In Akron, Ohio, Chris Horne took a different approach to promoting local businesses. As publisher of a local arts-and-culture magazine called The Devil Strip, Horne met with many independent business owners and area organizations that were trying to market their services. Rather than offering them a standard print advertisement, Horne decided to use his $52,000 Knight grant to launch Unbox Akron, a subscription service that celebrates the city's unique offerings with a monthly selection of local goods and experiences delivered in a box.
"I was looking for different ways to help small businesses and creative people reach an audience and engage them in a more real way," Horne said. "I wanted people to be engaged, not just sit at home and receive a box but have a box that entices them to go out and do things in Akron."
Unbox Akron has shipped more than 10 boxes since it launched in Dec. 2015, reaching about 100 subscribers each month. Most boxes cost about $25.
With products like Norka craft soda and homemade St. Augustine and Suds soap, the box is meant to get people to think local first rather than buying mass-market goods, Horne said. It also offers experiences, like tickets to a Verb Ballets performance, so people go out in the city instead of staying home to watch Netflix.
Originally founded in 1924, Norka (its name is Akron spelled backward) has deep roots in the city. It ceased operations in 1962 but was revived by Michael Considine, its founder and president, in 2015 as a craft soda maker. Considine said the beverage brand was a "hometown favorite" with Akronites for almost 40 years, and with the company's rebirth, "so much of what we do is centered around hometown pride and community involvement."
"The response to the revival of this nostalgic sodapop has been incredible. While there are some that remember Norka in it's heyday, there is also a whole new generation that we're introducing Norka to," Considine said. "With the help of local projects like Unbox Akron, we've been able to bring this Akron icon back to life and generate support across the area and beyond."