Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jillian's in Akron Closes; World to End Tomorrow

The Jillian's restaurant on South Main Street closed suddenly and without explanation over the weekend. This is hard news. If you were desperate for dry, overseasoned meat cooked in the style of a Japanese-American steakhouse by clumsy white guys, this was the only game in town.

The story is remarkable for the flurry of comments on the Ohio.com/Topix page. First off, it's gotta be the fault of someone in government. The smoking ban, yea that's it, the smoking ban. Then the people who disagree pile in and it's on. But sprinked throughout are comments about how this is just another sign that Akron is slipping into the Vortex of Inescapable Despair.

People. First off, the closing may have something to do with Jillian's restructuring under Chapter 11 bancruptcy.

Second, entertainment, like retail, doesn't drive the economy. Jillian's was just about moving around the money already in the economy. It wasn't about generating wealth. Businesses like restaurants can provide a glimpse into how an economy is doing, but they don't spur growth themselves.

Reading the comments page was a "What's the Matter with Akron?" moment. You can read in the comments the phenomena Michael Frank observed in Kansas -- the economic insecurity, the search for scapegoats, the simultaneous belief that government action is killing the economy and that government intervention should save the economy.

I was listening to today's TSOI on 90.3 this morning about how Youngstown is adapting to its shrinking population. In the midst of the show the guests and host Dan Mouthrop joked about whether Youngstown residents are more cynical and resigned than Cleveland residents. Akron should be different, but people utterly refuse to believe that the city could be swinging upwards.


Anonymous said...

I don't quite get it either, Pho. It's so easy to look around this town and see signs that Akron is doing it's absolute best to hold its' own, rebuild and position itself for a comeback, even in the face of NAFTA, globalization and an increasingly unsupportive federal government.

Akron could just as easily be in Youngstown's position today, totally depressed with maybe a declining population of 150,000, roughly half of our all-time peak of 290,000 in the 1960s. Last Census report says we're hovering at or just under 200,000. Youngstown, incidentally, peaked around the 170,000s in the 1930s, and today has declined to the 70,000s.

At any rate, it's not hard to picture a totally abandoned Downtown Akron, sans the establishments, a newly rebuilt Art Museum and Main Library, with The University of Akron struggling to maintain itself as a viable commuter college. It's not hard to picture that, because that was the face of Akron just 10 years ago.

Honestly, I think people in this city are so locked into such a state of bitterness over the decline and loss of industry and the unskilled, well-paid jobs that came with it, that even if Firestone, Goodrich and General Tire returned tomorrow, and with Goodyear decided to re-build and re-open their old factories and add tens of thousands of jobs, people here would still be bitter that they left in the first place. I'm not sure what it is going to take at this point, but the mood in this town definitely needs to change.