the median household income between 2015 and 2019 was $32,993 with a median gross rent of $801.

“Truly everyone thinks of us as being a very affluent community, but as residents who own property and live here … we’re not Hudson, we’re not even Stow,” Sidoti said. “We’re not that type of a community.”

Ward two has community developments with open yards and solar panels, such as the Lake at Franklin Mills off of Fairchild Avenue, along with smaller duplexes and single-story homes on the crowded streets of Akron Boulevard and Ada Street.

In terms of education, 92% of Kent residents received high school diplomas or higher, while 43% of residents received a Bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the census, showing the city’s commitment to education.

Sign outside of Longcoy Elementary School.

Patrick Macke, a former superintendent for the East County Board of Developmental Disabilities, originally moved to Kent to start his doctoral program at Kent State. He said his children went to school in the city and that the school system has “a good reputation.”

“What really drew us to this community … was the outstanding school system,” Sidoti said.  “We have an elementary school just down the road, Longcoy Elementary School, so that gives us an anchor within our community.”

What makes Kent stand out is the ability of the city’s officials and Kent State University to collaborate and make positive change throughout all wards, Sidoti said. 

“Why our community flourishes are because the city administration and the city council and the elected officials and school system — everyone got together and said ‘you know what? The only way we flourish is if we all come together,’” he said.