For decades, the nearly 100-year-old building in downtown Akron known as the Printers Club has been a printers union hall and a bar with a loyal following, including lawyers and others who work nearby.
Now, a new owner plans to install a coffee shop and convenience store in the two-story building at 53 E. Exchange St. The Printers Club bar will remain at least until May 1; its future is uncertain after that.
For area resident Dean Fongemie, who bought the building for $110,000, it’s all about location.
“We are targeting the Akron U students who live nearby,” Fongemie said. “It’s surrounded by college dorms. It’s all foot traffic. I think it will be a place for the students to get out of their dorms.”
Fongemie sees that the south end of downtown has become a hub of privately developed student housing catering to University of Akron students. In addition, UA-owned dorms are a few blocks east on Exchange Street.
The Exchange Street building’s previous owner, the Akron unit of the International Typographical Union (ITU), bought the row-style brick structure in the 1960s. The now tiny local union had hundreds of members at the time. Some 200 members worked at the Beacon Journal, across the street.
In the 1970s, members of the union opened the private Printers Club bar. Nonunion members pay small annual club dues.
Tom Cowman, president of the local union, said that the bar’s future is “up in the air.”
“We can’t use union funds to go into the bar,” he said. “It has to be self-sustaining.”
Fongemie, the building’s new owner, is allowing the bar to stay rent free until May 1, and has told union members the bar is welcome to remain after that day, as a paying tenant. No deal has been worked out.
Cowman said the union sold the building because “union membership was just getting so low. ... It’s hard to keep the building up with that few members.”
The local union now has only six active members and about 40 retirees; its ranks have been whittled by decades of technological changes. Cowman, a production worker at the Beacon Journal, said that when he joined the union in 1971, it had more than 300 members, including unionized print shops.
Fongemie, 54, learned about the building from Cowman, a neighbor in Stark County’s Lake Township. Fongemie told Cowman he was interested in investing in area property. Fongemie, a pilot for a local company, previously owned businesses in Maine, where he still has a farm.
Fongemie plans to open the convenience store in April. It will be in the old union hall, on the east side of the building and adjacent to the Printers Club bar. The store will have an entrance on Exchange Street. Fongemie said the store won’t sell beer or wine.
The coffee shop, set to open in July or August, will be in the north end of the building, with an entrance on Wheeler Alley. He plans to offer free Wi-Fi. The menu will include sandwiches and soups.
Fongemie also is rehabbing the several apartments on the building’s second floor.
Fongemie declined to say how much he is investing in the property.
“Too much,” he said.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.