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Inaugural Issue, Holiday 2002
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The New Civic, March 2003
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Best of the City, July 2011
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March 2003, contents page
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The new Civic, March 2003
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The Howl Heard 'Round the World
punk.new wave late 70s style, March 2003
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Out and About
Children's Hospital Medical Center, charity ball, March 2003
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Never At a Loss For Words
WNIR's Finan and Chizek, March 2003
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Never At a Loos For Words
WNIR's Finan and Chizek, March 2003
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Don Baker Jr.
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The Toy's Story
Mark Soppeland and his inspirational toys, Holiday 2002
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Decades of December, Holiday 2002
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Decades of December, Holiday 2002
Photos by Ray Saviciunas
There’s a cobalt blue coffee mug on my desk engraved with the words, “Baker Summit. October 22, 2001”. That’s the exact date that the magazine you hold in your hands was started. True, the first published date of Akron Life & Leisure magazine, now akronlife magazine, was the Holiday Issue published in November 2002. But during that year a lot of serendipity had to occur before the ink hit the paper.
This Oct. 22, 2001 meeting took place in a MetroParks pavilion. We invited Dave Weida, a business coach and friend; Sam Lombardo, founder of WorkLife and friend; Ted Klimczak, of Donovan, Klimczak, an Akron CPA firm; Dennis Kleidon, of Kleidon and Associates, a Fairlawn advertising firm; and, of course, me and my sons, Brendan and Colin Baker.
The purpose of the meeting was to help Baker Publishing, our small publishing company, find a new direction after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. We had published a small quarterly business magazine, Akron Business Magazine, since 1996. The effect of 9/11 on the advertising market across the country was devastating. Folio magazine, a publishing industry trade publication, reported that the advertising market after 9/11 was the worst since World War II. If we wanted to survive, Baker Publishing had to find a new direction.
Dave started the meeting with exercises to spur our creativity. Three hours into the meeting, Dave asked each of us what we thought the next logical step would be for our company. A couple of people said we should abandon all hope of saving our magazine and find something else to do.
When the baton passed to Dennis, he wondered why Akron had so many business magazines (three at the time) but no city magazine. He speculated that there were more advertisers for a city publication than there ever were for a business-to-business magazine. For some reason, that remark sent my head spinning.
We had talked about publishing a one-off City Guide to test the support but never really went beyond discussing such a venture. Now I could see clearly how a city magazine would fit Akron to a T. The city had a lot going for it, including the new Canal Park and downtown construction. The political climate was good, with the business community and the Mayor’s office working together for the greater good. After the meeting I felt so much exuberance I went home and started working on a business plan.
We tossed around a lot of names for the magazine including akronlife, but in the end we settled on the name suggested by Rose Kleidon, Akron Life & Leisure, because it encapsulated all that the new magazine was about: life and leisure in the Greater Akron area. We also came up with a two-word mission statement: Celebrate Akron. The only things standing in our way were the details, like money and staff.
>> For the next several months, we shopped our business plan around to people whom we felt could become investors or lead us to investors. I made one of these calls to Sheila Sternecker, a business consultant for the Greater Akron Chamber. She made some suggestions about the efficacy of our business plan and said she would give some thought to funding part of it.
One July day, I got a call out of the blue from Bill Melver, who had also talked with Sheila, and was looking for a project to get involved with since his recent retirement from General Electric. We met at the old Brendan & Finn’s Bar and Grill over by Akron General Hospital, and I went through the plan with him as I had before with many other potential investors and interested parties. I left that meeting with no particular expectations.
A couple of days later, Melver said he wanted to be involved. He wasn’t going to invest in the magazine himself but would help us seek out investors. We immediately accepted his help. We made numerous proposals, constantly reworking our business plan, but as summer moved into September and we still hadn’t secured the necessary funding, we had a decision to make: publish a test issue for the holidays or start over for spring publication.
Dennis Kleidon suggested publishing in time to take advantage of the holiday advertising but I said no, we didn’t have the money to speculate. Melver also was firm, insisting we get the magazine on the newsstands for the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Since we hadn’t come up with enough money to launch, he would fund the first issue.
Serendipity played a part in staffing that first issue. Kleidon offered his 23-year-old son, Kurt, as our first editor. Kurt was well-qualified, having just completed his master’s in English at the University of Minnesota and was looking for work. As for the first art director, I had an ace up my sleeve: my younger sister, Kathy Baker Moorhouse. Kathy had a bachelor’s from Kent State in graphic design and had been working as a freelance designer and was more than ready to move into designing an entire magazine.
We were also fortunate to have Ray Saviciunas, an award-winning photographer, who had been the designer of our business magazine. By the time we decided to publish, my son, Brendan, moved on to a paying position at Babcox Publications, an automotive aftermarket publishing company in Fairlawn. Colin, Melver and I became the advertising sales force, scouring every lead we could muster. In the end, we secured enough ads to pay for the first issue.
>> I still can’t believe it was just six weeks from our first staff meeting on Sept. 16, 2002 until Akron Life & Leisure rolled off the press in early November. Our original idea was to put out a test issue and see how it was received before making plans for future issues. We heavily promoted that first issue — getting on several local radio and TV stations, making public appearances and selling subscriptions at any venue that would have us.
The public’s response was welcoming and generous. We were invited to many area fundraisers; we spoke to a group of 100 Morley Health Center employees and at a meeting of the five-member Optimist Club. The City of Akron granted us a development loan, which assured the publishing of subsequent issues of Akron Life & Leisure.
Three of us are still around from the first issue: me, Kathy and Colin. After 10 years, however, the winds of change are upon us. Kathy is retiring at the end of 2013, and Colin has been named Publisher of akronlife. I’m relinquishing that title but remain Editor-In-Chief, which means I get to do the fun things. Colin’s been running the business side of Baker Media Group (the new name for Baker Publishing) for a few years now and will continue in that role as well.
In addition to the people named above, I want to thank the readers and subscribers who’ve been with us since day one and the many advertisers who’ve used our pages to tell their story to those great readers.
In the very beginning, we offered lifetime subscriptions for $125. The deadline was before we even published our second issue, and we had over 100 takers. To those true believers, I say, “You sure got your money’s worth.”
/ Don Baker Jr. is the editor-in-chief ofakronlife magazine.
E-mail them to managing editor Abby Cymerman at firstname.lastname@example.org