Crafting a Better Community: The Akron Craft + Social Club

The Akron Craft + Social Club came together because three local creatives wanted to drive some positive change in their neighborhood, while having some fun at the same time.


Their mission is simple: to give a fun and fulfilling creative experience to themselves, to create beautiful gifts to give to one another and to give a donation to a local or national charity.

In the short time since they formed in 2016, Karen Starr, Mary Oliver Bethel and Jennifer Davis have launched monthly DIY workshops that have raised money towards local and national charities while giving Akronites the opportunity to make something unique and handmade. Their inclusive spirit has taken all the stuffiness out of philanthropy and encouraged the community to get down and dirty to inspire do-gooding! You can follow their beautifully documented adventures on Instagram.

Karen will be representing the Akron Craft+ Social Club at Midwest Craft Con by participating in a panel Sunday about philanthropic crafting. Also participating are Tricia Brancolini-Foley of Handmade Arcade, and Esther Hall, who is also teaching a session on grants for artists.

The panel will take place on Sunday. You can buy a day pass or get your ticket for a full weekend of fun here!


Sponsor Love: Chris Rutan Photography

Get to know the makers, businesses and faces who are helping us create Midwest Craft Con! Today we are getting to know Chris Rutan of Chris Rutan Photography and Rigmarole.


Brit: How long have you been in the creative scene? How did you get your start?

Chris: I have been a professional photographer for over a decade. I went to the University of Akron’s Myers School of Art and earned a BFA in fine art photography. However, my artistic interests are not limited to photography. I also studied printmaking, sculpture and metalsmithing. I completed a minor in computer imaging. The education I received at the Myers School of Art is really the backbone of everything I do creatively and professionally today. During college I worked at two independent photography studios — honing my photographic chops while learning the ins and outs of the business. Today, I specialize in event and lifestyle photography. In addition to commissioned portraiture, I also work for local businesses and the Akron and Canton Museums of Art, and have had my work featured in various local publications.

Brit: What services do you provide to your community?

Chris: I love being involved in the local art scene. I find it immensely rewarding. We’re so supportive of one another — it’s inspiring! When I’m not working, I can be found in and around Akron, photographing my adventurous girls and sharing their exploits on my blog or Instagram. I’ve also had the pleasure of guest writing for a few of Akron’s local blogs. 😉

Brit: What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?

Chris: As a small business owner, I’m most proud of being a part of my local community. When I’m hired to photograph for the museum or a local theater, I feel that I have the opportunity to capture something great that is happening in my own backyard. I feel the same way about portraiture. I love capturing the moments and personalities of the families, couples and individuals who comprise our community.

In addition to photography, I have a handmade side business named Rigmarole. My products are featured in several shops around the country and are available at local craft shows. I do freelance craft work for Jo-Ann Fabrics. I’ve guest lectured at the University of Akron and I’m teaching my first set of workshops at a local paper boutique this month!

Brit: What is one big mistake you’d suggest others avoid when entering the handmade arena?

Chris: One mistake to avoid when starting your own business is being too afraid to say “yes.” When an opportunity presents itself, it’s easy to overthink it, feel intimidated, and begin to convince yourself that you can’t do it. Just say yes. Growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.

Brit: Any big goals for the new year?

Chris: This year, I’ve set a goal to vend at more craft shows. I’ve yet to venture out of the Akron area craft scene. This year I’m going to branch out.

You’ll see Chris taking photos at Midwest Craft Con in Columbus, Feb. 19-21!


Meet Our Resident Lawyer: Annal Vyas

annal-vyasAnnal Vyas teaches full time at the University of Akron School of Law, where helps run the SEED Legal Clinic, which helps Akron-area small businesses and nonprofits with legal matters. It’s there that he learned about his city’s handmade market, Crafty Mart, and was converted to a handmade enthusiast. Before teaching at Akron Law, he worked at Thompson Hine LLP, where he was part of the 19-attorney team that represented Obama Biden 2008 in Ohio litigation matters in the U.S. presidential election. He also has experience running a domestic violence legal clinic where he advocated on behalf of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In addition to all that, he is currently loaned out by the law school one day a week to the Akron Global Business Accelerator to assist with various initiatives, such as being the Program Director for The Bit Factory, the city’s internet startup accelerator.

