We’re heading to the follow-up file for this week’s column.
It was 16 months ago when Cato “Smitty” Smith was told that he was being evicted from his building because the owner was losing it in foreclosure. Smith operates Smitty’s Market at 3 Ira Ave., just at the bend where Old South Main ends on the edge of downtown.
While the market doesn’t seem like much to some, it is a local treasure to others. For more than 65 years, Smitty has filled his shelves with the Southern specialty foods of his native Tennessee, and his meat case with the types of smoked hog jowl, bacon, smoked pigs’ feet and tails that transplanted southerners long for.
He’s got boxes of collard greens and seven top turnips, White Lily flour for making biscuits and yellow-eyed beans, which are hard to come by as far north as Ohio.
When I checked in on him recently, Smitty, who is now 98, was still in business, spared from the boot by the city of Akron.
Smitty stayed in the building through its bank foreclosure, and then Akron Planning Director Marco Sommerville stepped in and the city purchased the building for $73,000 in December.
For now, Smitty is paying the utilities and Sommerville told him he could stay for as long as he wanted. It’s been a bit of a rough year for Smitty. The store has been broken into twice, with thieves making off with much of his inventory and even his tools in the two incidents.
Now some of the windows are boarded up with wooden sheets secured with heavy-duty bolts to keep intruders out, and there’s a heavy steel door on the front behind the wooden screen door that welcomes customers.
Smitty, in the past, had grown much of the southern produce he sells on his farm in Rootstown Township, but like many local farmers much of his current crops were washed away by this summer’s heavy storms.
Smitty just shrugs over the loss and adds, “Well, that’s the way it goes in farming.”
Sommerville said he felt compelled to step in to help Smitty and his wife, Nola. “They are beautiful people,” he said, noting how the store and its southern offerings are unique to Akron.
He thought about trying to help find the business a new location, but felt that a move would be difficult for Smitty, and a loss to the neighborhood. “A lot of people appreciate that store,” he said.
Eventually, Smitty will have to begin paying some type of rent beyond the utilities, Sommerville noted.
As far as the building goes, Sommerville said he believes it was a good investment for the city. There are several store fronts on the street level and a group of apartments on the top. The next step for the city will be coming up with a plan to rehabilitate the building and find a use for it.
He said a few other older buildings in the area have been renovated by young artists and Sommerville said the rest of the building could make a fine art space for the community.
Sommerville noted that he was still on City Council when the building was purchased. Now that he’s planning director, “I gotta take it to the next level,” he said of the building.
I frequently get calls from folks wanting to know whether the Ellet Meat Market is ever going to reopen.
It was November 2011, when Mark Freeland, a Suffield Township farmer and mail carrier, purchased the store at 734 Canton Road, at auction.
In February 2012, Freeland said he still intended to reopen the market, but renovations were taking him longer than expected.
My attempts to reach Freeland to ask whether his plans have changed have been unsuccessful. Freeland still owns the building, according to Summit County records.
Rest assured, if I learn anything, I will share it here.
Perhaps Freeland will read this and will realize that there are many folks out there who are anxious to have the butcher shop back in the Ellet neighborhood.