AKRON, Ohio — An accomplished tattoo artist and native son of Akron looks to spark a music revival in the Rubber City through a project that couldn’t get any closer to home. Although he has poured years of his life and risked his own personal fortune in the endeavor, it is the neighborhood that is set to reap the reward.
On a brisk Tuesday afternoon, Akron’s Goodyear Heights neighborhood is quiet. The lull of January is broken only by the clang-pause-pause-clang of the flagpole out front. As the rest of the city readies itself for lunch, David Schweyer is getting ready to wake up.
“I was born across the street here in Goodyear Heights, 38 years ago,” Schweyer said.
Built into the top floor of a former post office-turned-grocery store-turned-blighted, empty storefront, Schweyer’s apartment is a sight to behold. Ornate swords, eye-catching guitars and all the equipment necessary to record and produce a full length album fill the walls and halls of his living space. It’s the kind of place that seems fitting for a lifelong tattoo artist that is just as adept at discussing art has he is economics.
“It’s nice to look back at all the work we’ve done to see what it has turned out to be now. You forget sometimes in a project this big,” Schweyer said. “The building would have been torn down. It was dilapidated, really.”
By mid-afternoon, Schweyer is ready for his first customer, a friend of his. He readies his tattoo station, spraying and sanitizing and organizing and testing and trying to be ready for whatever comes his way. At a young age, Schweyer discovered his love for tattoos — and the responsibility that artists have.
"He grabbed a lamp cable, a fork, a Bic pen, a remote control car motor — and built a tattoo machine right in front of me,” Schweyer said as he recalled the first and only time he met a man he only knows as "Midnight." "We used ink from a Bic pen and I tattooed myself six times that day. Then you tell everybody in high school that you do tattoos and I’ve been booked ever since.”
Eventually, Schweyer learned the proper way to tattoo human skin and, especially, the safe way to do it. From humble beginnings, his business has flourished to the point where he is available by appointment-only.
“It’s our bread and butter. It is what built this entire place,” Schweyer said. “The whole adventure has been based on ink — the whole thing. It’s all built on tattoos.”
The "adventure" that Schweyer speaks of is the amalgamation of the past five years, which have been pockmarked in dirt, sweat, blood and cash. Beyond the secure doors to his tattoo shop is an expansive space enveloped in black paint and blacklight.
Schweyer lights up when he talks about it.
“I never set a deadline for this thing. It’s like an art project for me. This whole concept is just a fun project to try to revitalize the neighborhood,” Schweyer said. “I had 100 projects in front of me from swinging a hammer or painting a mural to build this place. I wasn’t going to stop. There’s no way. You just don’t give up.”
Day in, day out, Schweyer has spent the vast majority of his waking moments either tattooing or working on the new music venue, coffee shop and arcade. Dubbed The Afterlife, the music venue should hold 175 people and features a large stage and a professionally-designed "crow’s nest" that houses all the necessary audio equipment.
An accomplished and touring musician back in the day, Schweyer took all the things he loved about certain venues and incorporated them into the design. It took an entire year just to demolish the vestiges that remained of what the building used to be.
“We had to tear down three layers of drop ceiling, in addition to all the concrete and metal,” Schweyer said. “The building needed to be gutted. It has taken five years to get to what it is now.”
The transformation has truthfully been a labor of love, he said, even if there were limitless headaches — like fixing the freight elevator — along the way.
“It’s a 10 year plan that we did in five years,” Schweyer said. “What in the hell do I feel? Blistered. Calloused. Ready to do it again.”
Taking on a project of that size and scope is a monumental undertaking for any small business owner, let alone one who did most of the work himself. For parts of the remodel that he couldn’t do himself, he offered tattoo’s for people’s time.
Schweyer did a majority of the work but he has assumed all of the risk. When he started construction, a pandemic was something people often only read in history books. When construction was nearly complete, he was two years into one.
“I don’t know anybody else that has done a five-year, every-day project out of a labor of love,” Schweyer said. “It’s weird. I used to buy stamps right there when I was three years old. I’m actually terrified. Terrified for five years of work inside of a place where I’ve spent almost $378,000. What are we going to do with that if we can’t actually fill it with people?”
Schweyer tries not to concern himself with questions that he currently can’t answer, and instead, has his eyes on opening in late winter or early spring. He recently obtained his occupancy permit. As he peers over the dimly lit music venue, he has never felt so close to home.
“I couldn’t imagine this happening anywhere else. It just is because it’s supposed to be — and I don’t even really believe in stuff like that,” Schweyer said. “But I kind of have to.”