Annal (which rhymes with “tunnel”) strongly believes that in order for a city to attract and retain talent and thrive, it must have a strong creative community, which lead him to start a grass-roots effort to found PechaKucha Akron, a quirky quarterly speaker series that showcases the city’s creatives that is already attracting hundreds of participants within just three months of its inaugural event.

At Midwest Craft Con, he’ll be presenting three sessions: Going from Sole Proprietor to LLC or Incorporation, Contracts for Crafters, and Intellectual Property and Copyright.

Why do you do what you do?

I love working with small businesses, and I get a kick out of helping people pursue their entrepreneurial dreams! Small business owners often have a lot of anxiety when it comes to the legal aspects of their business, and I’m happy to help alleviate some of that stress.

What’s your favorite craft/business book?

Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston.

How did you get where you are today, in 10 words or less? 

A lot of good people have looked out for me.

What are your goals for 2016? 

Start hitting the gym with regularity — it’s been too long!

City Guides

The Crafty Guide to Akron

It might be smaller than Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but Akron is teeming with a skilled, do-it-yourself community of artists and crafters. Where else could Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO and the Black Keys have found their origins but in the Rubber City? Our art is filled with allusions to local eccentricities like blimps, the history of the rubber industry and tire manufacturing, and our love of hard work. This is our crafty city guide to the greater Akron area! — Joanna Wilson, local author and assistant director of Crafty Mart; and Mary Beth Filon, owner of the Portage Trail Barn

S Main cityscape
Cityscape of a row of destinations on S Main St. Photo by Shane Wynn


Everything Akron
209 S. Main St., Akron, OH
This brick-and-morter has been open less than a year, yet it features goods by local artists, designers and crafters in a much-needed downtown space.

Hazel Tree Interiors
143 W. Market St., Akron, OH
The framing shop also carries artsy domestic furnishings and wall decor. They’re well-known for their iconic wall mural, visible from downtown.

Rust and Found
616 S. Main St., North Canton, OH
Repurposed furniture and handmade home goods including candles, jewelry and more. You can even sign up for workshops to learn a thing or two!


Synhak, The Akron Maker Space
48 S. Summit St., Akron, OH
Equipment and classes are available with a focus on technology, science, and art.

Rubber City Prints
First Floor, Summit Artspace, 140 E. Market St. Akron, OH
This is a shared space for artists to make, collaborate, and display printwork.


smARTStudio Akron
678 Paine Ave., Akron, OH
Classes and studio space for artists (both adults and children) to express themselves creatively in a variety of mediums.

OSC Tech Lab
12 E. Exchange St., Akron, OH
A hip downtown coworking space that also serves as a networking group for startups and creatives. Free coworking on Thursdays!


Crafty Mart’s monthly pop-up market at Summit Artspace. Photo by Nat Hansumrittisak

Crafty Mart
various locations
Now a nonprofit organization, Crafty Mart (run by Midwest Craft Con co-organizer Brit Charek!) is in its eighth year and continues to expand, hosting monthly mini-pop-up markets with the downtown Artwalk, the Mom & Pop Shoppe spring show, the annual holiday show, and more. Each year, the holiday show bursts at the seams with handmade goodness, stretching more than 80 vendors across three venues, all within walking distance in downtown Akron on Small Business Saturday just after Thanksgiving.

various locations
Hold on to your hat, Batman! Northeast Ohio’s own Emporium of the Weird celebrates everything unusual, geeky and odd, and showcases artists and crafters.

Portage Trail Barn
151 Portage Trail Ext. W, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
A rustic barn that opens its doors three or four times a year for seasonal events featuring local artists and crafters with an emphasis on repurposed and upcycled items for the family and home.


