My husband and I graduated from Kent State University in 2007. Aside from an occasional brief trip back in the last few years (including for our engagement photo session), we hadn’t spent much time downtown until we arrived in Kent this month for a reunion of Daily Kent Stater staffers.
Our first glimpse on the ride into town from Route 43 was a surprise. The structures that will soon house the Davey Tree Company were taking shape atop what, as best we can remember, was the former site of a few unattractive buildings.
Water Street and Franklin Avenue were lined with many of our old college favorites — Ray’s Place (with a new façade), Taco Tontos and The Pufferbelly (where college students usually only go if accompanied by their parents) — plus a few “new (to us) faces,” including a sushi joint and several shops.
We killed some time by the beautiful stone bridge over the Cuyahoga River in an area known as Riveredge Park, where a number of families were out enjoying the sunshine. A nicely shaded trail runs along the river, perfect for strolling and waiting to catch a glimpse of a train coming by (which we did).
After a delicious lunch at Franklin Square Deli, decorated with racing paraphernalia and stocked with nearly infinite sandwich combinations, we browsed through a number of the downtown shops and the new Acorn Alley.
We especially enjoyed a shop with toys for kids and adults, where puzzles and toy trains have their own space across from the sort of items you might get as a gag gift for a White Elephant exchange.
We had a great time flipping through records at the well-stocked Last Exit Books (another old standby) and picked up a few to use for artwork around the house.
Back at Acorn Alley, we ducked into the new Tree City Coffee and Pastry shop and opted for iced drinks. I had a simple brewed iced coffee (perfect for such a warm day) and Seth opted for a fruit smoothie that also was a hit. The atmosphere was modern and inviting, and had we not been full from lunch, we would have tried one of the fancy peanut butter sandwiches or baked goods.
Then it was time to visit campus. Though we didn’t do a full tour, we did enjoy stopping at the revamped Franklin Hall, which now houses the journalism department and all student media. Its impressive facilities made us a little envious that we graduated while the Stater was still located in Taylor Hall, now home to the May 4 Visitors Center.
The changes at the Student Center and Risman Plaza also were remarkable: An old fountain had been replaced by a sleek “Kent State University” waterfall, and green space had been added — with more on the way.
If you’re a Kent State alum who hasn’t been back within the last five years or if you’ve never been there in your life, the university and its town are worth a look — for a day of shopping, bicycling, walking or just plain nostalgia.
For more images from our Kent excursion, stop by my Shutterfly site, Abbey Discovers Ohio.