Some of Akron’s businesses are seeing a dramatic increase in young customers. A decent number of them are coming from other regions of Ohio and neighboring states. But why?
The answer is as simple as it is unexpected: TikTok.
As you may (or may not) know, the video-based social media app has niche communities based on its users’ interests. Bookworms look to booktok for reading recommendations. Frog owners use frogtok to discuss the pet industry’s shortcomings and triumphs. And in the future, something along the lines of “akrontok” may join their ranks.
Four Akron businesses have been the focus of TikTok’s attention, primarily because of their products, design and creativity. Here are their stories.
The Bomb Shelter
Have you ever wondered where you can purchase a phone booth, Beatles albums and a 1920s DeLaval cream separator all under the same roof? Well, your answer is The Bomb Shelter.
Before the building housed vintage goods such as 1950s dental towers and DMC DeLorians, it was a furniture warehouse for Norka Futon, owner Kevin Royer’s previous businesses. Once Norka Futon closed, Royer and his former business partner tried to lease the building, which is located at 923 Bank St in Akron. Despite its size (26,000 square feet), the building’s 10 rooms give it an odd shape, making it difficult to lease out.
So, he made it into a museum of sorts, one where customers can come in and get a taste of what life looked like during the mid-1900s and, if they feel so inclined, buy a piece of that history.
Like their inventory, the majority of the store’s customers grew up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Royer and his staff took notice when groups of teenagers and young adults started showing up for several months around Christmas.
Royer doesn’t usually do research on The Bomb Shelter’s customer demographics, but after seeing such an incessant stream of youngsters, he knew he needed to investigate.
And what did he find? TikTok videos, of course. Most of which looked something like this:
“It was a better punch than Instagram and the interesting thing was you could see the results,” Royer said. “The average sale dropped, but there was more of them. A $10-$20 sale became much more common because they were buying little things that they find cool to decorate.”
Some of those small decorative items included vinyl records, which Royer said are their most popular item. The store’s most unusual sale, on the other hand, was a portable embalming table.
Maybe it’s The Bomb Shelter’s giant sea creature statue, collection of director’s chairs or a healthy mix of other oddities that have attracted TikTok users. The why isn’t too important to Royer, who just wants these items to remain useful until the end of their lives. Stop on by, pick up a record and be sure to say hello to Punkin, the shop’s goldfish of more than 10 years, before walking out the door and back into the modern world.
The Northside Marketplace
Joel Testa, owner of Northside Marketplace, wanted to give small local businesses that the public normally only has access to at farmers markets a permanent home for their products. After discussing the concept with local business owners at Cuyahoga Fall’s Better Block events, he realized that it wasn’t just him who wanted his vision to become a reality.
“[My wife and I] kept hearing the same themes, the same issues, and it was, ‘This is a second job for me. This is really my passion, but it doesn’t yet pay all the bills’ ” Testa said. “ ‘I just can’t take the leap into bricks and mortar because I can’t afford the rent. I can’t produce enough product to fill that big of a space and because it’s my second job, I can only be there a couple of days a week.’ ”
Testa’s solution was the Northside Marketplace, where businesses can rent booths and shelf space for their products. The marketplace, located at 21 Furnace St. in Akron, opened in November 2017 and currently houses products from 42 vendors, including Dippity and Snark and Butter Your Nuts.
“We can expose visitors to Akron and Akron residents to these great entrepreneurial business owners that they otherwise would have been lucky to find,” Testa said.
The Northside Market is being exposed more than normal because of TikTok creators like Annie Davis, who runs the TikTok account @justohiothings. Davis, who lives in Cuyahoga Falls, appreciates the variety of vendors and products that the marketplace carries. Her family’s favorite vendor is The Treatery, which serves soft serve ice cream, rolled ice cream, dessert tacos and “cruffs” (warm North Hill Donuts stuffed with ice cream).
Davis also has made TikTok videos about the other three businesses on this list – all of them with more than 50,000 views and one with nearly 9,000 shares.
“I just love the area. I love our businesses,” Davis said. “Every time, especially when it’s Akron, and it starts to take off, I get a little more excited because it’s closer to home.”
According to Tamera Lewis, 22, who has worked at both Nomz and The Treatery for nearly a year, the Northside Marketplace has seen an increase in TikTok-based traffic. Lewis said she has encountered multiple customers who attribute their visit to TikTok.
“I love that,” Testa said. “I’m always trying to create spaces and destinations that people want to talk about.”
Speaking of The Northside Market, Leaf was once a vendor there – one of the first 10, in fact.
Leaf’s owner, Matthew Moore, was told by his mentors that floral shops are a dying business. They were partially correct – every flower shop that Moore had encountered looked tired and dated, which made him all the more determined to create something fresh and streamlined.
He bounced from different Petitti Garden Center locations from his teenage years until his mid-20s, when Petitti shut down their floral departments. Moore moved on to Catan’s Bridal Salon in Strongsville, where he helped create their floral department. Then he found himself working under the owner of Every Blooming Thing and taking over the business on July 1, 2016.
Soon after acquiring the business, Moore began redesigning the space and selling more obscure plants.
“I love creating spaces,” Moore said. “To have created an environment that people enjoy makes me happy.”
And, according to Julia Sharrock, who runs the TikTok account @exploreohiofood, Leaf has many factors that attribute to its unique environment.
“They have a really cool interior design, and they have like these beautiful hanging artworks,” She said. “It’s an experience, you feel like you’re in another world. I’m hoping that, when people watch this video, it gives them a little sneak peek of what the experience is like to be at Leaf.”
Sharrock lives in Canton and is one of many people who have created TikToks about Leaf, which is located at 449 W. Market St. in Akron. Her favorite aspects of the business are its customer service, selection of plants and overall design.
Gypsy Grace and the Vintage Goat
Located about 10 feet from Leaf is Gypsy Grace and the Vintage Goat at 451 W. Market St. in Akron.
I know what you’re thinking – how in the world did they come up with that name?
Well, it all started with owners Angel Grace and Joe Scheibe’s love for vintage items. “Vintage” was the root and the remainder of the name came from aspects of their lives. Joe was building a motorcycle at the time named Chupacabra Goat Sucker, Grace is Grace’s name and whenever gypsies are present so are goats. So that all came together to make Gypsy Grace and the Vintage Goat.
Now you know the name, but what’s inside the shop and why?
It is primarily made up of metaphysical supplies, décor and gifts. Grace’s grandmother was a gypsy spiritualist and fostered Grace’s attraction to the metaphysical.
Gypsy Grace and the Vintage Goat opened in 2015, but underwent a major redesign during its four-month closure in 2020 during the pandemic shutdown. Once the shutdown ended, business began to take off – then TikTok took notice.
“It was amazing,” Scheibe said. “We didn’t even realize it. We had another customer go, ‘Hey, check out this cool video somebody posted.’ ”
People soon began coming from other regions of Ohio and neighboring states to see the shop. Between December 2020 and February, it was not uncommon for there to be a line outside waiting to enter the building.
Gypsy Grace and the Vintage Goat recently won a grant from Akron’s Rubber City match program and plan to use the funds to incorporate float tanks and salt rooms into their business.
Contact Beacon Journal reporter Tawney Beans at [email protected] and on Twitter @TawneyBeans.