Givits Thrift and Recycling
5153 Darrow Road, Hudson, OH
A beautiful combination of thrift store, garage sale, and antique shop, Givits has a pickers barn that is perfect for repurposers, treasure hunters and artists.

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The Bomb Shelter
923 Bank St., Akron, OH
A warehouse of only the best vintage items including midcentury furniture, retro signage, and pop culture items to bring back your favorite memories.

Land of Plenty
339 W. Market St., Akron, OH
An eclectic collection of vintage and antique furniture and decor, arts & crafts, houseplants, succulents, and terrariums, with a new age/metaphysical vibe.

Stagecoach Antiques
449 W. Market St., Akron, OH
Staff that really know their stuff and rooms upon rooms to explore. Dishes, postcards, books, did I say dishes?


Urban Eats
51 E. Market St., Akron, OH
Yummy cafe of creative, seasonal and local foods.  I think it’s safe to say most, if not all, crafty ideas have been hatched sitting right there eating an amazing pizza or panini.

Nighlight bar
Ticket counter and bar at Nightlight Cinema. Photo by Shane Wynn

The Nightlight
30 N. High St., Akron, OH
Around the corner from Urban Eats is Akron’s own independent film theater. Come for an artsy movie or enjoy a craft beer, a cocktail and stimulating conversation in the lobby.

Mustard Seed Café
867 W. Market St., Akron, OH
Above the market, the second floor’s healthy food café and patio is a brand-new eatery in the Highland Square neighborhood — even LeBron James has been there! Grab a meal and a smoothie, then head across the street to shop for new and used LPs at Square Records, and then to Angel Falls Coffee Company to sit in the comfy overstuffed chairs and people-watch.

Angel falls mural
Street art mural on the outside wall of Angel Falls Coffee Company. Photo by Shane Wynn

Thirsty Dog Brewing Company
529 Grant St., Akron, OH
The award-winning brewery features a tasting room with their delicious beers, or come on a Saturday and take a tour of the brewing complex.

Are you coming to Midwest Craft Con in February? Get your tickets now and join creative business people from all across the Midwest!


A Crafty Road Trip

This past weekend, I did the unthinkable: I traveled to a craft show that was out of town that I was not vending at!

And then I drove five more hours to do it all over again.


Traveling and crafts are not a new concept to me. Diving into the handmade world almost a decade ago, I dreamed big and applied primarily to shows outside of Columbus. The craft gods decided in my favor and granted me access to shows in Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh, to name just a few.

But to travel to a show out of town just to shop at a show was something I have never had the time for. This year, thanks to the business of settling into a new house, demands of young kids and the responsibility of running my own craft fair, I forgot to apply to all my favorite craft events.

Which meant I had the weekend of Thanksgiving free! It also happened that my Midwest Craft Con co-organizers Brit and Grace had their BIG shows on the same weekend. Since my own craft fair, Craftin’ Outlaws, was so busy, I walked home empty-handed despite intentions of holiday shopping and I hardly found a moment to say hello to exhibitors and crafty friends. With the promise of a hotel with a pool and hot tub for my kids, my husband and I packed our bags for a fun, impromptu craft tour of Ohio.

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We started our craft adventure off in Cincinnati. Grace and her business partner Chris have been running Crafty Supermarket since 2009. Their holiday show is held in the Cincinnati Music Hall‘s beautiful ballroom, which housed 90 amazing vendors. I have had the pleasure of exhibiting at many of their spring and holiday shows, and Cincinnati folks LOVE their Crafty Supermarket. It’s always been one of my better shows, and I was so excited to attend as a shopper. This year Crafty Supermarket had over 6,500 people in attendance. My family of four navigated the crowds trying to say hi to as many exhibitors as we could.

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We did not get to spend as much time at Crafty Supermarket as I would have liked. Sadly, our time frame only permitted us to come when the show first opened, and the kids were not feeling the crowds. They also did not fail to remind me that the hotel in Akron had a hot tub. So off we went, but not without some gifts and goodies for myself. If you can remember: APPLY TO CRAFTY SUPERMARKET! The next show is May 7, and applications will be posted in January. I, for one, have already added it to my 2016 calendar. It’s an amazing show and I am kicking myself for forgetting to apply.

