AKRON, Ohio — Small business is slowly, but surely making a comeback in Southwest Akron.
City officials say the growth is due, in large part, to the new Amazon fulfillment center that opened on the site of the old Rolling Acres Mall late last year.
Now, local entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the opportunity to grow their businesses and give a boost to the community, like The Beanhead Brothers Coffee House.
Co-owner Derek Fromby said he got the idea to open a coffee shop 16 years ago.
“Already had the logo, the name, the ideas everything,” Fromby said.
So back in 2019, when his business partner Kevin Tyler heard Amazon was building a fulfillment center on Romig Road in Akron, they started looking for locations and found one right across the street.
The center created 1,500 new jobs and they wanted to reap some of those benefits.
The Beanhead Brothers opened on Nov. 27, just a few weeks after the fulfillment center opened on Nov. 1.
“Average person, $5 a cup, like ‘ooh look at those numbers,’” Fromby said.
But just a few years ago, a spot on Romig Road was a lot less desirable.
The Amazon building currently sits where the old Rolling Acres Mall once stood, a popular hang out and shopping area back in its heyday until it fell into foreclosure and disrepair.
“It almost became a cancer on the rest of the business community in and around the area,” Akron Deputy Mayor James Hardy said.
It took the rest of the business in the area right along with it. But now with Amazon, there’s new growth.
“1,500 to 2,000 jobs that pay $15 an hour that have health insurance on day one. And you don't need some sort of college degree. Those are really hard jobs to come by,” Hardy said. “Especially when you're trying to attract economic development to an area where the median household income is only $35,000. We need catalytic investment.”
And there’s a renewed hope for the area.
“This is sort of like, I’ll say, Black Wall Street because there's so many black businesses up here, it's crazy now. My cousin owns a barber college down the street,” Fromby said. “There's another poetry cafe next door, a nail salon, a daycare.”
Hardy said the recent development is only the tip of the iceberg.
“The pandemic has done one negative thing, and that is really put a hold on the ability of workers at the Amazon facility to go and eat out, to go and patronize new shops to really create that economic engine that we hope to see,” Hardy said. “So I think it remains to be seen yet how much impact we'll get. But certainly, the presence of Amazon up on Romig Road in the old Rolling Acres property is a huge, huge win for the corridor from an economic perspective.”
Fromby said The Beanhead Brothers has had a slow, yet steady start. Some Amazon employees come over to buy food and drinks, but they’re trying to figure out how to get their products directly into the building through delivery or a kiosk.
“It's a slow growth, but it's okay. That would be great if we could get over there,” Fromby said.
Hardy said he’s reached out to Amazon personally on behalf of The Beanhead Brothers to try to foster a connection between the two, and he said the city is determined to help facilitate partnerships between Amazon and members of the community.
“I think 2020 was such a strange year to open that facility that the response has not necessarily been what we'd like to see just yet. But I don't hold that against the local management or even the regional management of Amazon. I think that they are, like many industries, certainly adapting to the pandemic. They seem to be thriving as a result,” Hardy said.
“But that also could mean that opening a facility like the Akron facility at a time at which they did, they might have been overwhelmed with all the work they had. And so really taking advantage of new locally owned businesses in and around the corridor may just not have risen to the level of decision-makers yet. But we're determined to get it there.”
As for Fromby and The Beanhead Brothers, they’re still hoping for that Amazon connection to come through, but they’re also working on other projects within their business.
They plan to host live entertainment at the cafe, including a project called Karaoke Comedy that Fromby created.
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