It's been many years since the city of Akron truly had rights to call itself the "Rubber Capital of the World."
But the town still dubs itself "Rubber City." After all, Akron remains home to Goodyear's headquarters, technical center and race tire production; Bridgestone's Technical Center and R&D campus, as well as Indy Car race tire manufacturing; the University of Akron's polymer college; and any number of other tech centers, suppliers and smaller rubber product firms.
And to this day, any number of businesses have incorporated the term "Rubber City" into their company names.
One in particular—Rubber City Clothing—has made a successful business by selling a good deal of items paying homage to the tire and rubber industry history of Akron.
The custom apparel shop opened in 2004, and last September moved its storefront to be one of the anchor tenants of a small shopping area known as Northside District. The shopping complex is located just off downtown in an area that's also home to Luigi's Restaurant, one of the iconic Italian restaurants of the city. The district also is home to a new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, a Speakeasy cocktail bar, a number of art shops and is adjacent to one of the main loading spots for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
While locals, or those visiting the area, can drop in to browse through the offerings, those who may be homesick for Akron can shop for any of the shirts or other related items online at RCC's website.
The store offers any number of designs that cater to a variety of subjects related to Akron. There's designs for the many Akron neighborhoods, such as Highland Square (where I live), Firestone Park, Goodyear Heights and others. There's a shirt designed to honor the Soap Box Derby, and there are several to tout Akron being the home to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, particularly the best-selling "Just a Kid from Akron, Ohio."
But Rubber City Clothing also doesn't forget the roots of the city. It's "Rubber" category contains more than two dozen designs, and there's a handful more in its "Blimps" category. The rubber-related offerings include such designs as:
- One that says "Proud Descendant of a Rubber Worker: Akron, Ohio"
- A variety of tread designs;
- Ones that say, Think, Respect, Know or Love Rubber;
- One that recalls the Firestone team in the industrial basketball league of the 1940s and 1950s;
- Another that says "The Waking Tread," playing on the popular "Walking Dead" show; and
- One that says "Rubber City Mama" with a tire in the background.
I particularly liked a design depicting the 1960 Goodrich invention for an inflatable suit for "high altitude flight"—what most would call a space suit.
That's not to mention non-clothing items for sale. The various chachkies on display include tire-shaped erasers made from recycled rubber, along with any number of blimp-related items, from chocolates to erasers to refrigerator magnets to photos of the actual Goodyear blimps.
And of course, Rubber City Clothing still offers the "Rubber Capital of the World: Akron, Ohio" shirt design in any number of colors, with the names General Tire, Firestone, Goodyear, Goodrich and Mohawk all written around the sidewalls of the design.
With all the choices, one of the staff members told me the classic tire and rubber related designs are still consistent sellers at the store. Of course, she also said some of the younger customers ask why the store is named "Rubber City," having no idea that Akron once carried that unofficial title.
That may seem unthinkable to those of us who have lived much of our lives in the region or have spent decades in the rubber industry. So the younger generation needs a history lesson, all she needs to do is show them around the shop.
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, and he sees potential rubber-related stories nearly everywhere he goes. Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.