Once we settled into Akron and let the kids burn off car energy in the pool, we found ourselves getting a guided tour of Crafty Mart by Brit.

Crafty Mart is now in its seventh year and is a two-day show held at three locations. The three venues are within walking distance of one another: Summit Space, The Akron Art Museum and Musica.

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I’ve never been a vendor at Crafty Mart, so while I can’t speak to the vending experience, the shopping experience was unlike any craft fair I had been to. Each venue provided a new experience and a new setting to enjoy crafty shopping. Summit Station, which houses artist studios, was inspiring, while shopping the museum made for a modern backdrop, and Musica housed crafts in every nook and cranny. Musica is a bar and music venue that hosted the first Crafty Mart. It reminded me a great deal of where we housed the first Craftin’ Outlaws, so it felt very near and dear to my heart.

My organizing brain is overwhelmed with ideas and inspiration. The maker side of me was reminded just how much I miss being behind a table, selling my wares and waving at friends across the aisle. Most importantly, I am reminded why we are making Midwest Craft Con happen: to allow ourselves as creatives and makers to be inspired once again. To regroup and take in the experiences that bind us all together.

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Remember that tickets for Midwest Craft Con are on sale now and make great presents! Get your tickets now and join creative business people from all across the Midwest in February!


Meet the Organizer: Brit Charek

The organizers of Midwest Craft Con have been involved in the indie craft scene for years, and chances are you’ve seen them around Ohio! Last week we met Megan Green, and this week we meet organizer Brit Charek.

So who are you? 

I’m a person who wears many hats. I’m the Executive Director of Crafty Mart and I also serve as the Board President (#startuplife). I also teach High School English full time, and am mommy to a first grader. Before settling down, I checked a lot off my bucket list: I’ve lived on the West Coast and the Gold Coast, piloted single engine aircrafts, been that girl at every single punk rock show, traveled to Europe and South America, and had just about any job you can think of– from serving beers at 7am at a Chicago pub during the World Cup to teaching the deaf how to ride a snowboard.

How’d you get involved in the craft world?

Like Megan, I’m a mompreneur. I opened my Etsy shop in 2009, not too long after the birth of my son. I started out by selling vintage, which eventually led to craftier endeavors. I took over Crafty Mart, an Akron, Ohio bi-annual handmade market, in 2012, which makes me the newbie in the CraftCon organizer posse, but I’m always encouraged by the positive response I get from my partners as well as from veterans in the field when I reach out for advice.
FullSizeRender(My 6yo with his favorite Crafty Mart find from The Nerd Stitch Shop)

What’s the first crafty thing you ever remember selling?

I totally made hemp necklaces to trade and sell in junior high. Haha!

Who in the craft business world would you love to get a drink with? 

I’d love to kick it with those sisters from A Beautiful Mess. My punk rock teenage self would be disappointed that I’m a fan of something so cutesy, but what can I say? I adore them.

What book(s) would you recommend most to creative businesspeople?

For those in the business of writing and content creation, I’d highly recommend Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott. It made me laugh out loud meanwhile teaching me everything I didn’t know that I needed to know about the writing process.
I just started Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch. If the rest of the book is as realistic about the needs and limitations of small businesses as the first chapter is, it’s a must-read for all creative entrepreneurs.
When I think about books that actually inspired me to be creative, the first thing that comes to mind is Kim Cooper’s recounting of the creation of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea for the 33 1/3 series originally published by Continuum and now by Blumsbury. The takeaway: all you really need to make great art is to make time to be with other creatives. If you’re at all a music nerd, I highly recommend browsing through this series of books inspired by some of the most influential albums of all time.

What are you looking forward to most about Midwest Craft Con?

I have a lot of crafty friends in other cities that I might have met once or twice when I was in town for a show, and now I feel pretty close to them from following them on social media. I’m looking forward to real life conversations with all of them!