Kent’s Ward 2 features parks, safe neighborhoods and struggling businesses

The west side of the city of Kent houses Ward 2, an area filled with quiet neighborhoods, independently owned shops and rich green spaces.

Driving along West Main Street, visitors will find a row of car dealerships and small businesses like Kings of Vapor, but also some vacated storefronts. 

Jack Amrhein, Ward 2 council member, said he would like to see economic redevelopment in the area.

“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 on West Main Street, would disagree. 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. But, since the start of the pandemic, customers have dwindled.

Kings of Vapor has several locations throughout Ohio. The West Main Street store in Kent has seen decent business due to its location and products, but was still hurt by the pandemic.

“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 would benefit from having more workers.

“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 there is 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 of the University of Akron, recently moved to the area from Hilliard, Ohio. He said he noticed “Now Hiring” signs around his ward and downtown. He said a sign at Burger King offeried 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 location?.

Jeremy McCord, a resident of Ward 2 who lives with his wife Jennifer and his baby said he also sees help wanted signs in his ward. 

“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, a council-at-large member for the city of Kent and a Ward 2 resident for more than 45 years, said he 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.”

Greenspace

Away from the commercial streets, the city of Kent honors its title of “Tree City” in Ward Two.

The ward’s 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 along the scenic path that stretches nearly 10 miles between Kent and Ravenna.

The trails in the parks invite residents from around Kent to walk their dogs or go on a bike ride. Amrhein said Ward 2 provides the community with safe places to walk for its residents. WHAT ABOUT THE SKATE PARK AND

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 1835 by abolitionist John Brown and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

McCord’s wife Jennifer, a human resources coordinator and Kent State graduate, said she and Jeremy moved back to Kent a few years ago for what?. She enjoys Kent’s parks and lives within walking distance of Al Lease Park. SOMETHING ABOUT HER FAMILY AND HUSBAND HERE?

“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 said.

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

Kent’s Ward 2 has always been a safe and eclectic neighborhood that’s a great fit for a variety of residents, Sidoti said.

Solar panels on the roofs of houses in the Lake at Franklin Mills development located where in Ward 2? Can you shoot the panels more tightly?

“We affectionately call the southwest 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 2 has community developments with open yards and solar panels, such as the Lake at Franklin Mills off 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 are high school graduates or higher, while 43% hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the census.

Sign outside of Longcoy Elementary School. Tell me about the school in the rest of the caption. I know this is a sign. Probably better to show me the school itself.

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. 

The community flourishes “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.