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Revitalizing Kenmore: The city and the community pitch in

Local guitarist and recent Kenmore resident Zach Friedhof and local singer Gretchen Pleuss are pictured here before they perform at Kenmore's Live Music Now. (Photo by Richard Weiner/Legal News).

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 8, 2018

Residents of the Kenmore neighborhood of Akron watch and participatie in activities designed to uplift the old business district.

New and old artisans of all stripes have now been joined by the city of Akron to try to restore Kenmore to its former glory as a go-to district for business, entertainment and culture, said Tina Boyes, who heads the Kenmore neighborhood Alliance.

“Kenmore was an important district of Akron dating back to 1929,” she said of the neighborhood that has seen better times. “It was a self-sufficient area with shops, two theaters, restaurants and entertainment.”

The plans are to try to bring all that back, said Boyes.

And the city of Akron is right there with her and her Kenmore neighbors.

The city recently announced a program for revitalizing 10 older Akron neighborhoods called the Great Streets project.

Those neighborhoods include Kenmore, West Hill, North Hill, Copley Road East, Maple Valley, Middlebury, Ellet, Firestone Park, Wallhaven and Goodyear Heights.

“Through Great Streets, we will be making strategic, impactful, long-term investments in our neighborhood business districts and better focus our current community and financial capital to generate greater impact,” said James Hardy, deputy mayor for integrated development.

The first neighborhood that the city is targeting for revitalization is Kenmore, said Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development for the city.

“Kenmore Boulevard is a great, historic business district and probably the most intact in the city,” he said. “Business districts like this were largely developed in the early 20th century, with buildings right along the street front.

“These neighborhood business districts originally thrived on local, pedestrian traffic—and while retail habits have evolved, we are seeing a return to community-based economic and social activity that is stimulating the revitalization of these corridors.  

“As we work with our community partners to breathe new life into Kenmore Boulevard and our other Great Streets, we must preserve the valuable urban form of these historic corridors.”

The city plans to repave Kenmore Boulevard, replace the roof of the Kenmore Community Center and create zoning requirements to preserve the urban nature of the neighborhood.

While the city is taking up the cause of the neighborhood, residents and other people have been working on ways to upgrade Kenmore for some time.

Boyes said that her group developed a “Better Block” program in 2017 that has drawn musicians, theater, food vendors, other artisans and tourists into the neighborhood to enjoy floating music and arts festivals through last summer and this year.

Even through the very down economic times of the neighborhood, in which Boyes said that residents could not even find a restaurant to eat in, musicians still flocked to Lay’s music store and The Guitar Shop on the boulevard.

And music can be the key to revitalizing the area, said local guitarist and recent Kenmore resident Zachary Friedhof (who just goes by the stage name “Zach” and founded local music institution Big Love Akron).

Zach recently played the new Kenmore music venue Live Music Now, which was carved out of a vacant storefront and which features a rotating group of four musicians who program shows at the venue once a month apiece.

Zach’s show also featured local singer Gretchen Pleuss.

“We moved Big Love here in November,” said Zach. “We are involved and supportive of what is going on here.”

Zach said that numerous artists, photographers, other artisans and musicians have begun to both have creative and living space in the neighborhood, and that Fridays during the summer are the time to be there.

“We have live music on the streets, food trucks, tours of the neighborhood. And it all started last year with Better Block.”

Boyes said that the long-range vision for the neighborhood should start with a detailed retail study “to find out what the missing pieces are, and then develop a way to start inviting businesses to come back to Kenmore. We know we need food, a coffee shop and a sit-down restaurant. We want the area to be a magnet for musicians. This is our downtown. All the elements are here.”

“Kenmore has its own flair,” said Zach. “It is a great place for musicians to live and create. It has a long, strange history, and we want it to be a (modern) neighborhood that embraces its history.”