Gift Prof C's Fave Finds

Guide Editor 'Professor C' Shares Favorite Downtown Akron Discoveries

If anyone thought I would be able to work on a project like this with my students without sharing - welp, you were wrong.

By Julie A Cajigas

I have spent the past four weeks working on this guide with my students. I attended interviews, reviewed drafts and suggested edits. I physically went out to take photos for online students who don't live in Northeast Ohio. I immersed myself in Downtown Akron gifting. I have thoughts...

I want to share some discoveries I made while exploring, and some purchases I made myself. In fact, the gifts under my tree will look completely different following this exercise. 

I love shopping small and local. A few weeks ago my daughter and I attended a showcase at the Screw Factory in Lakewood, and we barely made it out without spending enough to get me in trouble with my spouse.

So, here are my favorite discoveries from my experience editing the Zip's Guide to Shopping Small and Local in Akron.

Snarky PANTS!

When I came upon the Snarky Pants shop in Northside Marketplace, the first thing that caught my eye was the Bigfoot sticker. I kid you not, I laughed out loud, which probably confused the other browsing customers. Whoever you are, creative genius behind Snarky PANTS!, I love your sense of humor.

I also enjoyed the neurodiverse references throughout the designs, and specifically in the 'Neurospicy' sticker and the 'I Have Anxiety' sticker.

I am, and I do.

The "This Sucks" card is, in my humble opinion, 100,000x better than 90% of flowery sympathy card rhetoric that you find in the grocery or drugstore aisle. All of those platitudes complicate the message, which at its core is - this sucks. A versatile card, many things suck, so this is continuously useful.

(Pssst.... Snarky PANTS!, if you make a box of your cards for general occasions, I will buy it.)

I didn't put some of the more "spicy" items from the shop in this collage, but I loved them all the same. The M-fer card also made me laught out loud. Check out Snarky PANTS! online and in Northside Marketplace.

(top right) Photo collage of products in the Snarky PANTS! shop in Northside Market. Photos by Julie Cajigas. (bottom right) 'This Sucks.' greeting card from the Snarky PANTS! Website.

Thirsty Lotus

Another item that literally made me laugh out loud was the candle collection at the Thirsty Lotus shop inside Northside Marketplace. When I was in college, one of my favorite mentors, Dr. Tony Molina, used to say "stop Catastrophizing Powell" (my maiden name). Being a noted catastrophic thinker, I elected to purchase the Drama Dissolver.

One thing you should also know about me is that I generally do not enjoy scented candles. I am a migraine sufferer and most of the scents (vanilla, cinnamon, floral) can trigger a migraine for me and added bonus, make me nauseous. I was cautiously optimistic about the scent of this candle after taking a sniff in the shop.

When I got this my candle home I lit it and sat at the table washing my beach glass finds from the weekend. The combination of those two things relaxed me so much I'm surprised I remained conscious. The scent of the Drama Dissolver is a clean, fresh eucalyptus mint. 

As a weird geology enthusiast kid, I collected lots of semi-precious stones, so I was excited to see the little pieces of quartz that had been molded into the top of the candle. Watching them sink into the liquefying wax was cathartic.

Honorable mention to "Existential Crisis Averted" candle, which also nearly came home with me. When I start talking about existential things, my husband rolls his eyes and asks if we have to be up until 3 a.m. again. I'm pretty sure both of these candles were made for me.

(top left) Photo collage of products in the Thirsty Lotus shop at Northside Market. (bottom left) Burning my Drama Dissolver candle and enjoying the little pieces of quartz molded into the top. Photos by Julie Cajigas.

LiRo Apparel and Accessories

If nothing else, I am a sucker for a good story. I could tell that LiRo had one before sitting in on a student interview with one of the owners, Matthew Powell (and yes, we did have a fun conversation about that being my maiden name - turns out our families both have a legend about someone in the distant past changing it to Powell - maybe we are related?)

When you are walking around Northside Marketplace, you can hear a voice talking about Alpaca over some music. When you finally reach the back of the main shop area, you see LiRo is the source. There is information about their products all around the space.

It wasn't until we spoke with Powell, though, that I realized I had to own something from the shop. You can read all about it here in the guide, but I learned that this family has many stories and sources traditional, hand-everything yarn from villages in Peru. Spoiler alert, Powell's wife was born in a small village in Peru! He buried that lead in our interview, but we eventually asked the right question.

After my initial visit to Northside, I went back with my two oldest kids (Hazel, 9 and Jameson, 7). Hazel likes llamas and alpacas. Not as much as axolotls, but she likes them. She insisted on trying on all sorts of pieces until she landed on a full zip sweater in a women's medium. Now, she won't take it off. The quality is incredible and the design is breathtaking. 10/10 recommend.

Hazel also insisted on buying a little Alpaca keychain that was missing one of its googly eyes. She specifically chose that one because it was one-eyed and someone else might not have loved it as much.

I generally wear plus sizes, so I was happy to hear that the shop takes custom orders. 

PS: Hazel also begged for a purse from LiRo and my son wanted a coin bag for his "chip money." I may not be able to bring those two back to LiRo.

(right) Hazel wearing her new Alpaca full-zip hooded sweater. She likes it because she feels a "wanderer" would wear it. Photos by Julie Cajigas.

Smile Inside

Maybe it's because I'm a teacher by trade, or maybe it's because I have two neurodiverse kiddos (as of now anyway) and I myself am neurodiverse, but seeing a little shop dedicated to helping kids emotionally regulate and consider how to be kind? I was pretty thrilled.

Smile Inside has activity books, card games and a variety of fidgets and other emotional regulation items to help children who struggle to regulate or to cope with strong emotions. The activity books are labeled by age, and come with instructions for parents and teachers.

But, when I walked up to the shop, I knew what my kids would most want to engage with - the warm fuzzies. 

These little fluffy critters come with an adoption certificate that allows your child to name them. 

Of course Hazel is still trying to come up with the perfect name for her warm fuzzy. 

Her warm fuzzy had to travel with her to girlscout camp in order to keep her company and remind her to be kind to her friends. 

You can purchase them from the tree with one hat, or you can purchase them in the little yellow boxes that have a sort of "kit" to go with your fuzzy. There's an additional cap in there and some other accessories.

Bringing home the warm fuzzies allowed me to engage my kids in a conversation about what a warm fuzzy is for them and how warm fuzzies may be different for everyone. It opened up a conversation about consent and kindness, both of which are extremely important conversations to have with kids experiencing impulse control issues.

Overall, I was impressed by the collection of items at smile inside and highly recommend a visit to their Northside Market shop to take a look at some of the tools they offer.

(left) The Warm Fuzzy tree immediately engaged both of my children and helped me initiate conversations about consent and kindness with them. Photos by Julie Cajigas.

Chameleon Café

So, technically I did not discover Chameleon Café during this project. I discovered it in my role as student media advisor for The Buchtelite student newspaper. Chameleon Café donated our first $50 prize for our scavenger hunt and the owner was kind and generous. 

What's so great about Chameleon Café? Maybe it's their Zippy wrap or maybe it's their expansive bakery, breakfast and sandwich menu. It could also be that they have surprise new beverages with each season, or that they have the cutest little shop on Main St.

Just take a look to the right at my Lotus 'Crisp Fall Breeze' energy drink that has flavors of blood orange and raspberry. Below that is the grilled cheese sandwich of my dreams - it's an apple fig grilled cheese. 

I've since tried the Mexican Street Corn Chicken Salad Wrap (yum!) and can't wait to try pretty much every other item on the menu.

If you know someone who frequents downtown and loves coffee, lattes, blending drinks, boba tea, energy drinks, and eating at local spots, a gift card to Chameleon Café will be a winning gift.

Chameleon Café is located at 23 S. Main St. in Downtown Akron. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and closed on the weekends.

(right) The Crisp Fall Breeze Lotus Energy drink on my desk (photo by Julie Cajigas) and the Apple Fig Grilled Cheese (photo from Chameleon Café's Facebook page).

To reach content author Julie Cajigas,  email her here.

Ready to learn about some hand curated Akron awesome? See gifts by type here:

Downtown Akron Partnership Announces Downtown Dollars E-Gift Card Program > read more here.